holding on to faith and a good conscience

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

1 Timothy 1:18-20

Paul puts holding on to faith and a good conscience together. Faith is not just about reciting a creed. It is not just holding to something as a belief, whether that’s intellectual, or actually more than that, based on God’s revelation given to us in Scripture. It includes that, but more.

James tells us that faith without works is dead, and Paul essentially says the same thing in his letters. Though Paul makes it clear that justifying, saving faith is apart from works, he also makes it clear that works follow. An expressed faith without a corresponding change of life amounts to no faith at all. Paul makes it clear that we’re to hold on to belief in the gospel message. But he also makes equally clear that this is to lead to a changed life.

Timothy is reminded of prophecies once made about him. We’ve all had a sense from God, hopefully through the church, but sadly, far too often that’s largely absent, but some sense from God at least, that God has set us apart for something. We have a gift, some role to play in love in the body of Christ for each other, and for others, as that work extends into the world. Paul is telling us here that it’s not only important to hold on to faith, but also to a good conscience.

The conscience is in a sense the arbiter between right and wrong. But it’s not the standard itself. The conscience is only as good as what informs it. Paul says elsewhere that people can have a seared conscience, evidently having sinned so often against their conscience that it no longer helps or is much of an arbiter at all between any sense of right and wrong, at least not in the way it should be.

So this makes it incumbent on us as followers of Jesus to do all we can to hold on to both faith and a good conscience. What we do must be informed and formed by faith, the faith as given to us in Jesus through Scripture. Given issues today, that is not an easy task.

It’s incumbent on leadership to be the example in this. The church flock will follow that lead, so this is critical. Remember too that 1 Timothy, the above passage is a pastoral letter written for church leadership, for elders who pastor and lead, along with deacons who serve in special roles in the church. The church, yes individual believers are quite dependent on this leadership. They will largely follow.

Paul had to make an example of two men for their own hopeful good, as well as for the good of others, the entire church. So this begins with church leadership, but each and everyone of us in the body are responsible as well. To prayerfully pay attention to the leadership: are they really exemplifying holding on to faith, to the faith, and to a good conscience? And holding ourselves accountable to do the same. In and through Jesus.

turning our attention to that which will last

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Discernment is the call of the day. I suppose people will pay attention to different things, depending on what they consider valuable and good. We have to go back to God’s revelation in Jesus, found in Scripture. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us, and faithful leaders and teachers in the church committed to such.

There’s much that clamors for our attention. We need to be careful what we give our attention to both in terms of substance and time. Some things may be fine here and there, but not incessantly. While other things we may need to turn away from, or avoid all together.

As we practice this, we will more and more be able to see through that which is hollow, not meeting these standards. We need to humbly push toward what is the best and leave the rest behind. Even as we seek to help those caught in the lesser things. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

Eugene Peterson

One person who has surely touched as many households as any in my lifetime is Eugene Peterson, now with the Lord. I have a good number of his books, most of which I believe I’ve read, and benefited greatly from. One might not readily recall details from the best writing, but it will inevitably have a lingering effect on you. Such was the writing of Eugene Peterson.

Writer of over 30 books, including The Message, and first and foremost a pastor. Well studied, in depth thinker in the Presbyterian tradition. With a Pentecostal background. Grounded and seriously committed to scripture, certainly within the tradition of orthodox Christianity.

Eugene Peterson was not about show, but substance, day in day out. “A long obedience in the same direction.” You couldn’t find fault with his writings. The one critique might be leveled against his best known work: The Message, but it is meant to be a rendering of scripture, rather than a standard translation. And you would do well to read through it, or listen to it. He once said (or wrote) that he disliked it when people said, “Here the word of the Lord,” and then began to read from The Message. He noted that they should use a standard Bible translation when doing that.

Eugene Peterson was about substance and simplicity. And a big part of that is simply in slowing down. He wrote: Read slower, not faster; less books, not more. I think from what I’ve gathered from him, that he simply wanted to live as much as possible in what God was about, whatever that was; to be still enough to know God, and be in the flow of what God is doing.

