Thursday, December 29, 2011

evaluation time

And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Uzziah had done.
2 Kings 15:34

There is this ceaseless litany summarizing the long list of kings here in 2 Kings 15. The actions of each king are set off either with "he did what was evil in the eyes of the LORD" or "He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD". Each king is held to a greater, higher standard by which his activity is evaluated.

A pattern emerges. None of the northern kings in Samaria do what is right. And they are characterized by short reigns (several less than a year, one for only one month) and lots of trouble unsettles their kingdom. There is a string of conspiracies. The kings fall by murder and overthrow by usurpers. There are inside pressures placed upon the throne from with Israel's borders. And there are great outside pressures. By the time Pekah reigns in Israel, Assyria has carved out lots of territory and taken the northernmost portions of Israel captive to Assyria. What is left is barely more than a vassal state.

Meanwhile, back in Judah, an opposite pattern is in play. A series of righteous kings leads the nation in worship of God. And they enjoy relatively long rules. God is honoring the Jerusalem throne even as Samaria declines in power and prestige. But by the time of Jotham's reign, outside pressures are threatening David's throne as well. Northern kingdom weakness has created a highway for invasion straight to Jerusalem. And southern threats from Edom and Moab continue. Syria and Assyria made incursions into Judah's territory. Even though Judah has a string of righteous rulers, the damage has already been done and the stage is now set for all of God's people to be led into God's judgment. It is just a matter of timing.

Seeing these patterns so dramatically makes me appreciate Paul's New Testament perspective on Old Testament history: "these things were written for our instruction." By observing this history and seeing God act in it, I get perspective on how God interacts with humanity. And that serves as a gauge for checking out my own habits and willingness to live as God says. I want to do what is "right in the eyes of the LORD".

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The cost of self-driven agendas

But Amaziah would not listen. So Jehoash king of Israel went up, and he and Amaziah king of Judah faced one another in battle at Beth-shemesh, which belongs to Judah. And Judah was defeated by Israel, and every man fled to his home.
2 Kings 14:11-12

This is a brutal civil war. Generations after Israel has split into two kingdoms, at a time when no outside threat was around to intimidate either Israel or Judah, this gruesome fight breaks out. God's people go at one another. Both Amaziah king of Judah and Jehoash king of Israel have experienced military victories that allowed them to recapture territories from historic enemies. Those enemies are now preoccupied with the new threat from Assyria.

Cocky and over confident, both Jewish kings are feeling the tensions of the split kingdom. The civil war starts with a "diplomatic" suggestion by Judah to Israel. The offer is rejected and Amaziah storms down to Jerusalem for all out war. The city wall is torn down for a substantial section. The temple is ransacked and Amaziah is humiliated. It is really sad to see God's chosen people reduced to hatred and infighting.

After this battle, the northern kingdom of Israel emerges as the military power. Judah limps along as a religious and cultural vanguard. It is clear that lines have been drawn and everybody now knows their place. The sad thing was that all of this was a direct result of the abandonment of the covenant by the Jewish people. The Law was meant to bring peace and civil prosperity, But death and offense was what came when God's Law was ignored.

There are always great costs to be paid when we choose to direct our own lives. Idolatry is costly and painful. And the horror of this civil war pictures the painful tragedy that comes in the wake of our sinful choices.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

God is under no obligation to be merciful.

Then Jehoahaz sought the favor of the LORD, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them.
2 Kings 13:4

God intervened when by terms of the covenant, He did not have to do so. The king of Israel, Jehoahaz, was not a righteous man. The text says that he did evil in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 13:2). Yet when the Syrian army constantly harassed and attacked Israel, God saw the foreign oppression. When Jehoahaz turned to God in prayer, God answered his requests and turned back the Syrian aggression. The text is not specific as to who Israel's "savior" was (many scholars believe the growing Assyrian threat to the north diverted Syria's resources from Israel), but God did answer a prayer that He was not obligated to respond to in any way.

The reality is that God is gracious and merciful. And He will show His love in ways we do not understand. In the case of Jehoahaz, God brought deliverance from a military power, not because the king was righteous, but because God Himself was gracious. He did it out of His own nature. God always acts out of His own nature. No one tells God what to do or makes Him act any certain way. So when grace comes forward, we are seeing God as He truly is.

