Thursday, July 31, 2014

Faith not belief - Philemon 1-7

"Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ's sake. For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother." (Philemon 1-7)
The letter of Paul to Philemon is a letter that is full of relational sentiment. In this letter, we can see the deep bonds of fraternity and brotherhood that existed among the early saints. People were not only Christians, they were brothers and sisters; members of one family. Here, in his introduction, Paul refers to Timothy as "our" brother, not "my son" or "my associate", but "our" brother, yours and mine. Even though Paul and Philemon were on different journeys in their Christian walk, they were still brothers with each other and with the universal church of Christ.

It was not uncommon for early believers to meet in homes. In truth, most new converts were poor or even slaves. By most estimates there were more slaves than free people during the time of Paul within the Roman Empire. The early church could not afford elaborate buildings and monuments to their existence. Furthermore, what money they did have was often used in benevolence to the poor and needy among them. However, even when meeting in modest means, they still demonstrated the vibrancy and power of the Holy Spirit as they worshiped God as one family. We must not let ourselves be deceived by the American idea that bigger is better. That, somehow, if we can grow our numbers and buy a nice big building then we will be a better church and exceed our former glory as when we were small. The size and location does not matter. What matters is the genuineness of those who call themselves brethren.

Paul commends both Philemon's love and faith towards God and the church. In doing so he is not speaking of abstract concepts or ideas, he is not talking about a faith that is mere knowledge or belief, but faith and love that are verbs and actions; faith that is lived out in good works towards others. Many people have "faith" but if that faith never becomes action, then it is dead. As James said, "Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." (James 2:17) Paul never ceases to give thanks to God for Philemon, not because he acknowledged and believed in the truth, but because the truth became a part of him, regulating and motivating all he did. James taught us to "receive the word implanted" (James 1:21) which speaks of a deliberate planting or grafting in of the word into our lives; a planting that is intended to bear fruit. It was evident to all that this implanting in Philemon produced the good works of the Kingdom that lead to his kindly service to his fellow saints.

However, Paul not only congratulates Philemon but prays for him that his participation in the faith will continue to be effective among those he lived with and served. One of the keys to effectiveness is the acknowledgement of every good thing that is within us. James tells us that, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights." (James 1:17) Whatever measure of good that is within us has been placed there by the Father. It is only by recognizing and acknowledging what has been given to us by God that we can become effective stewards of those gifts. Unfortunately, most of us prefer to acknowledge the gifts in other people, wishing to be them or at least like them, but we fail to recognize the unique gifts and abilities that God has given us. While wishing for what another has we waist the preciousness and usefulness of what we already possess. We can only be effective with what we have and it is our responsibility, as stewards of God, to use what we have for the benefit of all. This is what Philemon did and this is what we must do as well.

David Robison

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Be careful - Titus 3:8-11

"This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, make every effort to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way so that nothing is lacking for them. Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful. All who are with me greet you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all." (Titus 3:8-15)
The trustworthy statement that Paul is referring to is the message of how Jesus saved us, not by any works we have done, but according to His own mercy and by the washing of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. It is through this grace that we have become, "heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:7) It is in the knowledge of this message that we come to understand our due respond to His great mercy and grace; that we might be diligent in producing "good works." We preform these good works, not to gain His approval, but as a loving response to His approval. We work, not to be rewarded, rather we work knowing that our reward is already secured in heaven. We labor not for his love, but in response to His love.

The issue at stake here is not, "does God love us?" but rather "do we love God?" Many people are glad to receive the mercy and forgiveness of God but fail to consider how, in return, to give back to God the love that is due Him. God loves us, but how does one love God in return? Jesus told us that, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) Obedience, when done from a free heart, is a token of love. When we obey God, not because we have to but because we choose to, then we are expressing our love back to God for all the things He has done for us. The same is true of children. Children who love their parents will choose obedience, not out of fear, but out of love. In the same way we should choose to love our Father, not to gain anything, but rather to return something; to return our love. Further, John reminds us, "And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also." (1 John 4:21) Good works are the practical expression of our love for God and for one another.

However, showing love through good works requires us to consider the needs of others before ourselves. Those whose life is consumed with argument, strife, disputes, and discretion are often more concerned with themselves being right than others being helped. All that matters to them is that people acknowledge them and acquiesce to their will and opinions. A factious man requires others to follow him, though he will follow no man, and requires good works directed to him, thorough he shows them to no man. The factious man is a self-centered man and a man devoid of love, but a man full of good works is a man full of love.

