Caring for the Family Jesus Created (1 Timothy 5:1–8)

livingchurchCaring for the Family Jesus Created (1 Timothy 5:1–8)

Paul’s entire first letter to Timothy focuses on the family of God. And chapter 5 is perhaps the most relevant for disciples of Christ and how we care for our own families.

On Sunday we began to look at this practical and challenging chapter—what it says to pastors and their churches and to adult children and their aging parents. In short, Paul teaches us God is not just concerned about getting people to heaven, he also cares about the way his people care for one another on the journey.

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions and additional resources are found below. Continue reading

A Debt of Love: How God’s Grace Makes Us Debtors with an Infinite Bank Account

love1Owe no one anything, except to love each other, . . .
 – Romans 13:8a –

Proverbs repeatedly instructs us to reject financial commitments that make us slave to the lender (Prov 22:7). It is good stewardship to buy what we can pay for and not to spend more than we have. But what would happen if you received an infinite inheritance? What kind of moral obligation would you have “spread the wealth”?

Imagine that the unbeknownst to you an oil baron died and left you all of his fortune. Though never communicated to you, your father had saved this man’s life by sacrificing his own. Indebted to your father, this tycoon had promised to one day repay his kindness. With no children of his own, he decided on his death bed to give his “saviors” children his entire estate.

What would you think? Surely, this windfall would provide you an endless supply—more than you could ever exhaust. If such a boon came your way, how would you employ this vast treasure? Would you live a life of unfettered hedonism? Or would you strive to follow in the footsteps of your father and improve the lives of others? Continue reading

Service That Pleases the Lord

Repeatedly in Scripture, God calls his people to fear, worship, and serve Him.  In Exodus, Moses records that Israel is redeemed in order to serve the Lord.  So does Titus 2:14, which says that Christ redeemed a people who are zealous for good works.  Likewise, Paul says that those who were once slaves of sin are now slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:17-19).

These verses give us a starting place for understanding how we should serve.  But we need to dig a little deeper to understand how God intends for us to serve him.

True Service Is Radically Dependent on God

First, we must serve God as those who abide in Christ.  Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches; if a man abide in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.  Apart from me he can do nothing” (John 15:5). We cannot serve unless we are getting are united to him.  God does not commission us to go and do great things for him.  He calls us to join him in his work; he gives us his Word and his Spirit; and he expects that we would daily feed on his grace and truth.

Second, we must come to get before we give.  We are leaky buckets and we need to be filled with the Spirit of God daily.  Too many churches have a history of putting people in places of service prematurely, and sadly these young believers never grow up (cf. Heb 5:11-6:3).  They burn out, fade out, or just eek it out.  Instead, churches need to do a better job shepherding the hearts of their servants so they serve out of overflow.

Third, service is as an extension of worship.  Church work should never detach itself from or replace worship.  Worship must always be the fountainhead of good works.  In fact, when Christians lose an appetite for worshiping God and put in its place works of service, their soul will soon shrink.  And what’s worse—they may not even be aware of their deadly condition.  By contrast, those who enjoy the Lord most are ready to serve—just as Psalm 100 indicates.

Psalm 100: A Hymn of God-Pleasing Service

In this hymn of praise, the Psalmist calls believers to “Make a joyful noise to the LORD!”  Thus, service falls under the banner of praise and worship.  Verse 2 extols: “Serve the LORD with gladness!” which presumes that joy is not self-generated but is a result of feasting on the grace of God (Ps 16:9-11; 32:11).

Verse 3 continues, “Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his sheep; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”  In this verse, there are a number of things that inform our service before to God.

First, you and I must “know” the Lord.  This is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.  We do not know God like we know long division; we know God as a lover knows his beloved.  This personal knowledge requires conversation and the sweet exchange of personal knowledge.  Thus, if we are to serve God rightly, it must flow from love to him.

Second, God is our maker and we are his sheep (v. 3b).  We cannot serve unless he empowers and leads us.  In John 10, Jesus as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, describes how his sheep “go in and out and find pasture” (v. 9).  Applied to the question of service, this bucolic scene pictures God’s people feeding from the Lord and then going out to serve him.  Extremes fail in both directions.  Sheep who only feed grow lethargic and fat, while sheep who busy with empty-hearted service grow anemic and irritable.  Service needs sustenance, and true servants learn how to live on and for God.

Third, the location of service is in the presence of God.  In Israel, this was the temple courts (v. 4), but today, with God present wherever his saints gather, the location is the gathered church.  Many good Christians give their attention to ministries outside the church, but rarely should these Bible studies, missions, and para-church ministries overshadow service to the local body.  God has given Spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of his church (1 Cor 12:7), not other invented forms of ministry.

Last, thanksgiving is the fuel that drives God-pleasing service.  Psalm 100 describes thanksgiving as both a condition and a command (v. 4).  It is not an optional aspect of service; it is a requirement.  When Christians do service with ungrateful hearts, they do a disservice to God and those whom they serve (cf. Deut 28:47).  God’s people are a thankful people—thankful for the forgiveness and love found in Christ.  Those who please God with their service are effusive in their thanksgiving.

Overall, there is no greater gift than knowing God.  And by divine design, that knowledge leads to effervescent service.  Sometimes suh service is hard, even painful and deadly, but on the whole, the promise of serving with God brings the greater reward of resting with Him when the age closes.