I am thankful that God is gracious to sinners. I would not be here if He wasn't that way. And I am so very moved by His mercies shown to me. If not for the redemptive work of Christ for me, I would be no better than a wicked king myself.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Changing the world by worshiping God

And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him.
2 Kings 12:2

Jehoash had a long reign (40 years) of relative prosperity. The text credits his obedience to God as being instrumental to his great rulership in Judah. He had a close relationship with the priests and the worship of Yahweh in the temple. His chief accomplishment centered around repairs being made to what was a broken and run down temple.

When the priests did not seem to be making significant timely progress on the repairs, Jehoash expedited the process by royal edict and intervention. He devoted the largest administrative efforts of his regime to the task and created a mechanism so that the royal treasurer had oversight of the gifts received at the temple. The royal treasury then paid for supplies and skilled labor to repair the temple. It was a long and expensive process, but the king invested himself in it as an act of lifelong worship. Yahweh's worship could only be restored in a temple restored to His honor!

For Jehoash, commitment to God was literally shown in his life's investment. He devoted the administration of his kingdom to the rebuilding of the house of worship for God. All the funds that could be were devoted to this project. It defined his life. We can learn a lot from a man who devoted his life to the worship of God by administering a government in such a way that God was the defining mark and focus of his administration. Worship is what we were made for. It is what we do, no matter our vocation.

When we devote all our resources and energies to the glory of God, we are blessed and God is worshiped. And great things can come from that. Lives can be restored. The world can be changed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Prophecy ain't always pretty.

Joram said, "Make ready." And they made ready his chariot. Then Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah set out, each in his chariot, and went to meet Jehu, and met him at the property of Naboth the Jezreelite.
2 Kings 9:21

The spectacular end of Ahab's dynasty begins with God sending a prophet to anoint a new king in Israel. God's choice is a ruthless, high energy general named Jehu. As soon as he is anointed, he launches a conspiracy to removed Joram and the queen mother, Jezebel. And he is familiar enough with the prophecies of their demise to keep them in mind as he boldly rides out to take over the throne.

He meets both Joram, the Israeli king, and Ahaziah, the Judean king, at the prophetic juncture of the vineyard of Naboth. Here was the place that figured in the prophecies. Joram's father, Ahab, had stolen this land and Jezebel had Nabath murdered through treachery so that it could be ceded to the king. The irony was that this is where it all ended for them. Joram's bloody body was tossed there in fulfillment of the Word of the Lord.

After fatally wounding the king of Judah, Jehu drives his fast chariot on to the Samaritan palace where a painted Jezebel tries to entice him. He has no such desire and instead appeals to the palace eunuchs to toss her out the palace tower window. They do so, and her bloodied, broken corpse is consumed by wild dogs, just as had been prophetically announced.

Prophecy is not always pretty, but it does always point to the sovereign control and power of God. He is in control. He will be heeded. His Word will not fail. We can always trust that fact.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

benefits of heeding God's Word

And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed an official for her, saying, "Restore all that was hers, together with all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now."
2 Kings 8:6

When you read the interplay between the kings and the prophets, you are struck by the way the kings had an adversarial relationship with the men God was using to speak His Word. Most of the kings only listened to the prophets when it was convenient. And this is particularly true of Elisha's ministry. Yet God went out of His way to show that those who honored the prophets would be honored by Him.

The outstanding example is the unnamed Shunammite woman. We know some facts about her. She and her husband were wealthy (2 Kings 4:8). They owned fields and were substantial farmers in their home town. At one point she was childless and God blessed her with a son out of gratitude for her family's care of Elisha. God even restored her dead son to her after she sought out Elisha's help.

Elisha warned this Shunammite woman of a severe famine. She left her livelihood and land holdings in Israel for Philistia while the seven year famine ravaged the land. By precedent, her home and fields ceded to royal control. She must have been a widow at this point. Her husband does not come to the king, and Gehazi's story centers exclusively on her.

So moved was the king of Israel by her story that he did the unthinkable. He deeded all her land holdings back to her (woman did not get to own property in that culture) AND he generously gave her a portion of stored food from the royal storehouses equal to seven years of crop production on the land. God's grace came upon her again by her obedience to the Word of the Lord through the prophet. It was as if she had never left her home.

The simple truth is that God rewards obedience to His Word. And the benefits are often more than we can imagine. That is a principle worth emulating from the woman who listened when kings would not!

