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Monday, November 26, 2012

Stranded and Forsaken

Stranded and Forsaken

Timothy was made a leader of a war, a good war, a war based on the love of God and the lordship of Jesus Christ. His ministry was a part of God's plan, a component of the overall strategy that envisions thousands of churches, millions of Christians filled with the knowledge of God's love, controlled by God's Spirit, displaying the power and mercy of God in Jesus Christ.

Spiritual warfare fights for something positive. The battle is not ultimately to defeat evil, but to uphold good, thereby defeating evil. Paul's charge to Timothy began with a call to love, expressed with a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. Now, at the end of this first chapter, Paul again recalls this over-reaching goal, exhorting Timothy, to hold to faith and a good conscience.

Paul had two men specifically in mind when he entrusted this charge to Timothy:

"By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme." 1 Timothy 1:19-20 (ESV)

"This" refers to faith and a good conscience. Paul knew of two men who had made shipwreck of their faith because they had rejected Christ and allowed their consciences to become bad.

SHIPWRECK: nauageo (to be stranded, unable to "navigate"); from naus (a boat, of any size) and ago (to lead, bring, drive, go, pass or induce); from nao (to float)

Paul describes faith as a boat or ship, well-founded, afloat and on course. Disregarding the charts, ignoring the compass, allowing the lines to chafe or overloading the cargo...the captain allows the ship to wander off-course, broach-to in the waves or founder onto the reefs, stranding the boat until rescue or death.

"Holding faith" means much more than praying the sinner's prayer or belonging to a church.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Can you describe a time in your life when you felt you had made shipwreck of your faith? What were you ignoring or rejecting? What brought you back on course?

HOLDING: echo (to hold, in possession, as ability, with contiguity, in relation or condition)

"Hold" is used over 700 times in the Bible, meaning anything from a child, to wearing a jacket, to a people.

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel - (which means, God with us)." Matthew 1:23 (ESV)

"Son" is the same Greek word as "hold".

"Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey." Matthew 3:4 (ESV)

"Wore" is the same Greek word as "hold".

"They brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them." Matthew 4:24 (KJV)

"People" is the same Greek word as "hold".

It is plain that "hold" means something very close to a person, something essential or valuable, something connected with their identity or their body.

To "hold faith" means to consider a specific truth to be absolutely essential. "Faith" means confidence in truth that is not seen - there is no outward evidence of the truth - but nonetheless, the truth is essential.

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

"The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known." John 1:17-18 (ESV)

"Jesus Christ: Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:7-9 (ESV)

"He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen." 1 Timothy 6:15-16 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why does God's invisibility often seem to be the hardest thing about our relationship with God? How does invisibility glorify God?

Hymenaeus and Alexander were spiritual sailors who disregarded their charts and compass, trusting only what their eyes could see. They disregarded their conscience, relying only upon their stomachs and their hearts of flesh.

Their ship became stranded.

HYMENAEUS: Hymenaios, from Hymen (the god of weddings)

Hymenaeus was named after Hymen, a god who ruled over weddings, often connected closely with "Hymenaios", the wedding hymn which was sung by the bride's attendants as she was led to the house of the groom. A wedding would be expected to be disastrous unless Hymen blessed the union, and his name was called aloud repeatedly during the ceremony. Both "hymn" and "hymen" are derived from the Greek wedding ceremony. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hymen_(god))

The name of Hymenaios evokes beauty and joy. But if the song of Hymen ignores conscience, the wedding ceremony will become a noisy, drunken riot, broken by arguments and lust.

Paul later referred to Hymenaeus as an irreverent babbler, leading people into ungodliness, spreading heresy like gangrene infects a body (2 Timothy 2:17).

ALEXANDER: Alexandros, from aleko (to ward off) and aner (a man, an individual male)

Alexander's name exudes authority and strength of Man. But if Man ignores the Creator's chart and tosses his life's compass overboard, he changes strength to strident pride. He becomes one man, strong and superior, repelling all challengers, maintaining his exalted position.

Paul considered Alexander a personal enemy, saying only that Alexander had done Paul great harm (2 Timothy 4:14). Alexander may have been related to Anna, the Jewish high priest. As such, Alexander would have undoubtedly known Paul earlier as "Saul of Tarsus", the fervent, young Jew who persecuted Christians. When "Saul the Persecutor" became "Paul the Christian", Alexander most likely became Paul's enemy. (Acts 4:6)

Paul names Hymenaeus and Alexander as examples of "certain persons" who were teaching different doctrine, devoted to myths and endless genealogies, and swerving away from love, a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. Paul pointed the two out as men desiring to be teachers of the law, but without understanding the lawful use of the law.