This is our calling.  As you come to church this Sunday may you come thirsty for Christ, but may you also come with towel and basin ready to meet the needs of others.  In embracing such service, you are not only becoming like Christ, you are pleasing your heavenly father, who has redeemed you, given good works to do, and supplied you with his Spirit to accomplish those good works.  Rejoice in the Lord and perspire in his work—this is how we please God with our service.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Spirit-Empowered Service is a Mark of True Obedience

For the first thirty-four chapters in Exodus, the people of Israel are consistently stiff-necked.  Their speech is marked by grumbling; anxiety, fear, and accusations characterize the disposition of their hearts; and more than once Moses has to intervene on their behalf to protect them from God’s wrath.  However, after Moses returns from Mt Sinai, something surprising happens.  Instead of being disobedient, breaking God’s word, as they do with the Golden Calf, they are now remarkably obedient.  In fact, chapters 35-40 repeat again and again, how Israel has fulfilled all of God’s words.  Instead of having hard-hearts, their hearts are ostensibly willing (cf. 35:20-29).

It is striking to see how this people has changed.  Which makes me ask: How?  How did they become obedient?  And how should their change–I don’t want to say conversion because Psalm 95 tells us that most of these Israelites died in their unbelief in the wilderness–impact the way we understand God’s work in our lives today?

Today and tomorrow, I will point out two things in the text of Exodus that show us what impacted their hearts to make a change.

The Power of the Spirit

One of the main reasons why Israel expresses obedience is the work of the Holy Spirit, equipping and enabling Israel to make the tabernacle.  Now, the work of the Spirit in Exodus is not quite the same as the gift of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.  The Spirit is not regenerating and dwelling in these saints, so much as he is empowering them to work.  Nevertheless, with that caveat in place, the Spirit effects obedience as he equips these Israelites to carry out the functions of building the tabernacle.

This Spirit-caused change is seen when we compare Israel’s idolatry in Exodus 32 to their God-directed service in Exodus 35-40.  In Exodus 32, idleness at Sinai led to idolary, but with the Spirit (and just as important, as spirit-filled mediator in Moses), God moves Israel to heed God’s word and build God’s place. Thus, we see that obedience–if only external and temporary–is accomplished by the Spirit.  We see this in Exodus 35:30-35.

Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver–by any sort of workman or skilled designer.

Clearly, the tabernacle of God could not be completed by men, as men.  They needed God’s help.  Thus, the skill, intelligence, knowledge, and craftsmanship in all sorts of design-work was necessarily given by the Holy Spirit.  I think, by extension, we can say that everything God commanded required the work of the Spirit.  Just the same, for God to be pleased with our works, it requires faith (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6), and what does Galatians 5:22-23 say?  Faith is a fruit of the Spirit.

So here is the point: All Israel’s skilled hands were gifted by the Spirit.  Thus, every inch of the tabernacle and all its component parts were made by men, but not without the Spirit.  God’s dwelling was a Spiritual creation.  In trying to understand the relationship between God and man in this setting, I would propose that its construction must be analogous to inspiration. Just as the Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, so that the minds and hands of free men could write exactly what God wanted—without error; in the same way, God’s spirit guided men to make his dwelling place.

To say it another way, in one sense, Moses, Bezalel, and the skilled workers built the tabernacle; but in another more ultimate sense, God himself built the tabernacle.  Since everything was done according to his word and by his Spirit, the obedient Israelites worked exactly as God intended.  In true Spiritual freedom they built God’s dwelling place.

So now lets go back to the original question: What caused Israel’s obedience?  My answer is that it was the Spirit.  Though, there are other factors, without the Spirit there would not be the ability or the willingness to fulfill God’s word.  But with the Spirit, stiff-necked Israel is able to obey God’s word “perfectly.”  That is, God is totally pleased with the tabernacle to the point that his Spirit descends upon the man-made tent as soon as it was completed.

Traversing the Covenantal Divide

So how might Christians apply this reality today?

Fast-forwarding these realities to the New Covenant, we need to realize that the scope and locus of the Spirit is wider and closer, respectively.  As to the former, the Spirit now works in all nations and in all peoples.  He is no longer restricted to Israel.  Rather, He  is given to everyone for whom Christ died.  Likewise, his work is more interior.  He no longer works externally on those people whom God has chosen for service (think of Saul); rather, he circumcises the heart, indwells the believer, and saves all those in whom he dwells.  He does not simply gives gifts; he is the down payment for salvation.

In this way, Exodus shows how the Spirit effects obedience, but in the whole canon of Scripture, we find that the testimony of God is that the Spirit works in greater ways today.  For in Israel, the same hands that built the tabernacle were attached to bodies that died in the wilderness because of unbelief.  Not so today, the Spirit saves eternally.  While David feared losing the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51, that is not a fear New Testament believers should ever have (Eph 1:13-14). In all, while there is continuity between the people of Israel and the church, there is greater discontinuity.

With all that said, as we return to the question of obedience, it is clear that the Spirit is the responsible party for our faithful service. With the tabernacle, the people were moved, led, guided, directed by the Spirit of God, and thus they were able to obey fully because God enabled them to obey and do the work.  Today, it is still the Spirit who causes us to walk in the statutes of the Lord (Ezek 36:26-27), and indeed if there is or will be a change in our lives, it is because of the power and influence of the Spirit.

Let us pray unto the Father to pour out his Spirit in our lives and in our world, so that Christ would be reflected in the lives who have been purchased by his blood.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss