Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Titus 3:3-7

Our culture loves revenge. Some of the most popular blockbusters are stories about someone who suffered at the hands of evil people but then through perseverance and dark ingenuity exacts a cruel vengeance. It seems like we as humans love to see the cruelest people have cruel things done to them. This vengeful obsession carries over into several areas of our lives. When we cannot act out physical revenge, we often sinfully turn to words of vengeance maligning and demeaning those we see as wrong.
As Christians this should not be so. Vengeance belongs to God and not us. Our speech should always reflect what is most valuable and most important. If we are using our language to demean and malign, then we are effectively saying that the most important message for the world around us to hear is our speaking evil of others. Instead of using our voices to share the gospel or proclaim the glory of God, we stoop to discolor others. What a filthy exchange. We were created to be worshippers, that in everything, in whatever we do, we should give glory to God, but at times, our language does not reflect His glory.
Paul instructs Titus to teach the Cretians this principle. If we fail to understand the Biblical truth of authority and humble, respectful submission to that authority, then perhaps we should see an additional truth about our relationship with our leaders. We should not demean them or degrade them with our tongues, because, “we ourselves also were sometimes” just like them. We acted in ways inconsistent with the truth of God. We did things that were wrong and unholy (and at times still do). We are not any better inherently than they with the only difference being the grace of God that changed us.
There should be no condescending language towards others, especially our leaders, as if they are the only ones who have sinned. Rather, realizing that we too are sinners, there should be a temperance of the tongue. Instead of rushing into hate and inflamed rhetoric, we should weigh their sinfulness over against our own. We may now have right living and may be following the truth of God, but even that obedience is only according to the grace which God has shown us. In verse 5, Paul teaches Titus that one of the reasons that we should not be condescendingly demeaning in our language is because His grace came to us through his own mercy, and not because we had somehow earned it ourselves.
In the sacrificial love of Christ, we have received forgiveness of our sins. That is the most important message, and we should not allow lesser messages to control our tongue. Now, instead, we should be motivated by the hope that He has given us and should spend our time proclaiming the positive news of His grace and mercy offered to sinners like us and like the others who do evil things, not scathing those whom we disagree with and seeking to draw everyone around us into a tussle as if that were the most important thing.
The life of a Christian is a very specific life, and there is nothing ambiguous about living in obedience to God. If we are Christians, we will hold our tongue and rejoice in the grace of God, all the while drawing others into that grace (especially those we disagree with). Otherwise, we will become like the apostates in Titust 1:16 who “profess that they know God, but in their works they deny him.” May we be a people who are marked by a right profession, right living, and right speaking.

Reflect: What motivation does Paul give Titus for not speaking evil against those with whom we disagree (including political leaders)?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Titus 3:1-2

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained by God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.                                   - Romans 13:1

Every ruler is ordained by God. This is a very difficult truth for many people to handle. The implications of such a statement are so sweeping and so shocking that if this were more fully understood, people might abandon the God of Christianity all together. This would mean that the current President, and all the members of Congress, and all the members of the Supreme Court are ordained by God as agents of His common grace to humanity.
But what about the bad rulers? Certainly God only appoints the good rulers, right? Rulers who are villainous in their motives could never be rightly called “ordained by God,” could they? Well, Paul penned these words in the godless culture of Rome under the Roman Emperor Nero. Nero’s most notorious act as Emperor was perhaps the merciless slaughter of countless Christians.
If Paul could understand that the Emperor Nero was one who was “ordained by God,” how could we ever view our President or Congress as any less? So, how do you relate to those God has placed in authority in your country? According to Scripture, “whoever resists the authority” of the government is in effect resisting and disobeying God. The only time that a Christian should resist is in matters like Acts 4, where the disciples were told to stop preaching the gospel, but respectfully disobeyed knowing that God had commanded them to evangelize.
In Titus 3, while explaining how a church should look and act, Paul admonished Titus to remind the church members in Crete to be subject to the governmental authorities. This is very similar to what Paul wrote in Romans 13 to be subject unto the higher powers, but in Titus 3, Paul goes on to verse 2 and challenges Titus to command the people of Crete to guard their words when it comes to the authorities that God has put in place. Titus was to remind every person who called themselves “Christian” that true Christians “speak evil of no man.”
Sadly, today we see “Christians” openly attacking the authority that God has ordained. It is sickening to see open disrespect, slander and maligning of God-ordained authorities. Failing to be gentle or meek in their words, they teach their children and their friends to disrespect God-ordained authority. They pursue open disobedience in direct opposition to God. With foolish rage, they speak (or post on Facebook) inflammatory language against those whom God calls his “ordained.”
May we as Christians learn to use our words for gospel-advancing purposes. May the desire to use the freedom of speech not end in our sinning against God and his ordained authority with our words. Christ never once maligned Ceasar or Pilate during His time one earth. Do we venture to be more wise than Him when we venture to malign our President or our leaders? May God help us speak in ways that teach those around us that we value God’s sovereignty in placing leaders over us in authority. May we teach our families that authority is God-ordained and refrain from partaking in foolish diatribes against God’s ministers of common grace. May we learn to speak like Christians in ways that are gentle and meek, constantly using wisdom and discernment and not promoting strife or contention.

Reflect: How does Paul tell Titus that ever Christian should act towards governmental authority?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Titus 2:11-15

After explaining how a church should look, Paul progresses in his teaching to why the church should look that way. Older men and women should lovingly engage younger with the truth, and younger men and women should humbly receive instruction and correction from the older. The church should be a multi-generational family that strives together to live in ways that are pleasing to God. In the Roman culture rife with slavery, Paul further explained that slaves should follow the same biblical principles that everyone else should. The message to Titus on how to straighten up the churches in Crete was clear - Christians should live in obedience to God.
And none of the commands that Paul gives here are new to the pages of Scripture. Rather, Paul is taking the commands of Scripture found elsewhere and reinforcing them in specific application to the roles of church leadership and church members. Christians should be loving, holy, and just. This is not new doctrine; Paul is simply applying it to each person in the church in a very specific way.
Seeing then the “what” of the Christian life, Paul moves on to the “why” of the Christian life. After he gives the commands, he gives the cause. He is now moving from the “musts” to the motivations. Beginning in verse 11, Paul says “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us…that we should live soberly righteously, and godly.” Here is the chief motivation for living the Christian life – the grace of God.
We have received forgiveness from our sins, and God has granted us a relationship with him. Now, we would do well to pursue a life that puts away sin. We should not return to those things we were saved from. Rather, having been given hope and peace by the grace of God, we should live in ways that reflect that hope and peace. He saved us from lives of selfishness, so let us now serve one another. He saved us from lives of impurity, now let us provoke one another to love and good works. He saved us from lives of disobedience, now let us live fully submitted to the authority that he has placed in our lives. God’s grace is the motivation for why we should live the way we live.
These words were to be the authority on which Titus could “set in order” (ch.1 v. 5) the things that were wrong with the Cretian churches. It would be under the authority of God’s grace and the hope of Christ’s return that he could speak and exhort those churches to live in obedience to God’s commands. He did not need to appeal to emotionalism or manipulation, rather, in confidence he could exhort Christians based upon their mutual conversion in Christ. He could teach with confidence that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away, all things are become new.” And there could be no one in any of the churches who could push back against the “why” of the Christian life.