How did Paul deal with these two men? He handed them "over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme." (1 Timothy 1:10)

Paul had a similar response to a man in the Corinthian church who had committed adultery with his own father's wife, with the knowledge and arrogant support of the church.

"Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." 1 Corinthians 5:2-5 (ESV)

The terror of Satan's power can be seen in Job's experience.

Although Job was a blameless, upright man, one who revered God and turned away from evil, a man of integrity, God allowed Job to be delivered into Satan's hand:

"The Lord said to Satan, - Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand." Job 1:12 (ESV)

With God's permission, Satan ruined Job's life. Mauraders attacked, killing Job's servants and stealing livestock. A storm of fire consumed his sheep. Raiders took his camels. Every source of wealth was lost in a single day.

This was only Phase One for Satan.

A great wind came across the wilderness, smashing into the house in which all of Job's sons and daughters were gathered, killing all his children.

Satan's final touch was against Job himself, stopping just short of killing him.

"Satan answered the Lord and said, - Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face. - And the Lord said to Satan, - Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life. - So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes." Job 2:4-8 (ESV)

Job was not a "certain person". Job was not swerving from love or becoming an enemy of God. God's purpose was not one of vengeance or correction. It ultimately resulted in joy for Job and glory for God.

In handing Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan, Paul was not expressing anger. He was not desiring revenge. His hope was that they would learn not to blaspheme. For the man in the Corinthian church, Paul expected the suffering experienced at the hand of Satan would soften the man's heart, allowing the Holy Spirit to change evil actions into repentence and rejoicing.

Job's horrific experience in the hands of Satan resulted in a transformed heart. Outwardly he had been a model of integrity, but within he had doubts and confusion, pride in his own strength and ignorance of God's power and wisdom. After days of unrelenting pain and loss, Job's eyes were opened.

"I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. - Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? - Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. - Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me. - I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:2-6 (ESV)

The man in the Corinthian church, as well as the entire church, also benefited from suffering:

"I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God." 2 Corinthians 7:9-12 (ESV)

This was Paul's expectation for Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul could hand over an enemy to Satan only because he was sure that God would be in control of Satan. The story of Job makes it plain that God allows, but still retains ultimate control over, Satan's demonic power. God uses Satan as a tool at times to convert sinners into saints.

Paul's aim in handing over his enemies to Satan was for their good, not for his vengeance.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How would you define "enemy"? Do you have an enemy, and would it be appropriate for you to "hand over to Satan" your enemy? How would you do that? What prayer or ceremony or behavior would accomplish it?

Shipwreck II BW (Abandoned shipwreck at the bay of Praia, Cape Verde), by David Gil, Creative Commons License

Monday, November 19, 2012

Warfare

Good Warfare

Paul called himself the foremost of sinners, the most important...not the most important sinner, but the one with the most important sin. His blasphemy, persecution and insolence, above all other sins, deserved punishment from God.

But God, through Jesus Christ, displayed perfect patience and mercy.

In that moment, Paul saw Jesus as King of his life, his sovereign Ruler, deserving honor and glory forever.

Paul now returns to the primary reason for writing this letter:

"This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience." 1 Timothy 1:18-19 (ESV)

"This charge" refers to three specific errors that were undermining the faith and love of Christians in the Ephesian church:

Different doctrine (using heresy to control others)
Myths (using fantasy to control others)
Endless genealogies (using lineage to control others)

The errors promoted speculations and worthless searchings. The Christians were becoming puffed up with conceit, asking questions with little desire for answers, having only the desire for controversy.

Paul's aim was to preach and portray three pillars of love:

  • Pure heart
  • Good conscience
  • Sincere faith

Without love, supported by purity, goodness and sincerity, Christians wander into spiritual ignorance and hypocrisy.

Without love, Christians become blasphemers, persecutors and insolent opponents of Christ.

This was the situation in which Paul was placing Timothy.

Paul was preparing Timothy for warfare.

"This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare..." 1 Timothy 1:18 (ESV)

WARFARE: strateia (military service or career); from strateuomai (to serve in a military campaign, to be an apostle, to contend with sinful flesh); from stratos (an army, encamped); from stroo (to "strew", spread as a carpet or couch)

Military strategy can be described as a carpet, laid out from beginning to end. It could also be seen as straw bales, opened and strewn over the dirt floor of a barn or field. The image of a strewn carpet is immediately seen in photographs of army encampments, with tent after tent pitched closely together, arranged according to squad or function.

The highest miliary leader views war strategically, as if able to see at once all of the armies and fleets, of allies and enemies. War is fought from the top down, beginning with specific goals that benefit an entire country. The over-reaching goals dictate the actions of each army, fleet, armada, ship, company, squad, aircraft and ultimately, each individual warrior.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? In what sense can life as a Christian be described as warfare? What about being a soldier for Christ is encouraging to you, and what about it is offensive or disliked?

Paul is making Timothy a general, a commanding officer. Timothy must keep in mind the strategy, the over-reaching goals set by Christ. Timothy must keep in mind each group in Ephesus, faithful and unfaithful, Christian and Unbeliever. He must allow Christ's love to be the foundation for every message and every exhortation. He must consider each member of each group, recognizing their age and strength and how they are equipped. He must ensure that every action taken by individual Christians is founded upon the over-reaching goals of Christ.

Realistically, only God can consider each individual of a country, of a world. The highest military officer cannot know each individual in his own army, much less those of the enemy. The pastor of a church cannot know each individual in the congregation, much less in the community.

Strategic warfare demands that the leader become skilled at generalizing. "Soldier" becomes a general term for an individual with a specific set of skills, equipment and knowledge. "Tank Squad" becomes a term for a group of warriors with specific skills, equipment and knowlege.

Firefighters have a rule-of-thumb that often guides their leadership structure, called "Span of Control": each leader should directly supervise only five to seven groups or individuals. A captain would be assigned supervision over five teams of firefighters. A lieutenant would be assigned supervision over five individual firefighters.

The captain directs the movements of teams. The lieutenant directs the movements of individuals.

It is often the same for the church. A pastor begins to think in general terms. Individuals may be thought of as "Christian", "Unsaved", "Senior", "Man", "Woman", "Child", "Visitor" and the like. Groups are created in the pastor's mind, each with a different set of characteristics, abilities, preferences and knowledge. The pastor appoints leaders of each group, with the goal of each leader becoming able to support and guide each individual in their own group.

This is the pattern implied by Paul's description of Timothy's ministry as "warfare".

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Does our church follow this military pattern? Should it? What are the benefits? What are the disadvantages? What groups are immediately apparent in our church? Who are the leaders of these groups? Have the leaders been appointed officially? Should they?

Paul refers to the specific weapons with which Timothy is to wage war:

"...the prophecies previously made about you..." 1 Timothy 1:18 (ESV)

PROPHECIES: propheteia (prediction); from prophetes (a foreteller, a "prophet", an inspired speaker or poet); from pro ("fore", in front of, prior to) and phemi (to show or make know one's thoughts); from phao (to shine or make manifest)

Paul refers later to prophecies concerning Timothy:

"Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." 1 Timothy 4:11-16 (ESV)

As the church recognized God's Holy Spirit working, they publicly confirmed Timothy's ministry as a pastor. The elders laid their hands on him, praying with words given by the Holy Spirit, revealing specific spiritual gifts given to Timothy.

Prophecy is the revelation of truth that is as yet unseen. Prophecy is closely connected with faith:

"Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith." Romans 12:6 (ESV)

Prophecy involves the understanding of mysteries:

"If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge..." 1 Cor 13:2 (ESV)

MYSTERIES: mysterion (a secret or "mystery", through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites); from muo (to shut the mouth)

KNOWLEDGE: gnosis (the act of knowing); from ginosko (to "know", absolutely)

Prophecy, as a gift or an ability, will eventually become unnecessary.

"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away." 1 Corinthians 13:8 (ESV)

In Christ, all unknowns will someday become completely known; there will be no need for the spiritual gifts of revealing future events or truth...all will become known.

Prophecy, revealing of absolute truth not yet seen, is only by the Holy Spirit of God.

"No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." 2 Peter 1:21 (ESV)

The superior object of prophecy is to reveal Christ. John worshiped an angel who spoke to him, but the angel redirected his adoration:

"These are the true words of God. - Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, - You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." Revelations 19:9-10 (ESV)

Timothy was young and inexperienced, but God revealed to the elders of the church what He would be doing in Timothy's life. Timothy's spiritual gifts were yet unseen until God opened the eyes of the elders. Their prophetic prayer of confirmation served to open Timothy's eyes, as well as those of the church, to God's unseen work.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What have you experienced concerning spiritual prophecy? What abuses of the gift have you seen, and what causes the abuse and misuse of spiritual gifts? In what sense can the sinner's prayer for forgiveness in Christ be seen as a response to prophecy?