He will be missed, but his influence will linger on especially through people, as well as his writings from generation to generation. Until Jesus returns.

not crossing certain lines

…train yourself to be godly.

1 Timothy 4:7

I think one of the most important things even we older Christians can do today is to train ourselves to be godly. What godliness means might to some extent be up for grabs, since different theological schools will emphasize different things. Really godliness is beyond us, both in really understanding it, and certainly in applying it. We have the Spirit along with scripture, the word, and the church, particularly those who are examples to us in this. Only God can give us light in both helping us see, and be changed, as we are enabled to walk, or live in the light in Jesus as found in scripture.

Here in the United States, we live in a precarious time. Much division and even some hate seems to more and more embed itself and even mark our culture. And we Christians are not above being taken into it and yes, becoming a part of it. It is hard, because there are certain issues that we feel strongly about. Abortion, and then depending on our views, other matters as well. We need to apply scripture and the gospel to critique our views. There are some matters that people will end up disagreeing on, including Christians with each other.

What we need today is the discipline to stay on track, and not get off onto rabbit trails which end up not helping anyone at all. Addressing certain matters such as injustice, and being “pro-life,” along with other contentious issues like environmental stewardship, even government, the church and state, etc. We also need to determine that there are certain lines we simply won’t cross, along with the discernment to know what those lines are.

More often than not the best wisdom is simply to remain silent (Proverbs 17:28). To listen, to gather our own thoughts, and above all, to seek God’s wisdom with others. And to keep doing that. To learn to be reticent to speak. Then God can help us to know better just when we should and must speak out. But our emphasis must always be on Christ and the gospel and never on anything less.

answer the questions we know, not the many things we don’t know

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

Over the course of one’s life, much seems to be shrouded in mystery. And I’m thinking not so much in looking back, though that’s true, but in living through it. And then there’s the nebulous in between stuff, which we had enough understanding to work through, and either did well, or well enough, or not.

It is critical in one’s life to take a radical stance in acting on what we do know, which includes a whole host of things. I can’t emphasize this enough to help others avoid my errors, but also for me in the present. The only way I can avoid self-deception along with satanic deception is to stay on the straight and narrow course of obedience to God’s word. And what that involves is both very gospel and church oriented. And again, it’s rooted in the word, but the goal of that being an interactive relationship with God in communion with the church. And of course our lives in all of this are to be a witness to the world.

In answering the questions we know, I am getting at plain old fashioned obedience to scripture, nonetheless. To take a lot more of it literally, than not. And that involves good reading, meditation, and study. Of course we read scripture as both a human and divine book. So that we don’t do fanciful things with it in working at getting at the plain sense of its meaning. And we consider it in its entirety, and learn from biblical scholars who do the same. We stay the course not only of scripture, but within the latitude and accepted parameters of the church’s interpretation and understanding.

Let me say again that this is crucial. Life is going to throw us some serious issues along the way, at least in our minds, but also in reality. Some of it in my own life has definitely been a matter of the mind. But others definitely real, as well as difficult. We need scripture and the church, and to be honest to God, and honest to others, particularly those in leadership, as well as a trusted, wise friend.

So let’s concentrate on doing well in what we know, and trust God to help us be faithful in that, as well as through the more difficult matters, along with what we don’t understand at all. And to learn to keep doing this, and growing in it, in and through Jesus.

God’s accessment of our work (of our lives)

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

1 Corinthians 3

It isn’t easy to pin down exactly what the Apostle Paul is saying in this passage (see entire passage by clicking 1 Corinthians 3), since this seems to apply directly to the leaders the Corinthian church were idolizing, and perhaps their own misguided assessment of them. Which theoretically could be carried over into their own lives. After all, we become like or somehow emulate the gods we look to, or hopefully the God we look to in and through Christ. But part of our sin is to place idols in our hearts.

Christ is the foundation of the good news and the life we have and live, even live out. So that what we build on Christ in our work and teaching must be appropriate to Christ. We might truly look to Christ, but mix this or that or something else with Christ which is not of him, stuff that eventually won’t stand, in the words of the text here, will not endure the test of the fire.