Monday, December 19, 2011

famine relief

Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Syrians. So a seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the LORD.
2 Kings 7:16

God saved Samaria from total collapse at the hands of Syria. The king of Israel was impotent to save his people against the siege that was starving his capital city. But God was still the God of Israel, and even though no one called out to Him, He easily turned the Syrian army away from the attack. And He did it in such a way that dramatic results were coming, just as Elisha the prophet had foretold.

The siege of Samaria had been going on a long time... long enough that the food supplies within the city gates were dwindling. The results were highly inflated prices on basic necessities. And it had gotten so bad that some of the residents of Samaria had resorted to cannibalism to stay alive (2 Kings 6:24-31). But a dramatic moment would change all of that overnight. God was going to intervene for all to clearly see.

In the middle of the night the Syrian army flees in panic as they hear the sound of chariots, horses, and an approaching army. They assume that the king of Israel has hired mercenaries and they abandon their camp in panic, leaving behind all food and valuables. It was enough stuff to completely resupply the starved city, just as Elisha had said. God miraculously saved His people, just with a mere delusion to an army.

God's gracious deliverance is always worth considering. I see this and realize that the Old Testament is full of examples of God's gracious, unmerited favor to people. He brings glory to Himself by being gracious to us. He fed Samaria again after wartime siege and His method was to just introduce the sound of war. He showed Himself a powerful savior to a disobedient people. That is the grace that God shows sinners. And He does so even more powerfully in the grace shown us in Christ Jesus today!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Overwhelming Force

He said, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."
2 Kings 6:16

Outnumbered? Outmanned? Outgunned?
Now when God is for me
I may not always see
what God has for me
but He has His unseen army
and He will certainly protect me

Unsure? Uncertain? Unprepared?
God will make a way
He can save the day
and in Him power is at play
to bring me confidence today
that carries strength into the fray

Dejected? Demoted? Defeated?
I probably tried to control
what only God can know
and if I would humbly go
in repentant trust and show
faith in Him, God will restore

Afraid? Alone? Awaiting?
God has more in His hand
than I can command
and healing confidence can
come to back to this land
when I let God do what I can't

Thursday, December 15, 2011

the attention of the world

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, "Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant."
2 Kings 5:15

The story of the healing of Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, is classic Sunday School fare for kids. I remember hearing it often as a child growing up in church. Some of the more difficult problems were glossed over: the threat of Syrian war, the captivity of a Jewish girl in forced servitude, or the gruesome effects of leprosy. But for the most part, I remember the details of a miracle... Naaman is cleansed of leprosy after seven washings in the Jordan river.

The interesting part of the story comes when you contemplate the reality of a Gentile warrior coming to a lowly Hebrew prophet, and finding healing from the God of Israel. It is the Abrahamic Covenant at work, even when God's people were acting more like heathen people than the Gentiles themselves were... at least the Syrians. The nations of the earth are being blessed by the God of Israel, in direct fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham.

Naaman's response is confessional. He is ready to devote his life to the worship of Yahweh. He had despised Israel to the point of disdain at the thought of washing in the muddy Jordan. But now he was hauling home Israeli soil to build a mud brick altar on which he planned to sacrifice exclusively to Israel's God. He has converted. And it is at this point that we again are reminded that even in the Old Testament, God desired that the nations come to Him. He wants the world to know His grace and glory!

If God could use one prophet and a dirty river to do His work of reaching the world, imagine what He wants to do through His church! It is time to stop pursuing a selfish enriching agenda like Gehazi did and instead point to the glory of God like Elisha. From there, the world can see God and we can be agents of His glory. Christians should be proclaimers of God's glory in the gospel to all the earth.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

prayer and power

When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the LORD.
2 Kings 4:32-33

When looking at the miraculous ministry that followed Elisha, it might be tempting to see the accounts as magnifying the man. But the text is clear that God is at work in Elisha. He is nothing without God's work in him. He relies on God showing Him what to do, how to do it, praying for God to work.

This situation was particularly poignant. Elisha stayed in the Shunemmite home regularly. The woman convinces her husband to build a room just for the prophet's use when he visits. He is like a member of the family. In gratitude, Elisha asks her if there is anything she needs. When he is aware she has no son, God reveals to the prophet that she will bear a son. True to God's Word, she is blessed with a son the next year. But in childhood one day, the boy is stricken with a headache and dies in her arms. She sets his body on Elisha's bed, and journeys to Carmel to see the prophet.