What was the prophecy concerning Timothy? What did the elders reveal in their prayer over him?

Look again at Paul's reference in chapter four:

"Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." 1 Timothy 4:11-16 (ESV)

Command. Teach. Read. Exhort.

Timothy was given a single spiritual gift that would be the foundation of his ministry: teaching.

As pastor, Timothy would fulfill God's over-reaching goal of love through teaching. All of Timothy's messages, exhortations, projects and missions would be based upon teaching.

Timothy would be spiritually-enabled to become a superior teacher of God's Word, leading others to fulfill God's plan of love, each in their own individual way.

The gift of teaching can be described in many ways, each highlighting a slightly different form of teaching: commanding, setting an example, reading and exhorting.

TEACHING: didaskalia (instruction); from didaskaolos (an instructor); from didasko (to teach); from dao (to learn)

Paul refers later to Timothy's gift of teaching:

"If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed." 1 Timothy 4:6 (ESV)

PUT THESE THINGS BEFORE: hypotithemi (to place underneath, to hazard or suggest) and tauta (these things); from hypo (under) and tithemi (to place, in a passive or horizontal posture)

A teacher begins from the bottom, working upward. It is most important for a teacher to ensure that their students have a firm, true foundation. This often requires dismantling or destroying previously learned errors and imaginations.

Nothing true and permanent can be built upon a false, weak foundation.

SERVANT: diakonos (an attendant, a waiter at a table or other menial duties, a teacher or pastor); from diako (to run on errands)

A teacher considers themselves to be a servant, rather than a ruler or leader. The root of servant means one who runs to serve, one who is eager to quickly meet every needs. For a teacher, this running is made real in his teaching. A teacher of God's Word is eager to build a strong foundation, eager to write or speak to others about truth. A teacher is quick to respond to observed needs, able to quickly relate God's Word to specific issues.

But, above all, a teacher is a servant, eager to serve others. A waiter brings what the table has ordered, not what the waiter prefers to serve. A teacher listens to what the students are asking for, bringing truth that effectively meets their need.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What if a diner orders foolishly? What if a diner orders only dessert, or worse, poison? How does a teacher live as a servant, a waiter, bringing God's Word, if the people ask for shallow "feel-good" devotions, or worse, for heresy?

Finally, in chapter four, Paul describes a teacher as being "trained".

TRAINED: entrepho (to educate); from en (a fixed position) and trepho (to stiffen or fatten, to cherish with food, pamper, rear up as a child)

A teacher is "fat" with understanding. A teacher speaks and writes from the fulness of his own knowledge. A teacher is bursting at the seams with ideas, thoughts, conclusions and revelations concerning knowledge of truth. A teacher regards truth as spiritual food, essential, healthy and desirable.

More than just knowledgeable, a teacher is "fixed in position". Their journey has gone from ignorance to wondering, from seeking to finding, from questioning to answering. Certainly not in everything is the teacher "fixed". In fact, most teachers admit that the more they understand, the more they understand that they understand very little, indeed! But the foundation of a teacher is solid. The main structure of the teacher's knowledge is permament and strong. There remain thousands of details: unknowns, uncertainties and mysteries - but the core, the structure, the foundation of the teacher's knowledge of truth is rock-solid and fixed in position.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? For a church, at what point should a Christian be recognized, and relied upon, as a teacher? What truths are essential for a teacher's foundation, a teacher of God's Word? What questions would you put on an application form designed for the position of teacher at our church?

City of Tents, Cumberland Landing, May 1862 by Library of Congress, Public Domain

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Display

On Display

Jesus had broken through the sin-hardened ignorance of Paul.

"The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." 1 Timothy 1:15-16 (ESV)

FOREMOST: protos (foremost in time, place, order or importance); from pro ("fore", in front of, prior or superior to)

"Foremost" occurs many times in the Bible. Simon was described as foremost of the apostles, not in order of time, but in importance (Matthew 10:2). The command to love the Lord our God is the first commandment, because of time, being the first command given by God. (Matthew 22:38).

Paul was certainly not the first person in the world to sin. Paul is saying that as a sinner, he was most important.

Really?