Reflect: Why did Paul tell Titus what he did in v.11-15?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Titus 2:9-10

The Roman culture was one of slavery, and not all slavery was alike. There were those owners who were cruel and who mistreated, abused and even killed their slaves. There were also those who were kind, gentle, and allowed a measure of liberty for their slaves. Many slaves had the option to work to purchase their own freedom, and most were allowed to marry and have a family. In some instances certain slave-holders even saw an advantage in allowing a slave to own his or her own property and land.
In the early church, and even on the island of Crete, slavery was common place, and often some Christians in the church would be converted slaves. This became a vital point for Paul as he wrote his letters to the churches that existed in a culture rife with slavery. Paul was not on a mission of social equality; rather, he was on a mission of eternal significance. A body might be enslaved for 80 years, but the soul lasts forever. Paul did not spend his life trying to free slaves (he himself was a free man), rather, he spent much of his life telling people how to live a Christian life (whether slave or free) so that those around them might come into the saving knowledge of Christ.
Paul told Titus to admonish those church members who were servants to “be obedient to their masters, and please them well in all things.” God is the author and delegator of all authority. Romans 13 tells us that “there is no power, except from God.” In Genesis, Joseph was taken in violence by his own brothers and sold as a slave into the house of Potiphar. As the slave of Potiphar, he would be maligned, misused and eventually thrown in prison. However, at the end of Joseph’s life, he would recount the events of his life, especially those of his being sold into slavery, and describe them as the “evil” works of men that were merely being “meant” for good by God. The Hebrew word translated as “meant” in Genesis 50 is the word that means “woven together” like a cloth. God had been working the details of Joseph’s slavery together, giving authority to the sinful Potiphar and his wife over Joseph. Joseph was right to not rebel against his authority, but to rather trust that God was doing what was necessary in His wisdom.
Paul presents a similar argument for those who are Christians in a workplace. They were to model gracious submission to their boss. There should never be a moment where a Christian in the workplace directly disobeys their employer unless that employer tells the Christian to do something that is directly against Scripture. The actions of a Christian in servitude or service must match the belief that all authority is ordained by God.
Paul continues by directing servants to not “answer again.” The idea behind this phrase is “talking back, retorting,” or even to tell somebody off. Christians should never be known in a workplace as the one who is mouthy with the boss. Rather, in humble submission a Christian should work and seek to honor those who are in authority. If there is disagreement, dialogue can happen in a structure that has been set forth by the employer and in a respectful way even during that time.
Finally, Paul explained that the ethic of a Christian slave should be that although the master or the boss has so much, only what is given you is yours. To see opportunities to cheat, or steal, or to be conniving in your dealing is to be unchristian. “Not purloining” means to not steal or pilfer. It doesn’t matter how spiritual you might act, the name of Christ will always be disgraced by your lack of Biblical obedience.
In all these things, Paul is not introducing new doctrine. He is calling Christians to obey the commands of Scripture. “Thou shalt not steal.” “Submit to those that have the rule over you.” This is no new doctrine, it is simply the application of doctrine that too often is only applied when convenient. Paul needed Titus to remind servants that no matter the circumstance, the truth of Scripture must be obeyed. No matter our circumstances, the truth of Scripture must always be obeyed. We must live lives that are consistent with sound doctrine.

Reflect: What were some biblical principles that Paul sought to direct Romans servants to consider given their present condition?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Titus 2:6-8

After explaining how that a multi-generational community of faith will have older women admonishing younger women, Paul continued his letter by telling Titus that older men should be teaching younger men the truths of scriptures. But as he continued his admonition of teaching young men, Paul transitioned from telling Titus to have the old men teach, to telling Titus to teach the young men himself.
In verse 7, he says, “showing thyself,” literally he means, “Titus, you show them by your own life.” It was not good enough that the young Titus tell the old men and women what to teach the younger, rather, in a community of faith, old and young could teach and learn. Titus would teach the younger just as much as he would teach the older. And Titus’s teaching must include a lifestyle that backed up his words. It was not good enough that he tell the young men how to live, he must show the young men how to live by his “pattern of good works.” His life was to be so consistently marked by right doctrine and right action, that the best word to describe it was a “pattern.”
So what did the pattern look like? Paul began the description of a well-patterned life with “showing uncorruptness in doctrine.” Before Titus could ever live right, he had to understand the truth. Before he could ever act right, he must believe right. The basis for a good Christian life is right doctrine and a deep understanding of the truth. Doctrine is primary. From it flows all the other things in the Christian life. Instead of starting with “wear the right clothes, cut your hair the right way, go to the right places, have the right friends” or anything else external, Paul started with the most fundamental thing in a Christian’s life – believe the right thing. Titus and all those who would follow his pattern of godly living must start with a pursuit of the deep and abiding understanding of the truths of God.
With a solid platform of biblical understanding and doctrine rooted securely in the pages of Scripture, a believer can proceed in their pursuit of good living. As Paul continued his list, we must note that the things he lists were not externals. Instead, he directed Titus to have the right mindset and the right heart so that he could lead others well. He was to train the young men to do the same. The church should never get side-tracked on the things that are not written to the neglect of the things that are explicit. Here Titus must be full of seriousness and sincerity. He must speak in ways that are indisputably honest.
Paul’s own principle in his life had been to live a life that was blameless. Now, in his admonition for Titus to set a pattern that other believers could follow, he instructed him to live in such a way and talk in such a way so that “he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” If you live a life of humility and sincerity then there is no way that hateful people could malign your good works without bringing shame upon themselves.
Here in this text the indications of a Christian have been laid forth clearly. The way you act and the words you use help the world around you to see that you are a Christian. Your speech should be different. Your mind should be different. With a level of gravity and sobriety, every young man and young woman should seek to follow after a life marked with sound doctrine and a pursuit of an understanding of the truth of God.