Elisha returns with her and it is here that God does another miracle for this generous family. Elisha prays to God to restore the life of the child. Elisha's constant intercession eventually leads to a resurrection. The child is restored through the faithful prayer of a faithful servant for another faithful servant. Again, it might be easy to miss Elisha's prayer. It was not that the prophet alone resuscitated the boy. It was the power of God at work through prayer that made the miraculous happen in that home.

If we want to see God at work in our lives, we must pray. That is the biblical example and admonition. Even Jesus made it a point to pray to the Father. We cannot serve God and NOT live lives of communication with Him. God works in our hearts and in our circumstances as we surrender to Him in prayer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Miracles... a big thing... and a little thing

This is a light thing in the sight of the LORD. He will also give the Moabites into your hand...
2 Kings 3:18

Miracles are big things for us, small matters for God. That is the whole point of the miraculous. God has no problem interrupting the order of the created universe to accomplish His purposes. After all, the creation of the universe was an effort that just took His Word and Will to accomplish. He spoke the countless galaxies into being. He can interrupt the water cycle of a Middle Eastern stream... no problem.

But interruptions by God are a big deal to us for a couple of reasons: 1) They challenge our perceptions and experiences. When we read about them in the Bible, they counteract our knowledge and experience. This forces us to consider God as "beyond" our realm of knowledge. 2) They force us to see God's power. Yes, His power is displayed in the design of creation, but when the miraculous is considered and cannot be explained away, we are left rethinking our tendency towards simple naturalism as an explanation for everything. This means that there is more than just the universe that we can observe.

I am grateful that miracles are a light thing for God. It assures my faith and my trust in Him. And I am OK with miracles being a "big" thing for me. It forces me to rely on God to provide direction, instruction, and wisdom in my life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The faithfulness of the prophet

And he took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.
2 Kings 2:13

Elisha's ministry begins right in the very footsteps of his master, Elijah. He is persistent in following his mentor even to his end. It has been revealed to him and confirmed that his master would be taken from him on that day. I think Elisha believes that to mean that Elijah would die. That is why he persisted in staying near to the old prophet. And God does reward that faithfulness.

In order to cross the Jordan river, Elijah strikes the water with his cloak. God parts the river for the two prophets to cross. It is on the other side of that event that the chariots and horses of fire then separate the two prophets. Elijah is taken away into heaven in a whirlwind as Elisha watches in amazement. The old prophet's cloak comes fluttering down. Elisha scoops up the symbol of his master's ministry and then uses it to part the river again to cross back over and assume a prophetic ministry of twice the impact of Elijah.

This was a moment of sheer terror, trust, and confirmation. We want a flannelgraph version of Elijah boarding a golden chariot with hot rod flames painted on the sides. But that is not the picture of the text. The fiery horses and chariots split up Elijah and Elisha. I think they were driven by angelic messengers representing the military might of God's army. A chariot was the pinnacle of military technology in Elisha's day. It evoked fear. Modern terms might make us think of a Raptor fighter jet. And after this fearful confusion, a tornado sucks Elijah right off the ground. Elisha watches as the old prophet is torn from the ground and swirled up into the heavens. It was an amazing way to be taken body and soul from this world.

Elisha would for the rest of his days be reminded of this moment. Every morning when he put on the cloak of Elijah, he would have this encounter with God at hand. He had torn up his own clothes after this event in grief over Elijah's departure. All that he had after this was the continuing prophetic ministry in the clothes of the prophet who came before him.

The focus is on obedience and on the power of God at work in obedient servants. Elijah was promised the gift and protection of God in his prophetic ministry. And he promised Elisha twice that sort of experience if he stayed with him to the end. God rewarded and used His servants, the prophets, to bring great glory to Himself through their faithfulness to Him... even when the nation of Israel was living in unfaithful days.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Word Spoken

So he died according to the word of the LORD that Elijah had spoken. Jehoram became king in his place in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, because Ahaziah had no son.
2 Kings 1:17

God used men
to spread His word
way back when
His people Israel all lived
in the Promised Land.

Unusual men
who did as God said
lived for Him
and carried messages
throughout that land.

Prophets and sages
spoke only God's message
and now recorded in pages
we can read the story
of faith through the ages.