More important than Adam? David? Judas Iscariot? Hitler?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How can Paul say that he was the most important sinner, of all the sinners in the world? What about his blasphemy, persecution and insolence was foremost above all others? Has there been another to take Paul's place as "foremost sinner of all"?

Paul believed his sin to be foremost, the most important in the world. His human nature cowered in fear, fully expecting God's wrathful and perfectly just punishment, with no hope of escape or pardon.

But God opened Paul's eyes to His mercy, extended to Paul by Jesus Christ:

"But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." 1 Timothy 1:16 (ESV)

Paul understood that God had made Jesus Christ to be both Judge and Forgiver. With perfect patience, Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified, satisfying God's wrath upon Paul's sin, and the risen Christ forgave Paul, as He forgives all sinners who believe in Him.

PERFECT: pas (all, any, every, the whole)

PATIENCE: makrothymia (longanimity, forbearance or fortitude); from makros (long in place, or distant in time) and thumos (passion, as if breathing hard)

If Paul were blind to God's mercy, seeing only himself as sinner, his only expectation would be imminent wrath, with Jesus passionately angry to the core, breathing fast and furiously, on the very edge of violently punishing Paul for his sin.

But God had mercy.

Jesus opened Paul's eyes to God's mercy shown on the cross. Paul believed that Jesus had willingly died in Paul's place, securing forgiveness for the sinner. Now, Paul saw Jesus, not as an angry Judge, but as a patient Judge, a Judge who has seen justice served and has forgiven the sinner.

Perhaps Paul saw himself as the foremost sinner because of the effect his transformation had on other sinners. Perhaps he saw many people believe in God's mercy for sin, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, because they had seen Paul change from sinner to saint.

If it could happen to Paul, it can happen to me.

Paul described Jesus as King:

"To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." 1 Timothy 1:17 (ESV)

Saul, as sinner, saw Jesus as a charismatic, false preacher of a heretical cult that threatened the power and influence of the Jewish religion in Jerusalem.

Paul, as saint, saw Jesus as King: immortal, invisible, the only God, deserving all honor and glory forever.

Many people, from the time of Paul to now, have seen the radical transformation of Paul as convincing evidence that Jesus Christ is the King of their life, and this belief transforms them in the same way it transformed Paul.

A transformation from death to life. Eternal life. In Christ.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Paul believed that his transformation from saint to sinner was apparent to others, that it was a display of Christ's patience and mercy. Paul was a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent before coming to Christ. What was he afterward? What would people have seen different? What might people be seeing in you now that is very different than when you did not believe?

Omotesando Billboards by Huw, Creative Commons License

Monday, November 5, 2012

Reaching Out

Reaching Out

Christians in Jerusalem have been ravaged. Jewish religious enforcer, Saul, has entered house after house, dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

The Christian church in Jerusalem is scattered to far corners of the Roman Empire.

Except the apostles.

"Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ." Acts 8:5 (ESV)

PHILIP: Philippos (fond of horses); from philos (dear, a friend, fond, friendly; an associate or neighbor) and hippos (a horse)

Evidently, Philip's parents loved horses, or they wanted Philip to love horses. More likely, the name is a reference to the power of horses. Most of the biblical references to horses are connected to armies, conquest and power.

Philip was the name of one of the twelve apostles called by Jesus (Matthew 10:3). Philip was the brother of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3). He was from Bethsaida, a town in the region of Galilee, the same birthplace as Andrew and Peter (John 1:44)

Philip was an evangelist from the very moment he met Jesus, immediately finding a friend, Nathanael, and bringing him to Jesus (John 1:45). It was to Philip that many came first to learn more about Jesus (John 12:21).

Philip was chosen by the Christians in Jerusalem to join with Stephen, and five other men, to the "table-serving ministry" (Acts 6:5).

It was Philip who first saw the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem as an opportunity to reach people for Christ, people outside of the mainstream, the less-than-affluent, the marginalized ones.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Many Christians do not regard themselves as active evangelists. Many are aware of their own timidness and hesitancy to risk boldly witnessing to others about Jesus. Does the personality of Philip seem greatly different than that of yours? Is Philip motivated by a specially-given spiritual gift, or is his attitude one that we should all be pursuing? What factor most often hinders you from speaking boldly to others about Jesus?

SAMARIA: Samareia (a city and region of Palestine); from Hebrew shomeron (watch-station); from shamar (to hedge about, as with thorns; to guard, protect, attend to)

Samaria is about 30 miles north of Jerusalem, built upon a hill in the center of a wide, basin-shaped valley. The city was named by Israelite king Omri after the owner of the hill: "Samaria of Shemer". (1 Kings 16:23,24)

It was in Samaria that Jesus confronted, lovingly, a woman drawing water at the well.

