The Importance of the Public Reading of Scripture (1 Tim 4:13)

Here are the closing words of Phil Towner’s very helpful article, “The Function of the Public Reading of Scripture in 1 Timothy 4:13 and in the Biblical Tradition.”

In view of the diverse media with which modern societies spread their messages today (e.g. television and internet), and in view of the ready access most believers have to these media, the need to ensure that measures are taken in the church to reinforce Christian identity is all the more urgent. We are also called to live out a distinctively Christian witness within the world, not separate from it—so, putting distance between us and the competing messages and values is not an option. But where within the maelstrom will the church find its solidifying and anchoring sense of identity as God’s people? It must come through a shared participation in the symbolic and spiritual activities that we practice when we gather for worship. The lesson to be learned from 1 Timothy 4:13, and the background that informs the exegesis of this text, is that the deliberate public reading of Scripture (according to a schedule or plan of some sort) is one way of rehearsing the acts of God in behalf of his people and his creation and finding and renewing our identity-center in that story over and over again. It takes only a minimal amount of honest reflection to reveal how easily we are attracted to other competing stories (and value systems) for our sense of identity.

The full article can be found here.

Martin Luther’s Description of the Manger Scene

There was a poor young wife, Mary of Nazareth, among the dwellers of the town, so little esteemed that none noticed the great wonder she carried. She was silent, did not vaunt herself, but served her husband. They simply left the house. Perhaps they had a donkey for Mary to ride upon, though the Gospels say nothing about this, and we may well believe that she went on foot. The journey was long, and they took very little, for Joseph had thought, “When we get to Bethlehem, we shall be among relatives and can surely borrow everything we need.” A fine idea that was! Bad enough that a young bride could not have her baby in her own house! How much worse that when she arrived in Bethlehem there was no room for her! The inn was full. No one would release a room to this pregnant woman. She had to go to a cow stall and there bring forth the Maker of all things… No one regarded this young wife bringing forth her first-born. No one took her condition to heart. No one noticed that in a strange place she had not the very least thing needful in childbirth. She was without preparation: no light, no fire, in the dead of night, in thick darkness… Think, women, there was no one there to bathe the baby. No warm water, nor even cold. The mother was herself midwife and maid. The cold manger was the bed and the bathtub. Who showed the poor girl what to do? She had never had a baby before. I am amazed that the little one did not freeze (adapted from Bainton, Here I Stand, 364-367).

The Latest Mark Driscoll Mess

Over at TGC, Jared Wilson has some important things to say about Mark Driscoll. Personally, I’ve been concerned about Driscoll’s operation for a number of years now. Wilson says:

This is not merely about lazy writing (or lazy supervision of someone else’s writing). It’s about what this one latest incident in the accumulating evidence of Pastor Mark’s empire-building says to us, his brothers and his customers. Pastoral leadership is difficult, not least because it demands the cross-taking humility of taking responsibility. To take responsibility for books that have your name on them, sure, but also for a public ministry sadly increasing in image-projecting, publicity-stunting, and gospel-obscuring. This latest episode is just the latest example indicating an evident lack of accountability and personal responsibility. All along, I’ve trusted that Pastor Mark had the right people around him, speaking the hard truths to him. I assumed those voices were there and authorized by him to keep him honest. I no longer believe this.

Great Thoughts on Pastor Authors

Some great thoughts, as per usual, from Kevin DeYoung:

I have no problem with Christian publishing houses trying to make money. They have bills to pay. They can run a business on good will and pious aspirations. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with authors—even pastor authors—being paid for their work (more on this in a moment). It doesn’t even bother me that some authors would write mainly to make a living. But if we are talking about pastors, then surely our writing must be an effort to serve others. If you are in ministry and want to get a book published so you can “arrive” or can be “somebody” or can speak at the top conferences, you better check your heart.

Read the full article here.

Shepherding the Flock of God

Here are a few excerpts from a sermon I preached recently at Owaka Grace Presbyterian Church (otherwise known as Owaka Grace Fellowship), New Zealand. The primary passage is 1 Pet 5:1-5, and the topic is church leadership. The full manuscript is provided below.

A fellow once told me that there are two kinds of leaders: 1) own and command leaders, and 2) coach and play leaders. Basically, an own and command leader is a boss who thinks he is better than his workers. His workers, or church members, are his property, and he tells them what to do. On the other hand, a coach and play leader leads by example. Like a coach, he provides instruction, encouragement, and motivation for the team, but he also rolls up his sleeves and trains with the team. He doesn’t ask the team to do anything that he is not willing to do. That’s what Peter is saying here. He’s getting ready to instruct elders, and before he does so he wants to establish the fact that he is striving to be a faithful elder.