The good works that God desires do not always come naturally. They often require instruction, practice, and patience. Often they require an inward change as much as they do an outward expression. The instruction in good works was a consistent topic in the teaching of Paul and his associates, and a teach we desperately need today if we too are to become people zealous for good works. However, either way, we must all face the reality that there is no Christian life without the dedication to good works.

David Robison

Monday, July 28, 2014

Be ready - Titus 3:1-7

"Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:1-8)
How does one "be ready for every good work"? By living a well ordered life! Paul calls us first to live as good citizens, subjected to the ruling authority, living in self-control and moderation, and exemplifying a well ordered life to those around us. Someone who lives a life of rebellion, desire, disorder, and disobedience is someone who is not always available for "every good work" should opportunity presents itself. However, someone who lives their lives with restraint, orderliness, temperance, and within the limits of proper society, their lives are always at the ready to do good, both to God and man.

Additionally, we will never show "good works" to people we disdain. As a Christian, it is easy to form an "us against them" mentality where we view ourselves as separate from the world and, at times, view the world as our enemy. When that happens, the world become something to avoid or defeat; neither view being conducive towards good works. Even though we have been born again and made new creatures in Christ, we must never forget our common bond with the human race. When comparing ourselves against even the vilest of sinners, we must always remember that we were once such as they and they too, should they not persist in their rejection of the gospel, shall become one such as us. There is no qualitative difference between them and us; we are all human.

So how does one reflect on the sinfulness of the human race? Paul wrote, "for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:22-23) Sin is the very thing that unites us as being human; it is the one thing that is common to the entire human race. However, sin is also the very thing that qualifies us for God's grace. "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all." (1 Timothy 1:15) Sin not only unites us as being one but also qualifies us for the redemption that is in Christ. To see a sinner is to see someone like us; to see someone worthy of the grace, forgiveness, and love of the Father. Jesus did not come to save us alone, rather He came to, "save the world" (John 12:47) He came to all mankind, to as many as are affected by sin and in need of redemption, that He might reconcile us all to God our Father.

As believers, what separates us from the rest of the world is not who we are or what we've done but rather what we've received, and that same gift is available to all should they too choose to receive it. If we truly loved the world as God loves the world, then our desire would be for good works that they may show forth the glory of God and His love for mankind; that all might come to receive and know what we too have received and heard; that they might all be made new in the Father. It is as Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

David Robison

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Good works - Titus 2:14-15

"who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you." (Titus 2:14-15)
When we shop for something, we want the best, the highest quality, and the most refined of whatever we are looking for... at least as compared to the funds we have to spend! However, when God came looking for a people, instead of picking the best, He sought the lowly and the humble. "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

Religion teaches us that we must be the best if we are to be selected by God, but grace teaches us that we are the best because we have been selected. Religion teaches us that we must be worthy to be chosen, but grace teaches us that, now that we have been chosen, we should endeavor to live lives worthy of God's choice. God chose us, not because we were worthy, the best, or deserving, but because He loved us while we were yet unworthy, base, and undeserving. "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. " (Romans 5:6-8) And in His death He purchased us for Himself that we might be His.

In purchasing us, God's goal is to change us into the image of His own Son. However, note that this purification is something the God does for us and within us. "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth." (2 Thessalonians 2:13) What we could not do, God has done for us, both in our salvation and our sanctification. God is at work within us to change us, to purify us, and to conform us into His image. Truly it is as the scripture says, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10) In this scripture and in the words of Paul to Titus, the end result is that we might be a people zealous for good works. "Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share." (1 Timothy 6:18)

The exact nature and enumeration of these "good works" are never fully defined in scripture because they do not emanate from some law or code of conduct but rather they flow from our life with Christ, or more exactly, from His life within us. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) Jesus' life was the light of man and it is this same life that dwells within us and this same light that shines through us. Every time the life of Christ extends through us to the benefit of others, God's good works are shown and the Father is glorified. We have the ability to extend the Kingdom of God to others through our goodness to others; extending the love of God through our love for others. God saved us and cleansed us for this very purpose, that we might be the vessels for His good works to a world desperately in need of some good. Out of love for Christ and love for mankind, let us become zealous for good works.