"A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, - Give me a drink. - (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, - How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria? - ( For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, - If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, Give me a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." John 4:7-10 (ESV)

Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. Some desired to insult and scorn Jesus, calling Him a Samaritan, and thus, demon-possessed:

"The Jews answered him [Jesus], - Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" John 8:48 (ESV)

The animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans grew from the results of foreign conquest. The Babylonian King crushed the the nation of Israel, as well as numerous other people groups throughout the Middle East. The Babylonian plan for reconstruction and reorganization included the deportation into Samaria a mixed population of people conquered, no matter what religion or nationality.

"Persians, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River." Ezra 4:9-10 (ESV)

Samaria became a bizarre conglomeration of cultures and commercialism, heavily influenced by religions from all over the world. Orthodox, self-righteous Jews would regard Samaria as rife with backslidden Israelites and pagan idol worship, given to immorality and devilish desires.

Even before the Babylonian conquest, Samaria was at the center of contention. The people of Israel were divided in two. Half followed one king, half the other, calling the northern half, "Israel", and the southern half, "Judah". Samaria became the royal capital for Israel, Jerusalem the rule over Judah. (1 Kings 16:24).

One of the most wicked of kings, and there were many, was Ahab, king of Israel. He erected an altar for the god Baal, building it in Samaria (1 Kings 16:32). Worship of Baal continued for generations in Samaria (2 Kings 1:3), as well as worship of Astarte or Asherah, a Phoenician goddess, also named Ashtoreth, the goddess of love (2 Kings 13:6).

WHAT DO YOU THINK? For us, what city in our country would compare to Samaria? What city would compare to Jerusalem? What current issues are often in the news, describing things that are dividing our country and marginalizing people? What is your response to people who describe wars, revolutions, and national violence as God's punishment for sin?

Samaria was besieged and conquered by Assyria.

The king of Assyria deported almost the entire Israelite population, exiling them to Assyria. The writer of the Book of Second Kings connects the conquest and deportation directly to Samaritan Israel's failure to obey all that God had commanded through Moses (2 Kings 18:12).

In his conquest speech, the king of Assyria listed all the gods and goddesses worshipped by the Samaritan Israelites, scorning their worthless religious trust in powerless deities:

"Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand?" 2 Kings 18:33-35 (ESV)

The southern kingdom, Judah, fared no better, adopting idol worship and sinful excess just as easily as their hated brothers and sisters in Samaria.

"The Lord said by his servants the prophets,- Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day." 2 Kings 21:10-15 (ESV)

God again used the king of Assyria as a rod of His anger, stirring the king's heart against Judah, the home of the self-righteous, "true Jews", the ones filled with scorn for their northern siblings. The Assyrian king cackled with pride as he assembled his armies against Judah, citing examples of nations he's crushed:

"Are not my commanders all kings? Is not Calno like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad? Is not Samaria like Damascus? As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols, whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols as I have done to Samaria and her images?" Isaiah 10:8-11 (ESV)

God's heart was broken over both halves of His chosen people's condition:

"In the prophets of Samaria I saw an unsavory thing: they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray. But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah." Jeremiah 23:13-14 (ESV)

Yet God planned a day of redemption and unity. Micah the prophet wrote of God's revelation to him concerning the "latter days".

"It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: - Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." Micah 4:1-2 (ESV)

The "mountain of the house of the Lord" would not be Samaria or Jerusalem, no longer would there be "Israel" and "Judah", "us" and "them".

God's "mountain" would be a Person.

"He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever." Micah 4:3-5 (ESV)

God's Redeemer would be a Shepherd-King:

"He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth." Micah 5:4 (ESV)

Micah ends his passionate letter with worship for God Almighty:

"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." Micah 7:18-19 (ESV)

Philip went to Samaria to preach to his brothers and sisters about God's Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Does this story have direct connections with your family history? Do you have brothers or sisters, parents or cousins with whom you now have little or no contact, with anger and disappointment felt and expressed on both sides, for long years? Perhaps with brothers and sisters in Christ or other churches? Would sharing with them what you've experienced in Jesus be seen as a peaceful gesture, or an attack? What risks did Philip face in going to Samaria? What risks do you face in telling others about Jesus?

The Kindness of Strangers, by Ed Yourdon, Creative Commons License