Monthly Archives: November 2017

Pastoral Epistles Overview

You can tell a lot about a man’s priorities by observing what consumes him in the moments before his expected death. In the case of the apostle Paul, we can get a good glimpse into what was important to him by viewing his letters to Timothy and Titus—these are called the Pastoral Epistles. And from the two letters to Timothy that we’ve just read, we can see that two things remained significant to Paul to the very end:


  • He had poured his life into Timothy. He had loved him, traveled with him taught him, listened to him, helped him, corrected him, introduced him to the growing network of pastors in the area—he had spent significant time with the young man, helping him to fan into flame his own gifts and abilities. Timothy was prepared to do the job he was doing in Ephesus because Paul had discipled him. He had studied scripture with him, and had taught him to read it correctly and handle it responsibly. Unlike the other epistles that Paul writes, we can see a personal touch in these; a real connection with Timothy. This is how we know that discipleship is important to him—and why he thought it should be important to us.
  • The Church. Paul didn’t just travel aimlessly around, randomly whipping people up into frenzies and moving on to the next crowd. Paul’s chief concern was the local church. That’s why he spent so much time developing Timothy for the pastorate. Consider all of the advice about how men and women behave in that particular church in Ephesus, how to install deacons and elders, and how to resolve conflict. The health of the local church was significant to Paul; that’s why he wrote in the first place. His travels always fit the same pattern: travel to a local CHURCH, develop the people there for ministry to the community through the local CHURCH, and develop relationships with those folks—then spend the rest of his life nurturing, establishing, encouraging and rebuking the local CHURCH through his letters. He was all about the Church.


It is telling, in these days of the declining Church in America, that we often have a hard time finding the importance of these two things. How involved are you in discipleship? How involved are you in the health of the local church? It was important in the New Testament, and nothing has changed since then.


So get to it.


2 Timothy 4:19-22

19Greet Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. 20Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus—who was ill—I left in Miletus. 21Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus greets you and Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. 22The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.


Paul’s letter to Timothy—quite possibly the last thing he ever wrote—is finally finished. He writes the closing salutation by mentioning some brothers and sisters in the faith. “Prisca” is the name for which “Priscilla” is a derivational nickname, and some folks make something out of the fact that she is mentioned before her husband—but there are precious little facts to support any real thesis about her importance here. Both of these folks were close to the apostle. Erastus and Trophimus are mentioned to Timothy in such a fashion as to imply that he knew them personally. Paul abjures Timothy to start the journey quickly; when winter sets in, the Adriatic Sea would have been closed to shipping and travel, and he would have had a tough time getting to Paul. Moreover, this sentence implies that his death is imminent. His last two sentences are quite telling: “The Lord be with your spirit” is personally directed at Timothy, the young protégé he has developed to pass on the gospel to the next generation. “Grace be with you” contains a plural verb, which tells us that Paul is talking to all the Christians in this sentence. Ever the apostle, Paul is interested first in the personal development of the leadership for tomorrow, then in the welfare of the whole church. It is an inescapable fact that Paul’s entire ministry was devoted to the local church. Here, he had visited and written a letter to Timothy’s church (Ephesians) and now was writing to its pastor.


Until the Lord comes, we are all preparing to leave this world at some point. Our efforts today say something about what our priorities are once that day gets here. Are you involved in growing as a Christian to the point that you can also develop others in the faith? Are you growing to the extent that your devotion is to the local church? These are the attitudes of the mature Christian. They are the marks of one who has undergone a priority shift in his or her own mind: the Self is slowly taking a back seat to the well-being of the Other.


One of the best applications of a salutation such as this is to take stock of your own involvement in the local church. Is church a place you go when you don’t have something better to do? Is it “kind of” important without being too important? Paul would have considered this a rather infantile view of the Church. His whole career had been spent establishing, nurturing and caring for the local churches—hence the two lengthy letters to one of their pastors. Isn’t it time we finally admitted that the local church should be important to us, as well?

2 Timothy 4:9-18

9Do your best to come to me quickly. 10For Demas has forsaken me, being in love with this present time, and has gone to Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11Luke alone is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in ministry. 12I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13When you come, bring the cloak I left behind with Carpus at Troas, also the books and especially the parchment. 14Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his works. 15Beware of him yourself, for he is very much opposed to our message. 16At my first defense, no one stood by me, but rather al deserted me may it never be reckoned to them. 17But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully preached and all the Gentiles might hear. And He rescued me from the mouth of the lion. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will save me to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever, Amen.


As Paul prepares to close the letter, he gives some final instructions to his protégé Timothy. He asks that the young man come quickly to be with him, and while he’s at it to bring the cloak he left, along with the books and parchment. He asks that those who did not stand at his original trial be held innocent of desertion, reminiscent of how Jesus behaved during His own moment of betrayal. He references his belief that he had been spared up to this point for the sake of the spread of the message, and reveals his faith that the Lord would ultimately rescue him from evil and bring him safely into His heavenly kingdom.


