October 28, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Week of the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity


Monday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.2, 3,  2 Kings 6:8-14, 2 Timothy 1:1-14
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Eccles. 5:8, Mt. 22:15-33

Commentary, 2 Timothy 1:1-14           

Today we begin reading Paul's final letter to Timothy.  Written from the Mammertine prison in Rome, Second Timothy shows the courage and faith of Paul in the face of death, and his concern for the continuing ministry of Timothy.  By this time, early in the year 69 A.D., Timothy is in Ephesus, where he has probably served since Paul sent him to that city in 61 or 62 A.D.  Meanwhile, Paul has travelled westward, possibly as far as Spain and Britannia, and the Apostle John has assumed Apostolic oversight of Ephesus and the area known as Asia Minor.  We do not know how Paul came to be imprisoned in Rome a second time, though we know that Rome's general hostility to Christianity became a full-fledged persecution after Nero blamed Christians for burning Rome in A.D. 64.  By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, he was in prison facing execution, John was imprisoned on Patmos, and Peter had been executed in Rome.

Yet Paul's letter begins with encouragement to Timothy.  His words are those of deep friendship and love; words like, "my dearly beloved son," "I have remembrance of thee in my prayers day and night," and "greatly desiring to see thee."  He reminds Timothy of his ordination (1:6), and asks him to stir up the gift of God, meaning the calling and ability to perform the ministry of the Gospel of Christ, in spite of opposition and persecution (1:7-11).  As Paul has suffered for the Gospel (1:12), he encourages Timothy to be willing to partake of the afflictions of the Gospel (1:8), having the same faith Paul has, that Christ is "able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (1:12).  What has Paul committed unto Christ?  His life here and now, and his soul forever.  "That day" is the Day of the Lord when all will be judged and those in Christ will be taken into Heaven forever.  Paul's faith that Christ will take him in on that day sustains him now in trials and death on earth.  Our reading ends with another exhortation to hold to sound words (doctrine) received from Paul, and to remain true to his calling, the "good thing committed unto him by the Holy Ghost.

The words of this epistle were written to Timothy, but their application to all Christians is evident.  All are called to the service of Christ, to endure hardship, and to remain true to their calling in Christ even unto death.  This charge is not just for those in the offices of ordained ministry, it is for all Christians.

Tuesday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.5, 2 Kings 6:15-23, 2 Timothy 1:15-2:13
Evening - Ps. 11, 12, Eccles. 6:1-12, Mt. 22:34

Commentary, 2 Timothy 1:15-2:13

How sad the words of verse 15 are.  They present the personal hurt Paul felt by the rejection of Phygelus and Hermogenes.  Having devoted himself to these very people, having brought the Gospel to them, nourished them in its teachings, suffered beatings, stonings, and prisons for their sake, and having established a church in which they can worship God and hear the truth, he now sees them forsake him.  Surely he must feel here what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:15, "And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."  But Paul's words also express a deeper sorrow, for these people are deserting God to follow their own desires and ideas. So Paul's pain is more for them than for himself.  In their heresy and rebellion, they have sealed their fates as enemies of God.  Contrast verse 15 with verses 16-18.  Onesiphorus, because of his love for God and God's truth, also loved Paul, and showed his love in his actions as well as in his words. As Paul suffered and sacrificed to share the word of life with Onesiphorus, Onisiphorus shared good things with Paul.  This, naturally caused Paul to rejoice much, but he rejoiced even more to know that Onesiphorus walked in Biblical faith rather than following vain babblings (2 Tim. 2:16:-17).

In chapter 2, the epistle turns to the ministry again.  Timothy is to be strong in grace (2:1), and to commit what he has learned from Paul to "faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."  We err when we ask our ministers to spend their time planning social gatherings and recreational activities for us. We err when we ask our clergy to organise soup kitchens and homeless shelters.  Their calling is to teach the Scriptures to us; to "commit" the Apostolic teachings to us.  Our responsibility, just as Timothy's, is, first, to receive their teaching.  Timothy had to be a learner before he could become a teacher.  We, also, must be willing learners of the word of God.  We are, as Peter wrote, to "desire the sincere milk of the word" that we "may grow thereby" (1Pet. 2:1-2). Primary among God's appointed means for this is the ministry of men called and consecrated to teaching us.   Clergy, there is a legitimate sense in which your people may and should become followers of you, and in following you, become followers of the Lord (1 Thes. 1:6). Laity, there is such a things as a legitimate and good attachment to those who serve you in the name of Christ. Often laymen become sermon critics and develop an attitude of consumerism and entitlement toward the Church and her ministers.  This is as great an offense to God as a minister preaching false doctrine.