Prophets spoke His word
and the message resounded
to all those who heard
God's power was known
and worship came to the Lord.

Decisions were made
people ignored or obeyed
the Word of God stayed
before them even when pagan
infatuation led them astray

God still used men
-- hairy cloaked prophets --
and these unusual men
were givers of truth
in Israel's land.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

He is not safe.

The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.
Joel 3:16

I read this passage this morning and I am struck by the power of God in His purpose for His people. We want a theology that controls God. But He is not leashed by humanity. God is not under our control. He shakes the heaven and the earth with just the sound of His voice! He is an awe-inspiring God.

C.S. Lewis captured this part of God in the Christ-figure of the Narnia books, Aslan the Lion. In a scene from "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", the children are introduced to the reality of Aslan in the home of Mr. Beaver:

"Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man. Is he--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

And God cannot be tamed by our thoughts of Him. He is not safe. But God is good. And that alone helps us understand His love as well as His expectations of us. The God Who roars from Zion is also a refuge and fortress of His people. I am more than a little nervous everyday with that truth. And I think it is right where God can use me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

repentance and the character of God

"Yet even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Joel 2:12-13

As we have seen already in the first chapter of the prophet Joel, an awful natural catastrophe had come to Israel. A famine in the wake of drought and a disastrous locust swarm had left the country desolate. It served as a picture of what God's future judgment upon humanity would look like in the Day of the Lord. And the Lord uses the moment to pull Israel close and offer a chance for repentance. That is the appeal being made in this passage. It is worth breaking down and thinking through.

First, it is good to know that NOW is always the time to return to God. There is no bad time to come to God in this life. God declared to Israel that even in the wake of His discipline, they would find mercy with Him if they would just return to Him. God's heart is to always honor the return of the repentant sinner. And that is what he is saying to His people with this passionate plea. "Even now" He would take them back into His grace.

It is also important that actions will accompany a repentant heart. They flow out of a commitment to return to God. In this case, God saw His people fasting, weeping, and mourning with broken hearts over sin. That was the way to show that the genuine repentance was serious. Their hearts were split by a godly sorrow over sin. This was more than the pain of a national tragedy. This was true brokenness over sin and its consequences. And it led them to return to the LORD.

Finally, repentance helps us see God in new relational ways. The text reminds us that God is gracious and merciful. He is not miserly with His love and forgiveness. He is a merciful God Who will bless the lives of sinners who come to Him and beg for His mercy, acknowledging their weakness and His greatness. He is not slow to be gracious. However, He is slow to anger. He does not want to define His relationship with humanity by wrath and judgment of our sin. He wants to forgive us. He wants us to know His steadfast, abiding love. And repentance is our path to finding that real love!

The final note to look at comes with the unique experience that follows repentance. A repentant people sometimes experiences the good purposes of God instead of the judgment that their sins truly deserved. God revealed this in the story of Jonah and the city of Ninevah. And He is the same God to repentant sinners today. His will may be to respond to our repentance by relenting of judgment and showering us with grace. That is a great thing about God!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

God in disasters

To you, O LORD, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field.
Joel 1:19

These words were written after a devastating plague of locusts swept through Israel. It appears that what followed was drought, famine, and wildfires in the wake of the agricultural loss. Joel calls upon the nation to lament and mourn. But he also uses the thoughts brought on by the present tragedy to focus the attention of Israel upon two very crucial theological truths: 1) the vital need for repentant prayer brought on by these events. The nation MUST turn to God in times of extreme loss. 2) The opportunity to consider God's greater judgment. Any tragedy is a chance to shudder at the potential calamity coming in the final judgment known as the Day of the Lord (Joel 1:15).

Here is why this is important. A disaster is something that is usually caused by circumstances outside of human control. That is what makes it a disaster. Disasters are the result of a natural event (an earthquake, a storm, a flood, a locust swarm) that we cannot manipulate or escape. We cannot even foretell them accurately. And the widespread destruction leads to a tragedy on a massive scale. Disasters point to the helplessness inherent in our humanity. They force us to accept our limitations and our spiritual and physical need. Large scale disasters bring us to spiritual openness. And that is one hope that can bring triumph from loss and tragedy. It is a good thing in terms of human understanding to need the help and mercies of God. We can neglect Him when our lives seem to be the product of our own industry. But when we realize that they aren't, profound theology rises to the forefront of our hearts.