Reflect: What does Paul tell Titus in verse 2 and verse 6 that Christians both young and old must be? Why do you think that is?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Titus 2:4-5

Instructing Titus to lead the churches in Crete well, Paul explained how the members of the church should relate to one another. The older members should be striving to learn sound doctrine and to teach it to the younger. Through patience and love those who have more gray hair should be willing to control themselves so that they can guide and direct those who are younger than them.
After giving explicit instruction to the older, Paul directs Titus to give some admonition to the younger ones in the congregation. Through a pure lifestyle and holy conversations, the older ladies in the church should seek to teach the younger ladies. But the things that are supposed to be taught are not a list of things that make for a good housekeeper or cook. Rather, from the fountain of Titus 2:1, all of the things in this list flow from good doctrine.
In their instruction, the older ladies should teach the younger to be “sober.” This term means that the younger ladies should learn to live their lives leveled, well-understanding, not easily swayed by other doctrines (Eph. 4:14). There should be a distinction between a young woman or mother who is a believer and one who is not. The Facebook page of a believing woman should be “sober.” The latest gossip news, the latest conspiracy theory, or potentially false accusation should never find footing in the life of a Christian. Rather, in sobriety, each decision, each statement, each post should drip of seriousness and love.
The elder women must also teach the younger women to be “husband lovers” and “lovers of their children.” This seems like good family practice, but it is more than that. In Luke 10:29, a young man asked Jesus “who is my neighbor?” This was in response to the command of God that “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” So who is your neighbor? If you are a married young woman, your husband is your neighbor, and your children are your neighbor. Often the relationship between husbands and wife and parents and children loses sight of this basic principle. Children should treat parents in ways that could be described as “loving them as myself.” The goal then of the older ladies in the church should be to teach and demonstrate what this “loving my neighbor” looks like in the home.
As Paul gives direction for the older women in the church, he encourages them to strive to teach. In no way does he cheapen the status of women, rather, by the very nature of this command, he is elevating women in general to a position of importance and purpose. So what were they to teach in verse 5? They were to teach the younger women to be pure and holy. That just as the God that they served was holy, they should be holy. (1 Peter 1:16) Further, Paul would continue by instructing the younger ladies to be “obedient to their own husbands, and to be keepers at home.” This view has been misunderstood to denigrate women. When we understand the scope of doctrine for men and women, we understand that wives who live in contention with their husbands or are constantly seen as negligent to their own families cause the same problem that husbands who are contentious with their wives and are negligent with their own families. The problem is that in the end, verse 5 says, the word of God is blasphemed. People see the brokenness of relationship in the home (whether caused by the man or the woman) and imagine that it is reflective of Christian doctrine. Rather, we should understand that when Christians follow “sound doctrine” the home will be a place of unity and self-sacrifice in the service of everyone else. A loving well-ordered house of service is not an archaic Middle Eastern notion, rather, it is the ultimate expression of Christianity.

Reflect: What are some principles that the older women were to teach the younger women? Where do we see these elsewhere in scripture ascribed to all Christians?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Titus 2:2-3

O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.                                                                             Psalm 71:17-18
There is something quite endearing about guidance and direction given from a gentle and aged soul. With time comes a well-tempered perspective, and if that perspective is rooted in timeless truth, there could be no greater gift to impart. Time helps to crystallize and clarify certain things, and age can help most people sift through the treasures of life to find those gems that are the most valuable. However, there is no direct scientific correlation between grey follicles and biblical wisdom. Young men can have the wisdom of a sage, and some old men are complete fools. So what is the distinction?
The psalmist makes it quite plain in Psalm 71 as he expresses his life story with the vocabulary of one who has been constantly dependent on God. With a basis of faith, he sought to not only follow after God but to guide and point others into the same pursuit. In the last chapter of his life, he labored to shape those around him into becoming what God created them for – worshippers of God. There was no one exempted from this conversation, rather he told of God’s character and power to “everyone that is to come.”
This is what makes an aged person wise. This is what brings value and purpose in the years that so many waste and squander. Instead of retreating into the shadows, this wise old saint spent himself proclaiming the truths that mattered the most to him. There was nothing more important than engaging younger folks in conversation. He did not retreat to the back side of an island where no one could find him as he pined away his last years, instead, he walked amongst those who would outlive him and pointed them to the One who would outlive them all.
As Paul instructed Titus about the way the churches of Crete could be helped, he began his instructions for the church members by speaking to those who were the most aged. Paul wanted Titus to encourage them to not squander their last years. Rather in full faith, they could study and learn and teach. They would need patience to engage with those who had not yet had the fires of life temper their zeal. They would need to love those who in their youthful vigor would make mistakes upon mistakes. They would have to live everyday blameless so that their testimony did not corrupt the truth they proclaimed.
Above all things, these older saints must become studiers and teachers of the truth of God’s word. They could not shirk this responsibility for a litany of lesser things. As they had learned, they must teach. What they had not yet learned, they must study, so that they could teach. Church in the first century did not isolate the grey heads from the young, rather, in the multi-generational spirit of the gospel, the first century church blended all ages. Old could instruct the young. Young could humbly receive biblical instruction. And we are no different. May the lie of retirement on the beach secluded somewhere far away never allure our saints from fulfilling the clear call to community given here in Titus 2.

Reflect: Why did Paul say that the older saints should be with the younger saints?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Titus 2:1

“Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;” 
                                                                             1 Timothy 1:9-10