This is a man with a singular mission: the spread of the gospel and the establishment of the churches. He has not allowed himself to be distracted by the pleasures or pursuits of the world. He lives for one goal: the spread of the gospel and the establishment of the churches. He is loving and patient with others, tending toward forgiveness. He is hopeful of what is to come, and has taken the time to develop young Timothy for the time ahead. This alone tells us how important the local church was to him: all those chapters written about deacons and elders and the way people behave in the house of God.


Paul loved the gospel, and loved the local church. He was singularly devoted. Are you?

2 Timothy 4:1-8

1I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, Who is to judge the living and the dead by His appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the Word, be ready when it’s popular and when it’s unpopular, convince, rebuke, encourage—with all patience and teaching. 3For a time is coming when men will not endure sound teaching, but feeling an itch in their ears will accumulate teachers to themselves that suit their own passions, 4and they will turn away from the truth in their ears and will stray after myths. 5But you keep your head [be calm] in all things, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my death has drawn near. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. 8Henceforth there is stored up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me in that day—and not only to me but to all who love His appearing.


Paul now charges Timothy quite solemnly to do something, and the witnesses to this command are significant indeed: God and Christ Jesus, before Whom every man will one day appear to give an account. He tells Timothy to do four things: preach, convince, rebuke, and encourage. These things should be done in times when Christian belief is popular, and in times when it’s unpopular. He predicts—and indeed that time is already on Timothy—that the time is coming when people will turn away from sound doctrine and will stack up teachers that suit their own lusts. He himself has fulfilled his ministry; he is confident that he has fought the good fight and run the race properly. He now passes the baton to his protégé Timothy, and encourages him to continue the development of others in the historic faith.


When I was a young man, Christian faith and practice were normative in America. To be a preacher was to be popular. People trusted preachers, and revivals were always well-attended. But today, preachers are among the most ridiculed figures in all of our culture. Moreover, the advent of social media has made it possible to completely lock out opposing views from our consciousness. When we get tired of hearing an opposing view, we simply unfollow or unfriend the offending party—then we are left only with an echo chamber of our own making. A man or woman who preaches truth can be ignored for one’s entire life.


To be intellectually honest is to process all sides of an issue. Our culture has ceased to be honest. But we Christians still have an obligation to confess Jesus and the historic faith, and we must also develop the next generation to proclaim this now-unpopular gospel. “The time is coming” is now…and it’s time to find out how strong our faith really is.


So what about you? If the Christian faith were criminalized, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Have you devoted yourself to the study of the Word and sound doctrine—even when it steps on your own toes—to the extent that you can proclaim, convince, rebuke and encourage?

2 Timothy 3:10-17

10Now you gave careful attention to my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, testimony, love, endurance, 11persecutions and sufferings, such as what happened to me in Antioch, in Iconia, in Lystra—what persecutions I endured and from them all the Lord rescued me!  12Indeed, all who wish to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13But evil men and imposters will lead from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14You, however, continue in the things you have learned and believed, knowing from whom you learned them, 15and that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures which are able to give you wisdom until salvation by faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, for refutation of error, for correction, for training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be fully qualified and equipped for good works.


This pericope of Scripture shows the importance of training, qualification, and time investment in discipleship that preparation for ministry requires. Timothy has followed Paul around and watched—for an extended period of time—the teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, testimony, love and endurance through hardship of a man of God. Through this modeling, he has learned how a man of God must be. Paul reminds him that everyone who wishes to live in Christ will be persecuted (an interesting memo to our modern Christians). We learn of the authoritative nature of tradition when Paul reminds Timothy that he has been learning the Scriptures from his childhood—and that those Scriptures are able to give him the wisdom that leads to the saving knowledge of Christ. After all, all Scripture is “God-breathed” (θεοπνευστος), which some translations render “inspired.” And the man of God must learn them in order to be able to teach, refute error, correct, and train others. Only then can he be said to be “qualified.”


The implications for pastors, evangelists and other teachers of God’s people are obvious: no one should quickly enter ministry. This should be a process of training, time investment, qualification. And in our corner of Pentecostalism, we’ve frequently devalued education and training in favor of some experiential “Spirit qualification.” But we see right here in Scripture where God intends for the qualification process to be just that—a process. So THAT’S HOW THE SPIRIT QUALIFIES US.


But there are implications beyond just those who divide God’s word for others in a pulpit. What of other Christians? Aren’t we all opening the Bible and walking one another through it? Aren’t we all helping one another to conform to Christ through the reading of the Word, prayer and discipleship? That same Spirit-led process is required of all of us. We are justified when we first trust Jesus, but then we must grow in Him—and this happens through our discipleship process. Time and patience and investment in His Word and His people will ultimately produce the kind of mature Christian who can lead and disciple others.