When we have nowhere to turn but to God, it is there we understand that our sense of being "in control" was only there by His mercy and provision. And when God restores us, we may never see our lives quite the same way after tragedy. This is why it was not cruel of Joel to use the occasion of the plague, drought, and fire to preach about God's future judgment coming upon the entire world. It helped to increase perspective.

Difficulties are often God's way of increasing our periphery to include Him. We get a kind of tunnel vision when we make our daily lives solely about human culture and modern thinking. But when God is always there, known to be superintending and guiding us as we live in the world He made for use to use for His glory, it makes nothing mundane and everything important (even losses) for His purposes, glory, and goodness to us.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The relationship between saving faith and good works

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
Titus 3:8

The "trustworthy saying" that Paul is referring to is his explanation of the gospel in Titus 3:4-7. The gospel is rooted in God's goodness and lovingkindness towards us. God saved us, and not any of our own actions, so that it is clearly a work of His mercy and the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. It came about all because of the work of Jesus for us so that we are justified by Christ's grace and given an eternal hope. We can put our trust in this truth.

Where the text goes next with the product of saving faith is vital to understand. Believing in Christ is not where faith ends. Saving faith is a living faith. It does something. Paul was so convinced of this that he told Titus to insist on these actions among the believers in Crete. Good works are typical for the church. We believe in God, and that is of inestimable personal value. But we also must devote ourselves to good works. We have to be very deliberate to do good in our world. We must pay attention both to what we believe AND to what we do. That phrasing tells me that if I am not careful, my default setting might be just to be content to believe in Christ and do very little with that faith.

Paul has shown that Christians are a people in whom a very visible lifestyle of good works must live (Titus 1:16; 2:14; 3:1). This command is the final point in that continuing argument that has woven itself throughout the short book of Titus. Faith is borne out in what we do. We bring the gospel message to the world by proclaiming it in WORD and DEED. Paul never expecting that the two concepts be separated.

There are results to such Christian living. The words used here to describe it indicate that good works flow from saving faith and that spiritual reality is both excellent and profitable. They are seen by society as good and are helpful to the world at large. At Christmas time the media will occasionally tell such a story. And the reality is that the Christian commitment to good works ought to ALWAYS impact the world. If the saving life in Christ truly changes us, we ought to in obedience to God, be changing our world in many excellent, profitable, and God-glorifying ways!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The reputation of a minister

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
Titus 2:7-8

These were Paul's words directly to Titus. They are instructive on the kind of character and commitments that anyone serving in ministry should endeavor to emulate. This is the reputation I should seek as I serve Christ and His church. It is worth picking these commands apart to analyze their application.

The very first verb is one of demonstration: "show yourself..." This is a command to be visibly reputable. It means that any minister should have an open life... one that can be known. Any servant of Christ is ready to be analyzed for the character of the Lord. And Paul makes that openness and observability a command to Titus. Live so people will see in all respects that you are Christ's slave. They are going to watch you and scrutinize you anyway... let them be impressed with Jesus!

The emphasis on observability goes on to point out the durability of good works. A servant of Jesus is someone whose good life is a model for others to follow. This creates a platform for discipleship. The minister of Christ is a model of good works. The church cannot go wrong if they do the things that he is doing. That is the command given to Titus. Be an example that the church can follow and thus follow Christ. Don't just be an open book... be a really worthy, really good read!

But example must include sound teaching. And Paul makes it clear that the hard work of gospel ministry includes good teaching, not just good works. The two go hand-in-hand. There are three elements that mark good teaching. The first is integrity. It is an integrity in both personal character (think of the money-hungry, greedy modern televangelist as the antithesis of this) and in faithfulness to the truth of scripture. Along with integrity comes dignity. Teaching is respectful, because dealing with God is not a flippant occupation. Any minister of the gospel carries a stronger responsibility and is a bigger representative than any international ambassador ever could be. We are not nightclub entertainers and late show comedians. The final phrase to describe teaching is "sound speech", which is defined as that which "cannot be condemned"". Our very teaching must be of the finest reputation, even with the world.

The result of exemplary living and sound teaching is that the reputation of the church in the world is stellar. We are a shining light, a city on a hill, and the salt of the earth. And when we balance these, the world should not be able to say anything evil against us.