In his letter to the young pastor Timothy, Paul explains a smorgasbord of flagrant sins, and finishes the list of heinous lifestyles with “and any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.” Here, Paul makes a direct correlation between what you believe and what you do. If you believe correctly, your life will mirror that truth; but if you don’t believe correctly, your life will mirror that error. In the estimation of Scripture, pure doctrine is key to right living. Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.
Failing to see this can lead to a serious problem. While there is always a danger of teaching right living apart from right believing, the motivations that should underlay our obedience in the Christian life should go far deeper than convictions brought about by a clever minister. The Christian life is not merely a list of do’s and don’ts, rather, it is a life informed by motivating truths that will lead to obedience not disobedience.
For example: because God loves me, I can love Him and those around me. The doctrine of the love of God results in my life of love. Having been loved, I cannot help but love others, friends or enemies, because not loving is equivalent to saying that I am better than God and know more than he does. However, just telling people to love their enemies because “they should” leaves them frustrated and hurt, even feeling as though inequality and injustice are winning in their lives. We must have our lifestyle informed by the truth of doctrine as it is revealed from Scripture.
Right doctrine will always result in right living, because right doctrine includes an element of responsibility. Those people are wrong who would argue that the “overly-intellectual” get all the doctrine right, but don’t ever live on the ground with the rest of us. If someone truly understands the doctrine of Scripture, then they will be doing what Scripture tells them. Similarly, it is impossible to live the Christian life apart from understanding sound doctrine. Good works devoid of the motivating truths of Scripture is merely self-righteousness.
As Paul writes to Titus in chapter 2, he has this perspective of the connection between good works and good doctrine. Without these two pillars of the Christian life, you will end in either cold, calculated religious-sounding inactivity or in excitedly inconsistent and misguided exertion. So Paul’s simple admonition to Titus in his efforts to “set in order the things that are wanting” (ch.1v.5) is to “speak the things which become sound doctrine.” He did not need to necessarily roll out just a list of do’s and don’ts. He needed to teach the people of Crete the truth and doctrine of God that would result in their desiring to live out the do’s and don’ts of Christianity.
Reflect: How do Titus 2:1 and Titus 1:16 relate to one another in their content?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Titus 1:10-16

Perhaps the most damaging type of person in the world is the one who claims to be a Christian but fails to live in any way that would reflect true Christianity. 
Sadly, many people misunderstand the term “Christian,” feeling that it is merely a part of their cultural identity or something that they could inherit from their family. In this jaded view of Christianity, the name “Christian” is just another product label among many that they use to self-identify in a hyper-consumerist society. To them, Jesus is as crucial as Abercrombie, and either can be replaced or set aside if something more appealing or flashy comes along.
Having seen this danger, we must understand that perhaps the only way that this for-self-profit perspective of the church could be any more destructive to the name of Christianity is if those who are supposed to be serving in leadership begin to espouse it. When leaders treat the church coffers as their personal endowment fund, and seek to deepen their power by abusing the good grace of those they are supposed to serve, everyone outside the church and a few hurt and abused inside the church begin to equate “Christianity” with corruption. This ought not be. In any congregation, the leadership must be the blameless. Many people have been bruised by the sinful manipulation of a few crafty and greedy men who were little more than wolves in preachers’ clothing. The cost has been great. Being infuriated by the hypocrisy or guilted into the irrational, many have fallen away from Christianity, and many more have taken up arms against it.
As Paul wrote his letter to Titus, telling him to appoint leaders of the churches on the island of Crete, he encouraged Titus to locate and remove those leaders who were using the churches for their own gain. He specifically mentioned removing those who were “vain talkers and deceivers” (those who manipulated the word of God for their own gain), those who subverted and taught “for filthy lucre’s sake” (disregarding the health and well-being of the individuals for their own financial profit), and “liars, evil beasts, slow bellies (gluttons).” These were the ones destroying the name of Christianity on the island of Crete, and these are the ones who right this moment wreak havoc under the title “Christian.”
In the place of those who were corrupt and destructive, Titus was to appoint men who were blameless, loving, just, self-controlled and holy. What Crete needed, and what the world today needs is to hear the clear message of Jesus Christ and to see the truth of Jesus Christ lived out in the lives of those who call themselves “Christian.” They don’t need those who “profess that they know God; but in their works (their lifestyle) they deny him.”(v. 16) Titus had a lot of work ahead of him, but the name of Christ was at stake. If he did not root out the gross misrepresentations of Christianity that abounded, then in most cities the gospel would not be able to find a footing. As long as abusers used the title “Christian” and held positions of authority, the church could not serve its Christ-ordained purpose of being salt and light to a rotting and darkened world. Radical, painful measures were necessary. But no duration of suffering in Titus’s lifetime would be worth the eternally significant consequence of demonstrating the gospel’s beauty and stopping the mouths of all those who would dissent and attack by living a pure and blameless life.

Reflect: Read Matthew 23:13-15. Understanding that the Pharisees were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the Jews, why do you think Jesus said such harsh words to them here?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Titus 1:7-9

After telling Titus to appoint elders in every city, Paul further explained the qualifications for these elders. The first major qualification was in verse 6 – an elder must have a good home. His relationship with his wife and children must stand as an example of obedience to the teaching of Scripture, so that with full confidence he might be able to exhort the families under his care. Continuing the list of qualifications for those in leadership, Paul switched to the term “bishop” (the Greek word episkopos), but it is clear that he is using “elder” and “bishop” interchangeably.
These church leaders must be blameless. Their life should be marked by such godliness and good works that they are unaccusable. Any reproach that any person could bring against them should be unsustainable because it does not match their character. Conversely, a person who is divisive, rude, crass, or nearly criminal in personality has no place in leadership in the church. Destructive leadership will corrupt the church, but disciplined leadership will cultivate godliness and bring glory to God.
Describing what a blameless bishop looks like, in verse 7 Paul uses a few character traits that a bishop will not have – not self-willed (arrogant), not soon angry (short-tempered), not given to wine (drunkard), no striker (quarrelsome), not given to filthy lucre (greedy and money-seeking). On the other hand, a bishop will be marked by more than the character traits he does not have, rather, in verse 8, Paul continues his list with things that a pastor must have – a lover of hospitality (always willing to serve guests), a lover of good men (promoter of right and honest men), sober (self-controlled), just (innocent and righteous), holy (fully devoted to Godliness), temperate (rarely dogmatic, balanced).
The bishop will have a very specific character. He may differ in his tastes and preferences, but there are some areas of character that cannot be sacrificed. As Titus searched out men in each church, the task would be a difficult one, but for the health of the church it was a necessary one. Having the wrong men in leadership could lead to hurt and wounding and the damaging of the church, but having rightly qualified men would lead to flourishing and life and health in the church.
After explaining that a God-ordained elder in a church must be a good family man, and must be a man of impeccable character, Paul finalizes the list with a key component of being a good elder/bishop/pastor. In order to be a qualified elder, a bishop must be able to handle the word of God well. He must not just have a love for the word of God, but rather, he must know the word of God inside and out. He must be able to teach the truth of God from the Word of God through exhortation and admonition. It is not good enough to simply be a man of character. In order to lead the people of God, an elder must know clearly and definitively what the word of God says and how it applies to the life of a Christian.
As Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit set the bar of expectation for the elders and bishops on the island of Crete, it seemed that it is almost a difficult thing to qualify to be a bishop or elder. Perhaps after seeing a list of these character traits many people might shy away from it and self-deprecatingly acknowledge, “well, I’ll never qualify.” But that is not the point of this text. It does not exist as a standard that should seem insurmountable. Rather, through submission to the word of God, and surrender to the Spirit of God, each Christian should strive to grow in these areas that clearly demonstrate the desire of God.
While this list is primarily for helping churches determine who is biblically qualified to lead their congregation (and it should be used as such), it also can serve as an explanation of the character traits that God desires in every Christian. All believers should strive to model their families and relationships after scripture. All believers should seek to live blameless lives. All believers should strive to know the Word of God and the truths of God so they can encourage themselves and the other people of God. This is not character that is simply relegated to leadership, it is the explanation of a holy and right Christian.