Second, we are to transmit the Christian faith to others.  Having it committed to us, it becomes our task to commit it to others, who will commit it to others, on down through the generations.  The Christian faith is not an individualistic faith.  It unites us to the whole company of faithful people.  We are part of a Family, a Temple, a River flowing into God.  We are like runners in a relay race.  Others have gone before us; others will come after us.  We have received the torch from those who have gone before.  We now run our course with perseverance and faithfulness, and pass the torch to others to carry on till the Lord Returns. While it is true that we are part of the fellowship of all faithful people, we can never allow ourselves to believe we can be a part of that broader fellowship without also being faithful in the local fellowship, which is the local church. And it is in the local congregation that our worship, fellowship, learning, and service primarily take place.

Paul illustrates our work with examples from military service, athletic competition, and agricultural labour (2:3-6).  All three require learning complex skills, self-discipline, and self exertion.  A soldier ignorant of the use of weapons will soon be dead.  An athlete not dedicated to his sport will soon be a spectator.  A farmer too lazy to plow the fields and gather the harvest, will soon have no harvest to gather.  Like wise, a minister who does not apply himself to teaching the Bible will soon have a congregation of heathens, and the layman who will not hear and learn the word will soon be one of them.

In 2:8, the epistle turns to the historical reality on which our hope is based; "Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead."  We do not hope in feelings or experiences.  We hope in a historical fact; that God came to earth, died for our sins, and rose from the dead. Paul would not suffer and die for a feeling or an emotional experience.  He would not die for a theory, or even a religion, and neither should we.  We live for, hope in, and serve a real, living God who has made Himself known in history and in flesh and blood.  For Him alone we will suffer, knowing that if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us" (2:12).

Wednesday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 9, 2 Kings 9:1-16, 2 Tim. 2:14-26
Evening - Ps. 13, 14, Eccles. 8:12-9:1, Mt. 23:1-12

Commentary, 2 Timothy 2:14-26

Both of Paul's letters to Timothy are about Timothy's charge as a minister and bishop in the Church of Christ.  Timothy is charged to do two things.  First, he is to keep himself pure in faith and life.  Second, he is to preach and teach the pure faith and life to others.  This means he will commit this charge to the ministers, who will then commit it to the churches.  It also means he will carry this charge directly to the churches in his capacity as their bishop.

We see both aspects of this in our reading for today.  Verse 14 continues the charge Timothy is to give to the ministers and laity over whom the Lord had made him a shepherd and an overseer.  Look back at 2:2, and you will see that our reading is a continuation of Paul's instruction to commit the Apostle's teachings to the ministers and churches.  Part of this ministry is to instruct them to walk together in peace.  Verse 14 requires them to refrain from striving about words that do not profit.  The key words here are, "strive not," which means don't fight about things that are unimportant.  Such babblings are profane and vain, increasing ungodliness in the people and the Church like canker (2:17).  Instead of fighting over trivialities, Christians must pursue and actively work for faith, charity, and peace with one another (2:22). Timothy himself is charged to be a man of peace.

He is to study the Scriptures (2:15).  Again Paul emphasises that learning comes before teaching.  The implication is that divisive babblings come from those who are either immature in the faith and the ways of Christ, or are complete strangers to them.  Hymenaeus and Philetus are examples of this (2:17). Wanting to become teachers before they have been learners, they have spread error and dissent throughout the Church in Ephesus. By contrast, Timothy, who has studied with Paul and has been ordained and sent to Ephesus to teach, is not to be aggressive and divisive as Hymenaeus and Philetus are. He is to be gentle and meek (2:24-25).  This does not mean he cannot take a firm stand for truth.  He has been encouraged to do so throughout this epistle.  It means his methods must be as kind and helpful as his motives.  The goal and hope is always that people may be recovered out of the snare of the devil (2:26). Paul intertwines his charge to Timothy, with the charge Timothy is to give to the clergy and the charge the clergy are to give to the Church.  This is because the same things apply to all.  The same faith, the same faithfulness, the same pursuit of peace, the same abhorrence of strife, the same meek and cooperative attitude, the same teachable attitude, and the same character traits are for both clergy and laity.  Our functions in the Church may differ, but our calling to holiness of life is the same; "Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2:19). 
                                                             