This makes me wonder about everything I do, about my life. Does that adhere with and to Christ? What about my attitudes along the way? Love and truth must be paramount. We all fail, or don’t completely measure up to the stature of Christ, to be sure. But together we should be growing up into that likenesss to and maturity in him. Not in any human leader, except that we follow them (as Paul wrote) as they follow Christ.

This isn’t easy, to say the least. But in the hardest parts, our character is revealed, and with those hard parts comes opportunity. In the meantime we need to repent where needed, and grow together no less into the image of the Lord through whom we live.

taken up with what is important to Christ

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.

Philippians 2

In a world full of challenges which often hit us square in the face, and sometimes seem to threaten our own well being, it is being different to take on the attitude of mind which Jesus Christ had (see all of Philippians 2)  and to which we in Christ are called. But that is what we’re called to. To have a heart for others, no matter what we ourselves might be going through. In fact to have a heart that lives for others in God’s will in Jesus, by grace endeavoring to do so to the very end.

Paul singles out Timothy in matters pertaining to the service of the gospel. Maybe it was something like Timothy being a deacon to a priest within the church, although it seems to me to be more about the work of planting and establishing churches through the gospel. Maybe something of both.

The point is to be taken especially for leadership in the church. But leadership is in place in large part to model a life seeking to live out the truth that is in Jesus. So that others might follow the leaders, imitate their faith in living with the same goal and passion.

Of course we all need to grow into this. It doesn’t come overnight, and not without struggle. Nor does one arrive to the place where they no longer need to grow in such. If our model is Jesus Christ by the Spirit, then it is evident why this will be ongoing throughout our lifetime. Not to mention that none of us arrive to the place in this life in which we are without sin (1 John 1).

This truth in Jesus, that we’re not only to look after ourselves, but especially to others is to more and more mark who we are, and what we do. What we are all about in our lives. And not just ourselves, but doing so with others. Seeking to grow up together as one body in the maturity that is in Christ (Ephesians 4).

 

accountability

Roger Olson has an interesting post entitled Evangelical Superstars and Why They Fall. It may be disappointing in its simplicity, but it may well hit the nail on the head. The big problem as he sees it: lack of accountability.

Olson touches on something of the heart of the problem in terms of both the unquestioning trust often given to leaders and how power corrupts. There needs to be ongoing accountability. We all need that, but particularly those in high positions of leadership and responsibility.

Another important factor is something not confined to evangelical circles. But it especially can be a problem among us evangelicals. We tend to put the pastor on a pedestal and we make the sermon the most important part of a service or church gathering. My own experience in this is that unless the church was good in the music part, I was more than ready to hear the message. Or even give it. The other stuff was mere preliminary to that. The sermon is in the spotlight and often dictates whether or not visitors will continue to come. And because of that the preacher being the pastor tends to have extraordinary power, provided they can give a good message.

Sermons are important and a gifted pastor is vital to the health of a church. They need not be charismatic in personality, but God’s gift for pastoring which includes teaching needs to be on them. But we would be far better off if instead of the sermon in the preaching of the word being pretty much the end all of most evangelical churches, it would instead be one major part. In fact I would prefer that it be a major part of the main thrust: to keep Jesus Christ and the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in him front and center. Liturgically and in everything else. Instead too often the church is driven by whatever the sermon might be and that is driven by one person, the pastor. So that everything centers around that and around them. Churches which major in both word and sacrament I would think tend to do better in this way. But to get back to the main point of this post, that does not necessarily mean that proper accountability is taking place.

The bottom line whatever other variables is to recognize and be committed to ongoing accountability. Not in terms of popularity as to whether or not the pastor is making people happy. But in terms of what is spelled out in scripture as to qualifications for leaders in ministry. Perfection is not the standard, but maturity and growth. Can we say that we can follow the leader even as they follow Christ? Are they following Christ? Of course that involves ongoing humility in confession of sin. The best leaders will be transparent and quick to confess their sins. If we’re all to be accountable, looking out for each other, leaders ought to show the way in that. On some level everyone can participate in that, but there ought to be leadership in place in churches, including godly lay members who can help in that way.

Not an easy subject, but an important one for us to grapple with.