Reflect: Read back through the qualifications listed in today’s text. Do you know of any men who would be qualified to be an elder? Do you know of any men who are bishops who are clearly unqualified?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Titus 1:5-6

The island of Crete is roughly the same size and shape of Delaware, 150 miles long and about 30 miles wide at its widest point. Scattered throughout the island are a number of cities, and by the time that Paul wrote this letter to Titus, there were apparently churches springing up in most of the cities. As Paul wrote to Titus he instructed him that these churches on the island of Crete should have consistent, godly leadership.
For his first job, Titus was told to “ordain elders in every city.” The word translated in English as “elder” comes from the Greek word presbuteros and prior to its use in the church, simply meant “old man.” But Paul wasn’t merely telling Titus to appoint old men over the churches, rather, the word presbuteros in the early church came to mean those who were “mature or seasoned in the faith.” Being an elder in the church had less to do with age, and more to do with a growth in Biblical understanding and a godly lifestyle. Now, many older men could be elders, but that would be based on their meeting a certain set of spiritual qualifications and not on the number of years they had been alive.
In the New Testament, the words “bishop” and “elder” are used to describe the same position of leadership in the church. This is different from a “deacon,” the one who serves the body of the church. As Paul describes the “elder” and his role here in his letter to Titus, there are several things worth noting. Churches must be ruled by elders, and those elders must fit a specific set of qualifications.
What we must understand in this listing of qualifications is that Paul is not saying, “make the elders act like this,” rather, he is saying “make those that act like this elders.” Whether or not someone was qualified to be an elder would be indicated by their life and their home. In verse 6, an elder must have a family that reflects Christian harmony and unity. He must be a one-woman man, and his children must be well-controlled. An elder must already be leading his family biblically, in order to be qualified. He must love his wife, and serve her sacrificially. He must sincerely and consistently strive to train his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Now, there is a danger of reading this passage of the qualifications of the elder and not understanding the principle being taught. The reason that those who lived this way were qualified to be elders, is because by leading their family well, then they would be able to lead the families around them by word and example. Good families were not reserved to elders alone. Rather, by laboring obediently to God, they have grown and matured their own families. Now, they could challenge those under their care to strive for the same things. If the elder had a horrible home life, he would either be a hypocrite when he taught others to do better than he had, or in shame he would neglect to teach on the home and family.
The elder must be the example, loving his family and serving them well if he ever imagined being able to serve the family of God well. So we see this principle, churches must be led by elders, and these elders must lead their families by Scripture. Now, Titus was given the task to find these men in the church using a few other qualifications and to appoint them to position of leadership in each of the churches.

Reflect: Why would it be so important for a man who would lead the local church to be able to lead his own home well?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Titus 1:1-4

As was customary in the First Century culture, Paul began his letter to Titus with a greeting that would include his own name. For those who would doubt the authority of Titus, a letter from an Apostle would certainly quell any concerns they may have. Establishing the leadership of Titus, an ethnic Greek (Gal. 2:3), was a matter of priority if Paul wanted Titus to correct the errors that had begun creeping into the churches there on the island of Crete.
Having given his name, Paul continues with a couple of titles – “a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” In Paul’s perspective this was his identity. He was merely a slave of the Almighty God, and a messenger for Jesus. There was no tedious list of credentials or references; rather, Paul simply viewed himself in light of his full surrender to the will of God, and a desire to share the message of hope in Christ, the Savior (v. 3-4). What a lesson to the young Titus, that no matter what level of acclaim he would ever reach in the ministry, he was still simply these two things, a slave and a messenger.
As Paul moved through his greeting, he did not miss the opportunity to explain the wealth of doctrine regarding the work God had accomplished in him and through him. In verse 1, after describing himself as a slave and a messenger, Paul continued on by saying that he was brought in as a messenger and slave by faith and the understanding of the truth. It was truly by grace that Paul had been saved through faith, and now, it was the message of that faith that he would declare everywhere he went.
But the truth that saves does not leave anyone unchanged. Instead, having been declared “elect” by God’s grace, Paul was continually being worked on by God to bring him into a life of godliness. Having justified Paul by his grace, God was constantly working through the Spirit to sanctify Paul and grow him in godliness and Christ-likeness.
While Paul was seeing God work in him to purify him and grow him in godliness, he never lost sight of the hope he had found in Jesus Christ. He lived every day, submitted to the will of God, declaring the message of Jesus, all the while confidently encouraged that one day, the process of sanctification would be complete, and he would be free from sin. God had promised that in due time, Paul would experience the full scope of eternal life, and everything that Paul had preached would become reality.
I imagine that as Paul wrote these words, he grew in excitement and was re-invigorated at the reality of what lay ahead of him. “God, that cannot lie, promised it!” As he continued in verse 4, he drew Titus into this excitement, “To Titus, mine own son after the common faith.” Basically, “The godliness that the Spirit of God is accomplishing in me, the truth that I hold so dear, and the future hope of glory - these things are family traits that you and I share by having this faith in common, Titus!” And lest he leave off without recalling the source of this wonderful work in him, Paul declares, “and it came from God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Reflect: Are you excited by the salvation offered to you by Jesus and by the prospect of having eternal life with God apart from sin? Read Ephesians 2:1-13, and list out the exciting truths that Paul writes there about who he was and who he has become.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Introduction to the Epistle to Titus