Interestingly, Peter doesn’t say that elders are to be CEOs, savvy businessmen, sharp dressers, dynamic speakers, brilliant minds, or charismatic personalities. He tells us from the very beginning that elders are to be shepherds.

To read the full sermon, download the following PDF: Shepherding the Flock of God (1 Pet 5:1-5)

Traveling the Pathway from Suffering to Exaltation: Exposition of 1 Pet 3:18-22

The following sermon was preached at Owaka Grace Presbyterian Church (otherwise known as Owaka Grace Fellowship), New Zealand, on October 13, 2013.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” I’ve probably quoted that verse fifteen times in the last fifteen weeks or so that we have been studying 1 Peter, because the verse captures the message of the whole letter. This is a letter about hope. Hope, you have heard me say again and again, is more than some weak wish that tomorrow might be brighter than today; it is the confidence that God is at work now, and the confidence that God will be at work in the future, both for our good and, ultimately, for his glory. Peter says that we have a “living hope,” meaning that our hope is based on a living person. Our hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Christ is alive! Christ is present with us always! And not only that, but, as we will discover in our passage for today, Christ is powerful over all!

Peter’s first readers needed to be reminded of the presence and the power of Christ, because they were experiencing trials—they were suffering. We learned last week that these early Christians in Asia Minor were “suffering for doing good.” They were committed to Christ, and this led to them being shunned by society. “Elect rejects,” I have called them. Last week, Peter told these early Christians, and us, how to respond when we find ourselves suffering for doing good.

Today, in 1 Pet 3:18-22, Peter is going to continue telling us about “suffering for doing good.” We know that our passage today is primarily about suffering because of the context. Look at the bookends of the passage. In 1 Pet 3:17, we read: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” And then in 4:1, Peter writes: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking…”

I point this out because this is a very complex passage and I don’t want us to miss the forest for the trees.  I want us to understand the big picture here. In our passage this morning, Peter is going to tell us that, as we find ourselves suffering for doing good, we must remember that we (believers) have no need to fear, because Christ has suffered for us and he has secured victory over all evil forces. As complicated as this passage is, the main idea can be stated simply: Christ is victorious! 

Now, before we walk through the passage together, you need to know that Martin Luther, the great Reformer and hero of church history said this about 1 Pet 3:18-22: “That is as strange a text and as dark a saying as any in the New Testament, so that I am not yet sure what St. Peter intended.” We come today to what is probably the most difficult text in the NT. You’re going to need to “role up the sleeves of your mind,” as Peter told us earlier in the letter (1 Pet 1:13), because today we are going to do some heavy lifting. We’ll do the best we can with the passage in the thirty minutes or so that we have this morning.

The question to keep in mind as we look at the passage is: how do I remain strong when I suffer for doing good? Based on the bookends of the passage, I think these verses function primarily as encouragement for suffering believers. The way Peter encourages us is by taking us on a journey, a journey with Jesus. This passage places us on the path of Christ, the path from the crucifixion to the ascension, the path from suffering to exaltation. On this path, we find three encouraging truths

To continue reading, please download the following PDF. Traveling the Pathway from Suffering to Exaltation (1 Pet 3.18-22).

 

Pastors, Think Everything Else Relatively Worthless

John Calvin’s comments on the first part of 1 Tim 4:6:

“Men often set before them some other aim than to approve themselves to Christ; many seek applause for their cleverness, eloquence or profound knowledge, and that is why they pay less attention to the basic necessities which are apt to produce less popular admiration. But Paul tells Timothy to be content with this one thing, that he should be a faithful minister of Christ. And we should certainly regard this as a far more honourable title than being called a thousand times over seraphic and subtle doctors. Let us remember therefore that it is the greatest honour than can befall a godly pastor to be accounted a good servant of Christ, so that during his whole ministry this should be his only aim. For those who have some other ambition may well succeed in winning men’s approval, but they will not please God. Thus not to be deprived of so great a blessing, let us learn to seek nothing else, to think nothing else so important, and indeed to think everything else relatively worthless.”

What Comes Into Your Mind?