Thursday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 10, 2 Kings 9:17-28, 2 Tim. 3
Evening - Ps. 16, 17, Eccles 9:11, Mt. 23:13-23

Commentary, 2 Timothy 3

In the last days, Paul warns, people will be lovers of self, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4). This is a sad state of affairs, but it is not the timing that makes it so sad, for Paul's description fits people of all times and eras.  It is not even the wickedness that makes it so sad, though such wickedness breaks the heart of all who love God and love people.  The thing that makes this so sad is that it describes the Church, not the world.  It describes people who call themselves Christians, and have a form of godliness (3:5).  These people may be well schooled in the doctrines of the faith.  They may know the basic teachings of the Bible, and may even read the Bible regularly.  They may be regular attenders of public worship, but their hearts are not about God.  In their hearts they are as far away from God as the devil himself.

Paul says such people are like Jannes and Jambres who rebelled against Moses (3:8).  How are they like these Old Testament people?  In their resistance to the truth.  In their resistance to the Gospel.  In their idea that they can go on living in opposition to God while buying Him off with a few dollars and ceremonies.

Let none try to comfort himself with delusions that such people only exist in the Church right before the Lord's Return.  The "last days" are those days from Pentecost to the Return of Christ, and such people have been, and will continue in the Church throughout this era.  Paul's point is that we must not be those people.  Like Timothy, we know the doctrine and life of Paul (3:10-12).  Timothy knew them by knowing Paul personally; we know them through the pages of Scripture.  But knowing them is not enough.  It is "continuing" in them (3:14) that matters. The beautiful words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, make no difference to a person unless he continues in the Bible's teachings.  To "continue" is to live in, to dwell in, to abide in the Bible in such a way that it shapes our thoughts and actions.  It molds us.  It changes who and what we are, right down to our very essence.

"Given by the inspiration of God" (3:16), means "God breathed," or from the mouth of God.  It is a picture of speech.  Our words come out in our breath.  So Paul is saying Scripture is the very word of God as truly as if it came out of His own mouth.  If this is so, how can we claim to love God, yet not continue in it?

Friday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 22, 2 Kings 9:30, 2 Tim. 4:1-8
Evening - Ps. 6, 26, Eccles. 11,  Mt. 23:25

Commentary, 2 Timothy 4:1-8

The Scriptures are the word of God, as though they came from the very mouth of God.  They are, then, the authority of faith and life.  2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 begin by telling us the Scriptures are the source of profitable doctrine, and end by telling us the Scriptures furnish God's people unto holy living, "good works."  "Profitable" implies first, that the Scriptures are the source of true knowledge of God, and true knowledge of how to love and serve Him.  It also implies that other sources of doctrine, instruction, and furnishing people for the task of knowing God and living life, are unprofitable.  They are defective, whether they come from the wisest of men, or our own inner thoughts.  Only the Bible is inspired by God.

It is for this reason that Timothy, and all clergy, are to "preach the word" (4:2).  Yes, there are some very wise people whose thoughts and lives have benefited humanity down through the ages.  But they were simply human, and their words and views are filled with human defects.  Their views of God and their directions for living a good life are flawed, including Timothy's.  This is why ministers are to preach the word, rather than their own views.  This is why ministers are to stay with the tried and true Biblical faith rather than blaze their own trails through the Bible.  The current demand for new ideas, practical sermons in place of "tired" and "boring" doctrines, and for creative and culturally informed worship are not new.  Timothy faced them in Ephesus in the first century A.D.  Paul faced them in Corinth. He writes to remind Timothy, and all who read this epistle, that those things cannot furnish the man of God.  The Word, the Bible, is God's appointed means to accomplish these things.  Preach the word... reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (4:2).

When God commands ministers to preach the word, He necessarily commands the Church to hear the word preached.  But verses 3 and 4 warn that some people will not endure sound doctrine.  They will want sermons that entertain them, and tell them how to get ahead in life and feel good about themselves.  Paul says such people turn their ears from the truth, and turn them to fables (4:4).  Again, such a warning to the preachers is also a warning to hearers not to be among those who reject the word for fables.  Ministers may not offer trivialities to God's people, even if the people demand them.  Ministers are to preach the word, they must "watch in all things."

To watch is to be on guard.  Those who give themselves to fables and heap up teachers who preach what they want to hear rather than the Word of God, are like people who allow alcohol and drugs to cloud their judgment, making themselves easy prey for those who would rob and harm them.  By contrast, God's true ministers are to be sober and on guard.  They are to do only that which furnishes God's people for Godliness.  Paul is especially concerned about this because he knows his time on earth is short.  "The time of my departure is at hand" (4:6-8).  He is not afraid.  He looks forward to Heaven.  But he wants to do his best to ensure that those coming after him in the Church know the truth, and have every opportunity to live according to it.

Saturday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 21, 23, 2 Kings 11, 1-16, 2 Tim. 4:9-22
Evening - Ps. 18, Eccles. 12,  Mt. 24:1-14

Commentary, 2 Timothy 4:9-22

The charge to Timothy is ended.  What remains in the epistle are personal remarks.  Yet, even they say much to those who have ears to hear.  Demas, for example, was a close friend and fellow labourer with Paul in Colossians 4:14.  But in 2 Tim. 4:9 he has deserted Paul.  What has caused his defection, which is not only from Paul, but also from Christ Himself?  He "loved this present world."  He loved his life and was unwilling to risk it by helping Paul in his imprisonment.  Our Lord said the greatest and most important commandment of all is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  But Demas, after years of seemingly following Christ, has now decided he loves himself more than Christ.

Many have followed Demas' path.  Appearing to faithfully serve Christ, they really only follow as long as He allows them to have their own way.  The moment following Christ begins to require them to get out of their comfort zone, and to do a little giving instead of taking, they run away.

Crescens and Titus have been sent to Galatia and Dalmatia by Paul, and Tychicus has been sent to Ephesus, probably carrying the letter of 2 Timothy with him (4:12).  Unlike Demas they have not deserted Paul, and Christ; they continue to serve.  Timothy also remains true, and will come to Paul, though being in Rome at that time will endanger his life.  With autumn and winter approaching, Paul wants his coat.  He also wants his books and papers (4:13).

Verses 14 and 15 are about Alexander, probably one of the Ephesian craftsmen who persecuted Paul.  Timothy is to beware of him. The "first answer" (4:16) may refer to a hearing after which Paul was put into the Mammertine prison.  He faced that alone.  This man who gave so much of himself, who suffered so much to take the Gospel to people, had to face the Roman authorities alone.  The sadness of this is palpable.
But the Lord was with him (4:17), and delivered him from the lion's den for a while, that he might be allowed to continue to preach the Gospel, even if from prison.  Yet, Paul knows the time of his death is near, and trusts Christ to "preserve" (save and deliver) him "unto His heavenly kingdom" (4:18).

Paul closes with a few words to those who have worked and prayed and suffered with him in the service of Christ. "The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit" is a prayer for Timothy himself.  "Grace be with you" is for all the people, and clergy of Ephesus.  Neither Timothy nor the Ephesians ever saw Paul again in this life.

God and a Quiet Mind


God and a Quiet Mind
Psalm 76, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 4:46-54
Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity
October 28, 2012
                                                  
People who worship with us immediately notice the difference between our worship and the worship in other churches.  If they will make the effort, they may learn why we are different.  We are not trying to organise exciting worship events based on current trends in music and theology.  We are not trying to entertain people or make them feel good about being here because that is not the purpose of worship.  Our worship is quiet, reflective, contemplative, meditative.  We believe it is more important to speak the truth than to get people excited.  We believe it is the Holy Spirit, rather than a rock and roll beat in the music or the intensity in the speaker's voice, that moves souls, and we are more concerned about moving souls than moving emotions.

We do not worship this way because it suits our taste.  We believe worship is far too important to be shaped by our personal preferences.  We worship this way because we believe it is the way God wants to be worshiped, the way the Bible teaches us to worship.  Likewise, I do not say these things to belittle anyone else.  I say them because we need to be reminded of them often, lest we begin to desire the sensuality and excitement of other  "worship styles," or attempt to pattern our worship after them.

We believe there is a time and place for exuberance.  We also believe the Sunday worship of God should be characterised by reverence, and a kind of holy quietness before God.  Therefore let us quiet our hearts and minds, and be still in God's presence as we worship the Living God.