David Robison

Monday, July 21, 2014

The true nature of grace - Titus 2:11-13

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:11-13)
I once had an friend who was a believer and who smoked. He was upset at some other believers because he felt they judged him for smoking. His response was that he was free to smoke because, after all, he was "not under the law but under grace." This story is not about smoking but about what is the role of grace is in our lives. For him, grace was an excuse, a pass, to let him live his life however he chose. What ever deficiencies were in his life, what ever bondage, whatever character and moral flaws were his, they were all excused and permitted under the grace of God. However, is this the nature of true grace?

With the resurrection of Jesus Christ, grace has been dispensed to all men offering salvation to all who might choose it. However, salvation is not a singular moment in our lives but a life long process of continual healing, protecting, restoring, and making whole. Salvation begins when we accept God's grace and place our hope and trust in the finished work of Christ, but salvation continues as we co-labor with the Holy Spirit in His mission to sanctify (cleanse) us and to conform us into the image of Jesus. Regarding our salvation, Paul tells us to, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13) Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews warns us of neglecting or resisting the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. "Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14)

The grace of God has come to save us, but once having been born anew, that same grace works to grow us up into the likeness and image of Christ. Here the grace of God does not come to excuse us, or to work as a cover for licentiousness, but rather to teach us how to live; how to live differently; how to live godly. The grace of God has come to teach us! I have known people whose lives were a repeating cycle of destruction: sin and immorality leads to destroyed relationships and broken lives that then leads them to repentance and restoration only to fall aging into their same sins and immorality. Around and around they go, never seeing to learn from their pain, never learning how to break the cycle of sin, never learning that they can live free and enjoy healthy relationships with God and man. They live the tragedy of a life that never find changes and never knows freedom.

Once we are saved, our lives are not instantly made perfect. We still carry with us our old desires and the wants and demands of the flesh. We need the tender training of the Holy Spirit to teach us how to deny ungodliness and to refuse worldly desires. We also need His grace to show us how to live life as it was meant to be lived. Life works when it is lived as it was designed. Through His instruction, mixed with God's love, favor, and strength, along with the hope an promise of Jesus' return for us, we will find all we need to pioneer new lives for ourselves and to become beacons of life for others. Let us rise up and accept the challenge of becoming new creatures in Christ.

David Robison

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sound doctrine - Titus 2:1-10

"But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine. Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. " (Titus 2:1-10)
What is "sound doctrine?" Our problem in answering this question is that we often think of "doctrine" as knowledge; the object of what is taught and the knowledge that is learned. However, doctrine is more closely connected to instruction than information. Information is sterile and in and of itself is powerless. It contains no call to action, no germ of change, and no reason of itself to cause a person to choose one course of life over another. Sound instruction is not content with information but with producing change, godly change, in those who hear it. If we look at what Titus was to instruct the people in, it has nothing to do with information but everything to do with attitude and behavior. Sound doctrine is instruction on how we aught to live! In detaining that in which Titus was to instruct the church, Paul writes of various people in different stages of life.

Older men are to live lives that are honorable, not given to dissipation but to self control; lives that are worthy of being emulated. They are to be solid men of faith and love; those who can be depended on; those whom others can look to for hope and assurance during times of storms. These are the rocks that never move; the anchoring points of the church; those whom others, who might have wandered far away, can always return to. Likewise, older women are to live honorable lives; lives worthy of imitation. They are also not to see themselves as idle or beyond use but to give themselves to the worth task of teaching and instructing the younger generation to live worthy and useful lives in the household of God.

Raising a family takes hard work and requires sacrifice. It can be a difficult transition for a woman to go from being single and independent to giving birth to a child who is wholly dependent on her. I remember my wife's response when we brought home our first child. My wife's first thought was, "Now what?" It is a moment of time that few people are adequately prepared for. It is an honorable thing for an older woman to find meaning and purpose in aiding, helping, and instructing the younger generation as they tackle new challenges and the inevitable changes in life. The main point of instruction from old to young is how to love. Emotional and physical love is one thing, but selfless love is another and often takes encouragement and instruction. This is true for all of us.

Young men are to live life that is purposeful and intentional; not given to every impulse of desire, but living according to principal and with a mind that is circumspect and enlightened. Young men should "seize the day" rather than letting the day seize them. Their guiding principal should be that which is godly and pure. Purity for a young man may be difficult but it is an honorable aim and one that is greatly helped by God's Holy Spirit should we choose to trust in His help.