Are you engaged in that process today?

2 Timothy 3:1-9

1Now take note of this: that in the last days there will come times of difficulty, 2for men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, irreligious, 3heartless, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4treacherous reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof—avoid these. 6For among them are those who deceptively enter the homes and get control of weak women, burdened by sin, swayed by all kinds of lusts, 7always learning but never being able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8Just as Jannes and Jambs opposed Moses, so also these oppose the truth: men who are corrupted in mind, disqualified [worthless] concerning the faith, 9but they will not lead to much. For their foolishness will be clearly evident to all, just as it was with those.


When Paul speaks of the “last days” in this passage (3.1), we must remember that the “last days” began on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Timothy was already being opposed by the types of people that appear in this text. Men were already lovers of self and money and pleasure—rather than lovers of God. Their lack of religion (3.2) led them to be abusive with their speech and action and disobedient ingrates. They behaved heartlessly and completely lacked self-control. They claimed to be Christian but their lives did not show the transformative power of the gospel.


What’s changed, exactly?


We also are constantly tempted to gratify the Self ahead of others. We would rather pursue pleasure than worship or service. We have become a culture that disrespects its parents, casting them aside in ingratitude. As a culture, we are irreligious, which has led to heartless behavior that is abusive to others. And we have a form of godliness that denies the power thereof. What does this mean? Two things:

  1. We claim to be followers of the living God, but we don’t truly believe that He operates powerfully in our lives. One possible interpretation of this is that the rejection of Pentecostalism is a rejection of true godliness. But there is another interpretation that I believe strikes home much deeper.
  2. We call ourselves by Christ’s name but lack the self-control and God-love to allow ourselves to be transformed.


How long will we continue to take God’s name in vain? How long will we continue to call ourselves by His name and refuse to live in His light? If you and I are not being transformed today, we are doing this wrong. We are denying the power inherent in the gospel.

2 Timothy 2:14-26

14Remind them of these things; warn them before God not to quarrel about words, which have no value but ruins the hearers. 15Do your best to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed worker, able to handle the word of truth correctly. 16Avoid godless and foolish talk; for it will lead them into more and more godlessness. 17And their teaching will spread like gangrene—among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18who have left the way concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened and bringing to ruin the faith of some. 19But the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and “Depart from evil, those who confess the name of the Lord.” 20In a big house, there are not only vessels made of gold and silver, but also of wood and baked clay; some are for honor and some for common use. 21If, therefore, a man will cleanse himself of these things, he will be a vessel unto honor, set apart for holiness, useful to the Master of the house, prepared for every good work. 22Flee youthful lusts, but pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord from pure hearts. 23Have nothing to do with foolish and stupid controversies, knowing that they breed quarrels. 24The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome, but gentle toward all, able to teach, patent—25correcting opponents in gentleness. Perhaps God will give them repentance toward the knowledge of truth; 26and they will come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.


Paul now distinguishes between Timothy and the opponents who are harming the Ephesian church. He instructs Timothy to remind the people of sound doctrine and not to devolve into silly quarrels about words. A good worker before God who can be unashamed is one who is devoted to patience, gentleness, and good teaching. There are opponents (two of whom he names) who are teaching something other than sound doctrine, and Paul describes them as having left the faith. The Ephesian heresy was rooted in a dualism that taught that matter is evil and spirit is good. Therefore, there could be no physical resurrection from the dead because the existence of a body would not be a “step up” but an evil one. These people taught that the resurrection had already happened in a sense—a spiritual one, in which you live forever through your legacy. This dualism and gnostic heresy had harmed the church, and Paul’s description of the teachers of this dangerous philosophy is as non-Christians. He does not see them as members of the faith. A good and devoted servant of the Lord must be able to engage opponents in gentleness and correct errant behavior, toward persuasion. He tells Timothy to flee youthful lusts and also to be ready handle the word of truth correctly.


How can a minister follow the advice Paul gave to Timothy if he does not submit himself to a process of learning, discipleship, and the authority of the community? No one is born with the ability to “handle the word of truth” correctly. You have to LEARN that. This is evidence #3251 that Paul expected ministers like Timothy to be prepared through a lengthy process that involved education, not just having a “right heart.” It’s time we expected the same of our ministers, as well.


There is application for lay people here, too: from this passage we may deduce that there is a distinction between sound doctrine and heresy. It is therefore important to follow sound teaching, which means discipleship should be part of your Christian walk. You cannot continue to call God your Father if you are not also calling the Church your Mother. You need the community of faith; you need to be educated in the doctrines of the faith. You need to know stuff, so you can know how to avoid the other stuff.


So how devoted are you to this paradigm of Christian living?