From the time that Paul was called by God to be an Apostle, he labored to preach the gospel and establish churches. Eventually, Paul began ministering to some of the metropolitan areas of Southern Europe, especially Greece, and sought to establish churches in those regions. To maintain the churches, Paul chose leaders who were able to teach and who were personally growing in doctrine and godliness. Two of the most notable of these trainees were Timothy and Titus.
Both of these men were sent by Paul to help establish churches that would be well-ordered and well- structured. To ensure that they would be able to establish well-structured churches, Paul wrote epistles (letters) to these two men who were younger in the faith than him. His desire was to explain to them how a church should be arranged and organized.
Ultimately it is through Paul’s explanation in his Epistles to Timothy and Titus that all Biblical churches form a proper understanding of New Testament, Apostle-ordained church polity and structure. As we look to the Epistle to Titus we would do well to understand that it is divided into three sections. The first section explains the leadership of the church. The second section explains membership of the church. The third section describes how the church should relate to those outside of the church. This instruction must have been incredibly helpful and encouraging as Titus labored to establish churches on the island of Crete.
Throughout the epistle, Paul labors to get beyond the pragmatic execution of details to be carried out in a church, and instead to teach his protégés (and us) the doctrines behind church authority and structure. Church is not a business that must be run with the precision of CEO and CFO. The church is an organism that exists together in love and unity. The motives and principles that guide and direct a Fortune 500 company are not the same as those that govern a local body of believers. Rather, the church is a body, and should function as such, with each member striving for the health and strength of himself and of the others in the body.
Understanding that churches are not to be run merely on the principles of Wall Street, we must also understand that God has not left us without order. In His wisdom, he has lain out plainly through the writing of the Apostle Paul what the church should look like and how it should function. We will do well in this study to examine ourselves and the church. If churches and church leaders in the first century needed guiding and direction, we certainly do today.

Reflect: What do you think of when you hear the terms church leadership and church membership?

Friday, September 11, 2015

James 5:19-20

If you continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.
John 8:31

Your mortal life is the chief indication of whether or not you have eternal life. However, in spite of this clear teaching from Jesus, there are many who seek to rationalize their blatant disobedience to God. Using church membership as a sign of obedience in place of actual church attendance and involvement, or using a past experience of “conversion” in place of a present reality of continuing in the truth of the gospel, many falsely assure themselves of salvation while there is no reason to feel so secure. As they speed down the road of life, they point to their seat-belt of trite-theology all the while ignoring the cold reality that sooner or later they will arrive at the bridgeless ravine on the road to destruction. Yet, tugging, pulling, and pointing at their seat-belt, they assure themselves of their safety and seek to persuade those around them of “the decision they made that one time.” The answer of Jesus is short, but it certainly does not miss the point, “if you continue in my truth, then are you my disciples.”
“My parents are Christians.” “I was saved when I was a kid.” “I’m not really in church now, but I used to be pretty regular.” “I’ve always believed in God.” “You know, once saved, always saved.”
No matter how it is worded, the error always comes in the same form – false confidence. To them, the Biblical doctrine of assurance is so convoluted that they place surety where there should be none. The confidence they have in their eternal state before God substitutes obedience in their life with the phrase, “Well, you know, nobody’s perfect. Everybody sins.” Instead of acknowledging that their lifestyle of godlessness indicates an absence of the Holy Spirit in their life, they declare themselves to be children of God, while all the while they are merely self-deceived children of the devil.
We must understand this truth - a true Christian will never reject the truth of the gospel. Saving faith will be evidenced by a life of works. James has endeavored in his entire epistle to reveal this truth. A true Christian patiently endures hard times. A true Christian prefers others over himself. A true Christian labors to tame the tongue. A true Christian submits to God. A true Christian is not ensnared by the deceitfulness of riches. But even with such clear evidence, there are those who do not understand or believe this truth. In their life-style of disobedience they still profess that they are Christian. So, what do we do with those who profess themselves to be Christian while their lifestyle indicates otherwise?

God…has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
2 Corinthians 5:18

We have one option. Treat them like the non-believers that they are. Don’t coddle their false-confidence. Don’t reinforce their misunderstanding. Don’t accept misapplied truth that skirts the real issue of their desperately sinful position before a Holy and Just God. Church membership and Christian parents have never saved anyone from hell. The rotten-planked bridge of self-confidence must be dismantled and replaced with the truth of Scripture. James 5:20 says that those who are truly converted must come along and help those in error to see the truth. In gentleness and in meekness we must proclaim the truth of reconciliation, especially to those who are falsely assured so that they might be saved and brought into a life of true assurance.

Reflect: If Jesus is so clear in John 8, why do people still continue to call themselves Christian even when their lifestyle doesn’t seem to indicate it?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

James 5:13-18

When Omri died, his son became king. The new king, Ahab, brought new possibilities. Perhaps he wouldn’t be as evil as his corrupt father. Perhaps he would lead the nation of Israel in a massive revival, and turn from the worship of pagan gods to the worship of the true God. All of these hopes were crushed almost immediately. Instead of turning to God, Ahab built a massive worship center to Baal. Instead of obeying the commands of God, Ahab married a princess of the pagans, Jezebel. Seeing this corruption must have been so discouraging to all those living in Israel at the time. In response to this wickedness, the prophet Elijah took a trip to see King Ahab. In boldness Elijah (whose name means “my God is Jehovah) shocked King Ahab by saying, “Until I say, there will be no rain in your entire country.” In a subsistence culture, no rain meant massive starvation, bankruptcy, and ultimately political unrest. This proclamation was a devastating one, and for three years, the wickedness of Ahab was met with the punishment of a God-sent drought. Eventually, Elijah prayed to God, and asked Him to suspend the curse and allow rain to come again. In a torrent, the rains came rushing in, and washed the dry and parched Israel.
What power! Many would see Elijah, and perhaps conclude, “What an incredible miracle he just performed.” But the truth of Scripture is that Elijah did not accomplish this great task. As we read Scripture, there is only one with the power to control the weather, and that is God. Elijah was the mouthpiece who proclaimed the work of God, and as we read the book of James, we see that Elijah was the one who prayed that God would hold back the rain and then send the rain, but the one with all of the power was God. Elijah prayed, and God accomplished.
In James 5:13-16, James sees the Christian life as a life that should be lived with this Elijah-like, God-ward perspective of trust. There is no circumstance that does not need prayer. James spent much time in his epistle speaking to those who are suffering, and helping them to see that they must endure with patience so that God would accomplish a great sanctifying work in them. Now, James continues his message to these sufferers by saying, “If any among you suffer, let him pray.” The natural response in suffering should not be murmuring or complaining like the Israelites in the wilderness, rather, knowing that the supreme God of the universe is fully capable of helping and strengthening, we should turn in prayer to Him.
Finally, James addresses those who are physically sick. In verses 14 and 15 we find a text that many have argued over, and perhaps many more have misinterpreted. The words “anointing him with oil” leaves the reader perhaps imagining an Old Testament ceremony where someone poured oil over the head of another while blessing them, or giving them a promise. The word here used for “anoint” has nothing to do with ceremony, but is instead a salve or an ointment for a treatment. James is not speaking of mystical powers in these verses. The oil does not heal, rather, in verse 15, if there will be any healing of the sick, it will be God that raises him up. Those who peddle healing oils or those religious charlatans who proffer themselves as “faith-healers” are little more than snake-oil salesmen. Their “anointing oil” has no more power to heal than does a quart of 5W30 at the auto-parts store. It is not in their power that the sick are raised, rather, like in the prayer of Elijah, it is only the God of heaven who hears and answers prayers offered up from a clean heart and a clean life (a righteous man) that will heal.