One of my favorite twentieth-century writers is A.W. Tozer. This May will mark fifty years since Aiden Wilson Tozer went to be with his Lord and Savior. Tozer was born on April 21, 1897. He grew up in a small farming community in Pennsylvania. Tozer was converted as a teenager, and at the age of 22, having no theological education, he took his first pastoral position. This was the beginning of over forty years of faithful ministry. In the course of his life, Tozer wrote dozens of books. Perhaps my favorite one is a little work entitled The Knowledge of the Holy. In this book, Tozer discusses the attributes of God: God’s holiness, His love, His wisdom, etc. Tozer wrote this book because, as he looked at the Church of his day, he felt that Christians had surrendered their once lofty concept of God. The Church, he said, had lost sight of the greatness of God. As a result, the worship of the Church was cold and the witness of the church was weak. Here are a few powerful lines from the opening chapter of the book:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech… Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the Church will stand tomorrow. Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God, and the weightiest word in any language is its word for God.”

The Pastorals for Pastors – Part 2

Having previously commented on my top five commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles, I would like now to introduce two more. These fall into the category of “honorable mention,” because they are specifically written for pastors (and so are user-friendly and ministry-sensitive) and because they take a very unique approach (and so offer something that no other commentary on the Pastorals offers).

Paul Trebilco and Simon Rae. 1 Timothy. Asia Bible Commentary; Paul Trebilco, Chris Caradus, and Simon Rae, 2 Timothy and Titus, Asia Bible Commentary. Trebilco is Professor of New Testament at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. This series of commentaries is designed to enable Asian readers to understand the Scriptures in their own context and to interpret and apply them to the plurality of Asian cultures in which they live and work. The series is designed for use by pastors in their expository ministry of preaching, teaching, and counseling, by teachers and students in their theological studies, and by men and women who lead small groups in churches and homes.

Samuel Ngewa, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Africa Bible Commentary. Ngewa is Professor of New Testament Studies at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology in Kenya. This series grew out of the one volume Africa Bible Commentary. The contributors are Anglophone or Francophone African scholars, all of whom adhere to the statement of faith of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa. The series targets pastors and focuses on sermon preparation with more technical issues handled in footnotes. It is aimed at the African context: illustrations are drawn from life there and the current concerns of churches in Africa are addressed. Study questions at the end of each section raise specific issues current in African churches.

For believers stationed in North America or Europe, these two commentaries offer the opportunity to hear from the church in Asia and Africa, and to see how they are wrestling with the interpretation and application of scripture in their contexts. Therefore, these are invaluable tools.

 

 

The Pastorals for Pastors – Part 1

Most pastors are on a pretty tight budget, and commentaries can be quite expensive. Plus, there are hundreds of commentaries to choose from, so pastors with a limited book budget need to know which commentaries are the best. I’m in the process of writing a thesis on 1 and 2 Timothy, and over the course of the last year or so I’ve read a lot of commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles. Some have been good. Some bad. Some just ugly. Here are the current top five commentaries I would recommend for pastors.

#5  William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, WBC. Mounce is a New Testament scholar who is best known for his Greek textbooks and tools. I’m not particularly fond of the format of the WBC series, but it’s worth working through this one. Mounce is a Conservative Evangelical who definitely knows his Greek (a lot better than I do!). This is a good commentary.

#4  Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, AB. Johnson is a former Benedictine monk. He currently serves as Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Candler School of Theology. He knows the Greco-Roman world extremely well, does a great job in explaining why we must be careful about referring to Timothy and Titus as “pastors” (they were actually apostolic delegates), and his defense of Pauline authorship is one of the best I’ve come across.

#3  Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, NIBC. Fee is an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God (USA) and an excellent biblical scholar. His commentary on the Pastorals is very user-friendly. If you’re looking for a short but substantial commentary then this is the one for you. Fee has a pastoral tone, and he is usually quite helpful theologically.   

#2  I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, ICC. Marshall is an Evangelical Methodist and a first-rate scholar. This is probably the most thorough commentary on the Pastorals, written by a man who has dedicated his life to studying and teaching the New Testament. Marshall definitely does the best job of explaining the tough grammatical and syntactical issues. Unfortunately, Marshall’s position on authorship is a bit thorny for me; he tries to navigate a via media between pseudonymity and authenticity. Still, this is one stout work.

#1  Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, NICNT. Towner is a biblical and translation scholar with extensive translation experience as a translation consultant in SE Asia and the Americas. Overall, I find his to be the best commentary on the Pastorals. Towner has been studying these letters for over two decades, and he has written more on the Pastoral Epistles than anyone else (with the exception of Marshall, who was Towner’s doctoral supervisor). It is well-written and well-organized. He makes a solid case for Pauline authorship. He works with the Greek text, but transliterates in the body of the commentary, so no worries if your Greek isn’t stellar. Towner is strong on word studies and grammatical complexities. And he is very strong theologically. If you’re going to be preaching through the Pastorals sometime soon, I hope you’ll buy at least three of these commentaries. But if you can only buy one, this is the most bang for your buck.