The very thought of quietness is counter to the hectic activity and constant stimulation which characterise our media saturated culture.  So to pray, as we do in the Collect for the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, that God would enable us to serve Him with a quiet mind, may seem odd to people today.  A quiet mind is a mind free of hectic activities and distractions.  A quiet mind is possessed by a sense of holy stillness before God, a stillness that is encouraged in us by passages like Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God."  Rather than rushing from one hectic activity to another, or one amusement or stimulation to another, the quiet mind can take time to be still and listen for the still small voice of God.

But more than mere stillness, a quiet mind is a mind at peace through trust in God.  This is what we are trying to emphasise in our Bible readings this morning.  The quiet mind does not tremble in fear before the battles of temptation, the opposition of the world, the natural and figurative storms of life, or even the supernatural minions of evil.  True, we wrestle against the powers and rulers of darkness, and against spiritual wickedness in high places, but our minds are at peace because we know we are able to withstand in the evil day.  We are dressed in the full armour of God.  We stand on the Gospel of peace.  We wear the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of the righteousness of Christ.  We carry the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit.  We stand watch in prayer, so we are not taken by a surprise attack.  Our minds are at peace because we are strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, and nothing can defeat Him or separate us from His everlasting love.

The nobleman in John 4 received a quiet mind.  He apparently traveled for at least two days to find Jesus, and his mind was not quiet then.  His mind was in anguish.  His son was dying.  A part of his life was dying.  A person he loved more than he loved himself was dying, and his mind was frantic with fear and despair, so he went to Jesus.  When will we learn to go to Jesus with our troubles?  When will we learn to seek peace in Him rather than trinkets and distractions?  When will we learn to trust and believe that God works all things work together for our good, if we love Him and are called, according to His purpose?  This man came to Jesus in despair, but left in peace, because He trusted the word of the Lord.

Psalm 78 is about a collective quiet mind in the people of God.  He is known in Judah and Israel. His Tabernacle is in the City of Peace, Jeru Shalom.  We know Jerusalem has not always been a place of peace.  It has been, and continues to be a battleground.  But at the time of the writing of Psalm 76 it dwells in peace, why? Because God has broken the arrow, the shield, the sword, and the battle.  It dwells in peace because God has defeated its enemies and established it in peace.  At His rebuke that the chariot and the horse, the dreaded war machines of invading armies, are fallen.  God protects the city, therefore His people dwell in peace and serve Him with a quiet mind.

The focal point of the Psalm is verse 11.  It is the conclusion.  The first ten verses recount the gracious actions of God , but verse 11 shows the natural response of those who receive and recognise God's grace: "Promise unto the Lord your God, and keep it."  When you became a Christian you made vows and promises to God, just as He made vows and promises to you.  He promised to forgive your sins, and fill you with His Spirit, to guide you with His Holy Bible, to watch over you, love you, and bring you at last to His home of everlasting peace.  You promised to turn from sin and begin a life-long process of living more and more according to His law of love, and less and less for the things of sin and self.  It is not easy to keep your promise.  Living for Christ is the, most difficult, most trying, most exasperating, most humiliating thing you can do.  At the same time it is the most fulfilling, the happiest, most exalting, most noble thing to which a human being can aspire.  It only is the way of life.  Therefore, in spite of the challenges and opposition of the world, the flesh, and the devil, there is a peace in our hearts that the world cannot give or take away.  We can serve God with a quiet mind.

From the Jerusalem of about 900 B.C., when this Psalm may have been written, let us look ahead to the city in about the year 33  A.D.  The city is in turmoil.  A vast, angry mob is torturing a Man to death on a cross.  It is not a peaceful scene, yet it is the way our peace with God is secured forever.  On the cross the Lamb of God is taking away our sins and making our peace with God.  By His grace "The fierceness of man" is turned to God's praise (vs.10).  Everything His enemies do is used by Him to His own glory and our salvation.  Christianity did not die on the cross; it was born there.  It is because of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross that we can serve God with a quiet mind.  We have no need to fear life, or death, or even hell itself. He gave His life for our souls.  We can serve Him with a quiet mind.

Therefore, let your mind be at ease.  Let you mind be at rest.  Let a holy quiet descend upon you and let it dwell in you forever.  God has overcome the world.  He has given you the armour of God that you may stand in Him in this life.  He has given you the promise of life in paradise with Him forever.  He has accomplished the forgiveness of your sins and your peace with God. Serve Him with a quiet mind.