Reflect: Describe each word in the following phrase from James 5:16, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” See Romans 10:10 for some help.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

James 5:12

“Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” – Matthew 5:33-37In teaching his disciples, Jesus emphasized the importance of words in the life of a Christian. If a Christian is living a pure life, free from lying and deceit, then he has no need to swear on anything when he makes a statement. “I swear to you on my mother’s grave!” “I swear on my life!” “As God is my witness!” “I swear on a stack of Holy Bibles!” No matter what the statement that we are making, there is no need for us to follow it up with “and I swear…”.
The obsession with swearing on this or swearing on that reveals a deeper problem. If we always have to validate our statements with “and I swear…” then this indicates that in the other things we say, we are somewhat less than honest. In effect, by overemphasizing our truthfulness in one moment, we indicate that in other moments, we fail to tell the whole truth. This should not be the case. In Luke 6:45, Christ said, “for of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaketh.” As Christians, we should be marked by a right heart that results in a right use of the tongue.
To those around us, believers and non-believers, the indication of our lives is that we are honest and true in all our dealings, not merely the ones where we tag on the phrase “and I swear…”. Being convicted by the Holy Spirit and striving to keep a clean conscience before God and men, we must not ever lie. And we do not need to emphasize that we are telling the truth in any particular moment, for we must always tell the truth. It should be our testimony as Christians.
It is interesting that following his teaching on worldly wisdom versus godly wisdom, James says, “above all things” in reference to this principle of being honest in the place of swearing. The business world does not work like the church. In worldly wisdom, agreements must be sworn to, signed, and witnessed in order to be true. This is because there is a different motivation behind the deals that occur in business and the commitments that we should have to on another in the church. In business, it is all about what can I get, but in the church, the Christian should be thinking, “what can I give to help the body.”
Seeking self-interests in the church is an affront to the ethic of Christianity. Rather, when each member is seeking the health and well-being of every other member, I can trust you when you say something to me. I don’t need you to swear to me. Rather, in pure Christianity, I trust that you are striving to do right before God and before others (including me). The church should be different than the world. In a church, we can trust that what the next person says is meant from a heart fully surrendered to God. Godly wisdom is different from worldly wisdom, and the church must be different than the world.

Reflect: Read James 1:26. How does this verse relate to the ethic of not needing to swear to establish honesty.

Friday, September 4, 2015

James 5:7-11

As James heads towards the end of his epistle, he returns the reader to something with which he had begun the letter – patience. In James 1, James admonished the reader to “count it all joy” when he comes into trials and hard times. He had further said that while trusting in the goodness and wisdom of God, we should allow faith-fueled patience to grow in us. Now, using three illustrations, James teaches how to be patient as God works in us.
First, he says be patient like a farmer. A farmer doesn’t plant seeds in the ground and then go back out the next day and stare at the dirt anxiously looking for signs of growth. He doesn’t fret for the first week when no rain comes on the seeds he planted. Rather, he knows that in due time rain will come, and the sun will shine, and his crops will grow. The formula for plant growth does not include any measure of anxiety on the farmer’s part. Rather, with “long patience” the farmer rejoices at the bountiful harvest that arrives.
Second, James reminds the reader to be patient like the Old Testament prophets. There was no group of people more ignored, despised, rejected, and abused than were the prophets. For example, before telling Jeremiah to proclaim the message of God, God told him that no one would listen to a word he would say. Others were beaten and killed as they proclaimed the very message of God, yet through patient endurance they never failed to deliver the message God had given to them.
Third, we are reminded of Job. In Job’s life, through the supremacy of God, Satan’s ill intentions were used to accomplish an incredible work of sanctification and perfection. Through God’s mercy, Job found restoration and kindness in spite of the darkest troubles of his life. Patiently, Job endured the trials by resting constantly in the character of the omnipotent, omni-benevolent, omni-sapient God.
Seeing these examples of patient endurance, why should we fill our lives with fretting from one point to the next? Why should we doubt the goodness and wisdom of God in whatever circumstance His Providence has brought us to? How can we expect the love of God to take on a form altogether foreign to those he loved so dearly in the Old Testament? We mustn’t turn the trials of life into pity parties or faithless outbursts of frustration. Rather, like the saints of old, we can trust God.
When trials come, no longer fear;
for in the pain our God draws near
to fire a faith worth more than gold,
and there His faithfulness is told.
- Keith and Kristyn Getty

Reflect: What are some things that have you unnerved or filled with anxiety right now? What characteristics of God can help you to be patient through tough times?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

James 5:4-6

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. - Matthew 6:19-21

Having heard the command of Jesus to pursue what is most valuable, namely that which is eternal, many have turned away in disregard and disbelief. Jesus did not stutter when he said the words, but these disregarding disbelievers stumble when they try to reason away the clear meaning of His words. Jesus even goes on to make the point explicit when he said, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Sadly, many, even some who are professing believers, claim to believe the truth of this verse, yet they scrape and scrounge and slave to acquire the largest pile of stuff they can in their short life on earth. Rather than heeding the words of Jesus or even the admonition of Paul to “set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth,” these self-deceived slaves of gain become eternally near-sighted. With their spiritual eyes darkened or at least dimmed, their business model only includes 5, 10, and 20 year projections, and they do not plan for 1,000 years from now.
In addressing these eternally near-sighted American Dream success stories, James tells them to howl and weep, because in their shrewd investment here on the earth, they have become some of the most unwise investors in things that are eternal. Long after their investments and precious metals and expensive clothes have passed away, the things of eternal value will still sparkle and gleam with a heavenly luster. But it will not be as simple as just losing these goods. Instead, James says that these large piles of goods accrued here in this life will stand and testify against those who spent all of their life disbelieving and rationalizing away the value system of which Christ so clearly taught.
In the judgment, the heaps that these rich so tirelessly slaved to amass will serve as “Exhibit A” in the case condemning their disobedience to God. James says that it will testify how that they scrimped every last penny out of their workers, underpaying on business deals, and cutting corners in quality, all so that they could have a larger pile. He says that they lived lavishly and turned every extra dime into extravagance so that they could live the life of comfort. He says that they neglected the saints of God, not caring for their needs or for their very lives. Like citizens of Babel, they sought to make a tower of their goods that would reach to the heavens so that they could live on this earth like gods, but now, judgment day has come, and the pile of their goods stands as a testament to their disobedience.
The first thing we must see is what Paul says clearly in 1 Timothy 6:10, “The love of money is the root of all evil…” He does not say that money is evil. It is the infatuation with currency and power that is evil. It is the desire to take the place of God that is evil. It is the craving to have so much that you don’t need God that is evil. It is committing family-sacrifice for the sake of always putting in extra hours at work that is evil. It is amassing wealth to the neglecting of the saints that is evil. It is holding a bank account as more sacred than your brother’s welfare that is evil. May we not repent of money, rather, may we repent when the love and worship of that money takes root in our heart and be willing to give it all away when we realize it has become our master. Money is cheap, may we find something far more valuable to live for, namely Jesus.