Finally, Paul addresses those whom, while enslaved to another, are freemen in Christ. Slavery was a reality of Paul's day and one which was not going to change any day soon. It was a condition that had to be addressed regardless of its morality or ethics. Paul encourages slaves to live as freemen, not free to choose their own destiny, but free to chose how they respond to the live that was their reality. They still had the power of a free moral agent; they could still choose for faithfulness, joy, and fidelity in God. While they could not change their situation, the could still choose to live honorably and to do their duty to their best, as unto the Lord. One who in imprisoned in his natural state can still be free in his spirit and, one day, Jesus will return to grant true freedom to the who person.

David Robison

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Empty talkers - Titus 1:10-16

"For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed." (Titus 1:10-16)
The first doctrinal challenge of the early church was that of the Judaizers who contended that gentile believers must be circumscribed and keep the law of Moses to be saved. Later on would come the heresies of Valintinius, Marcion, and Simon. Paul warns the church of these threats, not by detailing their doctrinal differences, but by highlighting the moral and character differences between these false teachers and the true believers of Christ. Paul understood the words of Christ when He said, "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:15-16) Paul describes such false teachers as being "unsubdued". They were men given to to their own pride; unwilling to yield in thought and obedience to the message of Christ as taught by the Apostles. Their pride was not only a danger to themselves but was also beginning to unsettle the faith of some. Teaching in the early church was not as it is today, where one teaches and all listen. Then, there was a multitude of teachers that taught house to house, some in submission to the truth, others in submission to their pride. It was part of Titus' responsibility to silence those who taught in their pride.

It is important to understand that the character and morality of these false teachers was not the result of their false teaching, but their false teaching was a result of their unconquered character and their abandonment of any since of morality in their lives. When we refuse to submit our lives to Christ and to the Truth, we open ourselves to deception and error; becoming the deceived and the deceivers of others. When our hearts are impure, everything we take in become impure. Even the truth, when received with a defiled heart, can become twisted into error through our pride and the unrepentant nature of our heart. We may confess all day long of our knowledge and relationship with Christ, and may even claim our teaching to be inspired by God, but the fruit of our lives tells the truth; that our words are false and that we are the deceived deceivers of others.

In the end, Titus is commanded by Paul to rebuke them "sharply", possibly a satirical reference to their doctrine of the necessity of circumcision as it means to rebuke in a manner to "cut off" or "cut away." Paul's fervent warning to them, and to us, is to avoid mixture in our faith; mixing the superstitious fables of other religions or the prideful doctrines of self-styled teachers with the sure word of Jesus. The Kingdom of God is not to be compared to the religions of the world, nor to the imaginations of men. The Kingdom of God is wholly different. Its origins are not earthly and its teachings are from above. It is to this Kingdom that we should direct our hope and from it to receive our faith. If we desire the knowledge of God we must not look down, or even inward, but upward towards God who Himself enlightens every heart as we must receive with gratitude His message which He sent in His Son Jesus Christ.

David Robison

Monday, July 14, 2014

God's steward - Titus 1:5-9

"For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict." (Titus 1:5-9)
Like Timothy, Titus' mission was to finish what Paul had started at Crete. Titus was not a pastor or bishop, rather he was a partner with Paul in Paul's apostolic ministry at Crete. After Paul's departure, Titus was left behind to finish what remained pertaining to the formation and establishment of the churches they had started throughout Crete. This included any final instructions and the installing of elders to preside as overseers in the young churches in Crete.

Pertaining to the qualifications of elders, much of what Paul writes to Titus he also wrote to Timothy. I will not bore my readers by repeating what I previously wrote form Paul's letters to Timothy but you find them in my posts entitled "Ready to lead" and "Character to lead". However, Paul does remind Titus that elders are to serve as God's steward. The Greek term used here for "steward" means one who distributes things within a house, such as food, instruction, resources, and even authority. The steward does not do all the work but rather ensured that the work is done and that the workers have everything they needed to do their jobs. A steward's interests are not his own, but rather the interests of the house. In the same way, elders are not to serve their own interests, but to protect and serve the interests of the house, that is, the church, which is not an organization, a building, or a processes, but rather a gathering together of people.

Elders stand as God's servants to dispense the grace, forgiveness, mercy, teaching, and whatever else might be needed by the believers who freely choose to associate themselves together as a corporate collection before the Lord. Elders are also responsible to equip the saints unto their own works of service; to make them competent and successful in their own unique callings in God. Finally, when necessary, the elders carry within them the authority of God to correct and to restore order within the church that the church might best resemble the glorious life of Christ as expressed through union of each individual member.

Finally, an elder must not only have a good reputation with those outside of the church, lest he be snared by their truthful accusations, but he must also exemplify Christ with a fidelity that gives testimony to the work of Christ within himself. How can one admonish another in the words of Christ unless he himself comes in the same presence as Christ Himself would? presenting themselves in patience, understanding, mercy, soberness, and selflessness? An elder's authority is not found in his appointment but rather in his deportment, that is his character, behavior, and his personality. He is an elder, not because he is appointed one, but because he is one.

David Robison

Thursday, July 03, 2014

For the faith - Titus 1:1-4

"Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior, To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior." (Titus 1:1-4)
Paul's description of himself seems to be the concatenation of two great extremes: a bond-servant and an apostle. One spoke of his position in the Kingdom of God and the other of his function. So often, we have difficulty distinguishing between the two. If one has a great work then he must also be a great person, yet if one is lowly, such as a slave, then their function must similarly be lowly. This reminds me of the time I returned from college on vacation to spend time with my family. My parents had taken up a morning paper route to bring in extra income. One morning I joined them on the route. Halfway through, at around 5 AM, we stopped at the local dinner for coffee and breakfast. We were all dirty and covered in news print. My dad told me that when people there asked him what he did for a living he told them he worked at the college. Looking at my parents, all dirty and disheveled, they assumed, to his amusement, that he must be a grounds keeper or worked in the janitorial staff. In truth he was a college professor with a Ph. D. and would later become the department chair of the Education Department. Paul understood that, though he was called to a great function, and apostle, he was still equal to everyone else in the Body of Christ, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ. We must never let ourselves thing more highly, or lowly, of ourselves based on the specific calling upon our lives. Our function is what we do, our position as bond-slaves is who we are.

Paul also understood that he was appointed for the faith of the elect. This meant that his role was to build up the faith of others through preaching, exhortation, and instruction. I have know some who seem to think that they are appointed for the tearing down of the faith of others. They are always preaching and teaching what not to believe. It seems they are always chipping away at peoples faith, trying to prove to them of some area where they are believing wrong, and constantly trying to conform the faith of others to their own unbelief. Even when they teach, they do it from trying to convince others that what they previously thought a scripture meant is not what it means at all, and they are all too willing to try and convince you of what they think it means. Paul understood that not everyone's faith was at the same place and he had patience and respect for the faith of others. For example, when it came to eating meat offered to Idols, Paul said, "However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled... But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died" ( 1 Corinthians 8:7-11) Paul's solution was not to confront their weakened faith by proving them wrong, but to build up their faith in truth so that that which is true would over time expel that which was weak. You don't need to tear down someone's faith to correct them, just give them the truth and the truth will set them free.

Finally, what motivated Paul was not his desire for his own aggrandizement, but the hope of eternal life. Some people seem to be motivated by a desire to be seen, to be respected, and to be acknowledged as learned and right. Their service to God is self centered and motivated by what they get out of it. Paul was motivated by something greater, something that did not originate with him, and something that was beyond his ability to give. Paul had come to the living hope of eternal life. This hope motivated him, not that his works would secure this hope for himself, but that others might share in his hope for themselves. Paul had received the free gift of eternal life and his motivation was that others might receive this free gift as well. Paul said that, "Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13:8) When our lives and our service are motivated by this kind of love and hope for others, then we will in no way fail.

David Robison

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Life not as we wish it - 2nd Timothy 4:16-22

"At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. Make every effort to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you." (2 Timothy 4:16-22)
It is unclear if Paul is here referring to his first defense relating to his present imprisonment or if he is referring to his first imprisonment from which he was released and after which he continued to carry the Gospel as far as possibly even Spain. The truth is, life does not always work out the way we would wish it to, nor do we always get what we believe we deserve or have a right to expect. Paul had given his life to the church, yet when it was his turn to be in need, no one showed up to help him or encourage him. I know many people who live their lives in bitterness wondering, "Where was the church when I needed them?!" They had given to the church and yet in their time of need the church was no where to be found.