 

humility on disputed matters

There is a well known Christian leader in certain circles who has repeatedly made the strongest statements on matters which are disputed among other Christians. And in such a way that either they or frankly he needs to repent.

I believe it is good to come to some resolution on all kinds of issues in our study of scripture. But I also think we need to hold with humility the positions we take which may differ from other Christians.

In the case I’m thinking of, this Christian leader believes that the position taken is potentially and even implicitly an undermining or loss of the gospel altogether. What it seems to me that he’s failing to do is to consider the best teaching and practice on the other side, to imagine the best case scenario for that. So that while he may not agree with that position, perhaps that might have some effect on the position he takes. But no. Lock down exegesis which actually is a minority position in the church as a whole means that he is right and that he can draw all kinds of conclusions from that. In so doing he has hurt others in the church, in Christ’s body. And it makes it hard for others, including myself to take this leader seriously. Even though they are a servant of Christ. I have to admit, I would not want to sit under their teaching at any time. Unless they would repent.

Let’s say I’m being too hard on this leader, even though he’s questioned the genuineness of the faith of many Christians in what I consider misinterpretation of scripture. After all he is following through from his interpretation of scripture and being true to where that leads. The problem as I see it is that he is putting as much weight on his position which after all is a minority one even in evangelical circles, as he necessarily does on the necessity of Jesus and his death and resurrection for our salvation. As if his exegesis or exposition of scripture is foolproof even when many other churches and sound teachers of the church do not follow. What is needed here I contend is humility. Which in this case I believe should lead to a repentance which at least puts the best case construction on others. So that what this leader says which may include some helpful critique can be taken seriously. Humility on disputed matters and wisdom in knowing how to teach and apply such is essential for us, especially for any leader in the church.

is it about individuals, or about community?

I have a theory which may at best end up something toward a maxim, meaning something that is true at times. But the theory simply stated is something like this: When a local church sees itself as the group of everyone present, in other words, when the church sees itself as the people of God in Jesus committed to their gathering and work (of course this involves worship, edification, etc.), then community comes to the fore. But when a church is focused on a leader, or a few leaders, the dynamic of community can dissipate, and perhaps all but disappear. It becomes the good work of a few which others benefit from.

That was probably rather crudely put. I think the most healthy churches are those that are quite interactive with bustling activity which is rooted in relationships, first to the Lord, and then to each other, and out of that to their neighborhood and world. Too many churches I suppose particularly in America, seem dependent on a superstar who if not present, makes the gathering seem not as good, or even second rate. Of course even in those cases the Spirit can work so that perhaps even more is accomplished when they are away. But generally speaking, I think this could be a problem.

Does it have to be that way? I don’t at all think so. But I also think that the best leaders will model leadership in a way which promotes the working of the Spirit through the body of Christ. There may be common steps as to how that may be done, but I think those gifted as overseers or set apart in positions such as elder or deacon especially need to pray and lead in such a way that somehow all are involved, or feel a part of God’s work, what God is doing.

It is hard to describe what I’m trying to get at, and exactly how it works out will differ since every community is composed of different people and therefore, different giftings. What might be easier to describe is what we want to avoid. A place which is dependent on only a few. In which many attend, Sunday after Sunday, but don’t contribute anything in the way of their gifting either that day or during the week. I am afraid that such fellowships will dry up and wither and die over time.

Now any church may have strong leaders, and in fact most churches do. A healthy church will likely have a pastor, or pastors along with leaders (perhaps teachers, etc.) who are gifted and do their work well, and are appreciated, even looked up to. But in those healthy churches, those same pastors and leaders will much appreciate others in the body, and God’s presence and work through them.

Perhaps this is a post which unlike the posts I like to write is more theoretical and not so much built on revealed truth. But I do believe there is a dynamic, which I’m afraid is largely, or perhaps often missing from churches. The dynamic of a thriving, growing community, in which if someone wasn’t present, would not miss a beat, since the dynamic is a Spirit-driven body.

Do I mean that a church won’t miss a leader or leaders? No, of course not. And a healthy church will be glad when they return. But a healthy church I take it, is one that is at heart a community, and not about one or more leaders everyone depends on.