Reflect: Read Matthew 19:16-26. What can we learn from this story?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

James 5:1-3

The morning dew and the afternoon sun began to unleash a daily barrage against the barricaded hull of the freshly cast seed. Eventually relenting to its nature, a tiny white root broke from the inside of the seed and spiraled its way to the soil. Over the next couple of days a bundle of sun-glowingly green leaves emerged and accelerated towards the sky. The remnants of the seed and sprout were gone, and in its place a vigorous new seedling stretched its branches in every direction daily soaking in the morning dew and afternoon sun.
A few days passed, and from the bottom of the stalk, a little green finger tugged. As days passed, the growing stalk felt a small vine grasping and spinning up between its branches. The speed at which the vine grew was more than the little plant could handle. Before long, the vine had contorted itself around every branch and with the daily nutrients it was receiving, eventually it was as big as the young plant that was supporting it. When the little plant succumbed to the weight of the vine and bent over, the vine reached from the top of the plant to the ground, fastening itself into ground-gripping shackles. Within a few weeks, the vigorous plant eventually died from the trauma, having been choked out by the weeds and other vines. It had seemed so promising, but devastatingly it was overtaken and destroyed.
This is the picture that Jesus uses in a parable in Matthew 13 to describe those in whom the word of God had begun to take root but eventually “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choketh the word.” Bound and wrapped with cares about their own financial stability and with amassing to themselves, they have overweighed themselves with things they were never supposed to hoard. The deceitful work of riches caused them to pursue treasure on earth to the neglect of treasure in heaven. In their pursuit of what they viewed as most valuable, they have been left without that which is truly valuable.
To this group of treasure-heapers, James begins chapter 5 by telling them to “weep and howl for your miseries.” As time had progressed, they had become ensnared by a desire to get more and to acquire as much as physically possible. Their view of investment had left them with barns that were filled goods, closets that overflowed with fancy garments, and bank accounts that glistened with gold and silver. Literally no better word could be used to describe their wealth than “heaps.” But they had failed to use their money in ways that truly mattered. They neglected to see that God is the giver of every gift. They imagined their worldly wisdom had brought them into success, James warned them that it had instead left them precariously on the precipice of destruction. Unless they adjusted their view, the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches would leave them howling and weeping on the day of judgment.
Do you desire to be wealthy? Do you have an itch for more? Do you find yourself with a Smaug-like desire to make your own heaps? Purge yourself of the greedy desires that lead to damnation. Paul warns in 1 Timothy 1:9, “they that will be [want to be] rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” Will you be so ensnared to imagine that wealth comes into your hands from the Father so that you can squander it on your desires? Or will you have a proper view of the eternal, kingdom-advancing uses of money? May God set us free from the sweet poison of excess that laces the American Dream.

Reflect: Read Luke 18:18-30. What was that Jesus gave for someone who had succumbed to the idolatry of riches?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

James 4:13-17

As I see it, there are two basic types of people who call themselves “Christian.”
The first group calls themselves “Christian” but is practically little more than superstitious atheists. They don’t make very much effort in the spiritual disciplines (bible study, prayer, church attendance, service) but they still prefer to use the title “Christian.” To them being a Christian is more about a onetime event that happened years earlier than in their daily being what the term Christian implies, namely, a follower of Christ. They view their relationship with God like a professional athlete views his relationship with a corporate sponsor – when they are a little low on cash or luck, they can just do a couple of commercials for him and he will throw some help their way.
The second group calls themselves “Christian” and is actually committed to striving to fulfill the term that they have taken on themselves. They view themselves today as they viewed themselves years earlier when they were converted, as a helpless sinner in constant need of the grace of a loving God. They constantly pursue the same things that the Apostle Paul pursued, chiefly, ‘That I may know Him,” and their life seems to have a holy discontentment about not yet having achieved a fully satisfactory relationship with God. In their minds, God has revealed himself and they must do everything in their power to see Him and know Him. He deserves their life, health, breath, and everything in them, so they live in constant dependant faith on God, trusting Him for their every need.
In James 4:13-17, James continues his comparison between earthly wisdom and the wisdom that is revealed by God. The example that he gives paints a portrait of a person who is almost exactly like the first group of Christians that we mentioned above. This character in James’s story uses the wisdom of the world to pursue and to get gain in whatever way he can. He develops a business model and then carries it out with seemingly flawless precision. Except that there is a problem, but not in something that he has done, rather it is in what he has not done.
In living life as a practical atheist, he has failed to acknowledge that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and that all blessing comes from the hand of God. In his flawless business model, he has flawed in the most basic way – he has failed to trust God for anything that has come into his life. Rather, in place of God, he has placed himself as the god of his own life, determining his own destiny and carrying out his own fate. In his mind, success and failure are products of his business model and nothing more.
James rebukes this type of Godless self-idolization. The worldly wisdom that neglects a relationship with God forgets the frailty and weakness of mankind. Like a greedy child tearing through presents without ever turning a word of gratitude towards those who have showered them with gifts, these “self-made” “Christians” view God as little more than another part of their insurance portfolio. They have health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, and eternity insurance (God).
May it never be so with us! May we never become so sure of ourselves and our efforts that we forget that all things are in the hands of God, and that our very life and breath is in his hands! May we learn to trust Him daily, and not to be so presumptuous as to live our lives without faith in the God who made us and who saved us. May we never succumb to such a primitive view of Christianity that we neglect the one loves us and takes care of us.
Reflect: Read Luke 12. What illustration does Jesus give in Luke 12 that mirrors what James is writing here in James 4?