Paul understood that life does not always happen as we would wish and, in these times, we have a choice, either to blame and judge those who let us down or to turn to God to find the strength and support we need. Sometimes I wonder if God puts us in positions where our earthly and human support is removed from us so we have opportunity to learn to trust in and lean on God. When we are always surrounded by people, its easy to lean on them and to trust in their support, but when we are alone, who else do we have but God?

There is a story of David before he became king. He had a mighty friend named Jonathan who, in David's time of despair, encouraged David in the things of God. "And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God. Thus he said to him, 'Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father will not find you, and you will be king over Israel and I will be next to you; and Saul my father knows that also.'" (1 Samuel 23:16-17) This would be one of the last times these two would meet together. David loved Jonathan and Jonathan, David. Jonathan was a constant encouragement and help to David. However, years later, when Jonathan was dead, David found himself all alone and with no one around him to help and support him. It is recorded that, "Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God." (1 Samuel 30:6) There was a time when Jonathan had encouraged David in the Lord, but since then, David had learned to encourage himself in the Lord; something he might not have learned if he had never been separated from Jonathan for all those years.

Life can make us angry and disappointed, yet our responses to these feelings are a matter of our own choosing. We can choose to react to our anger and disappointment through judgment and unforgiveness or we can choose to forgive and see beyond the immediate to the very hand of God who is waiting to strengthen and uphold us through our time of difficulty. If we can loose sight of our own hurts for just long enough to see with the eyes of faith, we might see that our situation is not as hopeless as it seems and that there is one who loves us more than all others who is waiting to be our friend and to help us in our time of need. If we can learn to reach out to Him, then we will never truly be alone.

David Robison

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Bring John Mark - 2nd Timothy 4:9-15

"Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching." (2 Timothy 4:9-15)
Paul begins to close his letter with some personal concerns. It is commonly believed that Paul wrote this letter from a Roman prison as he mentions "his chains" (2 Timothy 1:16) in this letter to Timothy. Paul was lonely, but also in need of help. His imprisonment had not put an end to his ministry, it only made it harder. Some of the difficulty was though the loss of those close to him, either through apostasy, sickness, or as a result of being sent to support distant churches that Paul himself could not travel to. Paul yearns for his "true son" to come to him, not just to help him in his work, for Timothy was already doing that, but also for the joy their fellowship would being to Paul himself. However, what I find of greatest interest is Paul's command concerning John Mark, "Pick up Mark and bring him with you."

It was not too long ago that Mark was at the center of a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. It was at John Mark's house where everyone had prayed when Peter was taken prisoner and bound for Herod to be sentenced. After Peter's miraculous release from jail by angels, and Herod's later death, Paul, who was then visiting Jerusalem, returned to Antioch talking along with him John Mark. "And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark." (Acts 12:25) While at Antioch, the Holy Spirit spoke to the church there, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." (Acts 13:2) They promptly set out on their missionary journey, taking with them the young man, John Mark. However, at some point during the journey, Mark, either longing for home or finding the journey too difficult, left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Antioch. After they themselves returned, and having rested, Paul and Barnabas decided to set out for another missionary journey. Once again, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them but Paul would not hear of it. "Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work." (Acts 15:37-38) So sharp became their disagreement that, "they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord." (Acts 15:39-40) These two great apostolic ministers set out on separate paths to bring the Gospel to any who would hear,

Years had passed since that fateful day, but now Paul is asking for the one whom he had previously rejected. We must not be too quick to judge Paul, he had a mission to accomplish then and he knew what it would take to do it and he didn't want to take a second chance of relying on someone who might later quit the task; to quit when they were needed the most. However, in the passing years, John Mark had changed, he had matured, he had grow up in the Lord. He had gone from being unreliable to being useful in ministry.

There are several tings we can learn from this story. First, not everyone is cut out for the life of a missionary. We need to see people bloom in their own callings and not forced to fulfill the callings of others. Secondly, action often follows preparation. Somethings people need the preparatory work of time in their lives to make them fit and ready for action and for the calling of God on their lives. And finally, failure is not a disqualification. Failure just means that work needs to be done is some area of our lives that we might, in the future, when faced with the same situation, not fail again but rather succeed. Failure is the end of one opportunity, but it can also be a door to another. While we live, we are never out of the fight, if we will only get back up. "For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, but the wicked stumble in time of calamity." (Proverbs 24:16)

David Robison