Fleeing Idols

The Creator God rules over all things, including us, human beings. We are called to honor and submit to Him willingly and be blessed, but, if we will not, to suffer the consequences.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 17-19; 1 Timothy 6

5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.                                                           Jeremiah 18:5-6

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

God reveals Himself in Scripture, but His revelation is not exhaustive due to the limitations of human language. In today’s readings, God compares Himself to a potter and His people to a lump of clay. Then in Paul’s letter to Timothy lofty language is used to describe Him. These descriptions are true, but, of necessity, are only able to capture partially all the majesty and splendor of the Holy, Eternal God.

As the One who created us, God is our God. We owe Him our allegiance, our obedience, our submission, our honor, and our worship. His Word should be our command. The Lord showed Jeremiah that He had rights over Israel in the same way a potter has rights over a lump of clay to make out of her whatever seemed good to him. But Israel was rebellious and embraced false gods and served them, totally disregarding their true and living God. They would pay the price by defeat before their enemies.

Paul’s words about God are set in the context of warnings about the dangers of loving money and seeking to be rich. The Apostle urges his young disciple, Timothy, to flee these dangers, to pursue godly qualities, to fight the good fight of faith, and to live a blameless life. Why? Christ will return, He who is King of kings and Lord of lords. He alone is immortal. He “dwells in unapproachable light.”

We, too, owe our God everything we are and have. He is our potter and we His clay. He is worthy of every exclamation of praise and every act of humble service that we can offer to Him. Praise Him. Love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. In so doing, you will be fleeing the idols of money and pleasure.

Competition for Glory

When God is ignored or rejected, the vacuum left is filled with something else, something which usurps the glory due to Him.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 14-16; 1 Timothy 5

20 Can man make for himself gods?  Such are not gods!”

21 “Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.” Jeremiah 16:20-21

7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 1 Timothy 5:7

The messages in the prophecy of Jeremiah center around Judah’s failure to honor and worship God and the judgment that was about to come upon them. This judgment would spill over into the whole earth as God always has all the tribes, families, language groups, and nations in view, not only the Jews. Again and again the purpose of God to make Himself known to mankind comes piercing through.

In chapter 16, Jeremiah says, “to you shall the nations come…” (vs. 19b). The nations will come and confess that their fathers had believed lies and trusted in man-made gods. These were powerless and empty. God responds to this kind of confession and makes Himself known.

The Church of Jesus Christ has a special responsibility to be faithful to the Lord at every level, even in the matter of interpersonal relationships with older men and women, and younger men and women (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Paul goes into detail about the care of widows, balancing corporate responsibility with familial obligations. There is a place for the church to assume a major role in the care of the true widow. Her character must be godly. She must not have other sources of support and be beyond the age of remarriage and childbearing. There were dangers of condoning laziness and sloth, but, also, of selfishly neglecting widows (or others) that were truly in need. Paul’s thorough instructions aim to avoid excesses that would bring shame on the church.

It’s all about knowing and glorifying God. That is why Judah existed. That is why the Church exists. That is why mankind exists. Is that your purpose? Beware of other gods that creep into our hearts: self-glorification, power, prestige, pride. “Such are not gods!” Let nothing compete for God’s glory that you and, as far as it depends on you, His church be above reproach.

The Danger of Neglecting God’s Word

What is at stake if the Word of God is either not taught or not heeded or both? Nothing less than God’s judgment.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 11-13; 1 Timothy 4

17 But if you will not listen,

my soul will weep in secret for your pride;

my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears,

because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive.                Jeremiah 13:17

15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.                           1 Timothy 4:15-16

Jeremiah describes Judah as those who are “accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:24). They have been taken captive and lost the ability to do good. Doing evil feels normal. They worship idols with no hesitation. They have become useless like rotten underwear. They live under the imminent threat of God’s judgment and their utter humiliation.

Is there any hope? What is needed is a return to God’s covenant, His law. They have neglected it both in the study of it and the doing of it. Centuries later it is still a problem in New Testament times. Paul addresses that subject with Timothy.

Timothy is charged with teaching the church in Ephesus. The goal is not merely that they have an education in the Bible but that they be trained in godliness. Timothy is to model this for them, despite his relative youthfulness. The pastor is called to grow, to make progress in the knowledge and practice of God’s Word. Paul tells him to “immerse” himself in these things.

If you are a pastor or church leader, do those you lead see your progress? Do you challenge them by a life that is wholly given to growth in godliness based on the Scriptures? This same exhortation applies to all believers. It is not hard to be taken captive by false teaching which is only slightly off-track from God’s word. Like Judah, we can become accustomed to do evil until it feels normal. Beware of the life of your soul. Immerse yourself in learning godliness.

 

Church Leaders

The Church must have authentically godly leaders or she will stand in danger of divine discipline.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 9-10; 1 Timothy 3

24 Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;

not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.

25 Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not… Jeremiah 10:24-25a

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.                           1 Timothy 3:14-15

Jeremiah was devastated by the sin of his people, God’s people, but he did not become self-righteous. He knew that even as he preached against the sins of the nation, he himself needed God’s guidance. He pleaded for God’s just correction with restrained anger. Jeremiah understood the power and holiness of God and his own failures that could bring him to nothing.

Paul, in writing to Timothy, instructs him in the standards for elders and deacons in the church. Their personal lives need to be exemplary in every way. These instructions  cannot wait until Paul’s next visit to Timothy. The matter of godly behavior is urgent. The church, he writes, is “the household of God.” God lives in His people, the Church. Furthermore, it is God’s church, not Timothy’s, not Paul’s.  Finally, it is “the pillar and buttress of the truth.” The church must not have phony, hypocritical, self-righteous leaders. They will not be perfect, but they must be teachable, repentant, god-fearing men.

Jeremiah was the kind of man that Paul wanted Timothy to have as elders and deacons in Ephesus. If you are a church officer, do you seek to grow in conformity to these Scriptural standards? As a church member, do you hold your officers to such standards, in humility, knowing that we all stand in need of God’s gentle correction? God is a God of wrath. He will not let His name be associated with sin in His Church. Think about it.

Healing for Sin-sick Souls

Sin causes pain and death, but, Jesus Christ, the only sinless One, suffered pain and death which resulted in a full and final cure for sin for His people.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 7-8; 1 Timothy 2

21 For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded;
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.

22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
not been restored?                                                                        Jeremiah 8:21-22

5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.                                                                                               1 Timothy 2:5-6

Jeremiah was in grief over the sin of Judah. He had a message. It was from God. It was true, but it gave him no joy. He had to proclaim to the people their sin and failure. No wonder he is called “the weeping prophet.” Sin has painful consequences for unrepentant sinners, but also for those who love them and can only watch them spiraling down into judgment. Jeremiah loved his fellow countrymen. He could call them to God, but he could not heal them when they refused to listen. In those days, Gilead was an area east of the Jordan known for its medicinal products.[1]  The prophet longed for some balm or ointment to cure the sinful populace.

I remember an old spiritual we sang in my childhood. The refrain is:

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

Amen! Paul had the happy work of proclaiming that there is healing balm in Jesus Christ. He is the One who gave Himself as a ransom. He is the mediator between God and men. He took our sin upon Himself, dying on the cross, rising again, sending forth the Apostles to spread the news, and ascending to the right hand of God. This cure that Jesus gives is not merely for the physical body but for the “sin-sick soul.”

Jeremiah longed to find sin-sick souls. He found hard hearts, unreceptive to his diagnosis of their need. If you are sin-sick, find the healing in Jesus who gave Himself for such as you. [See Mark 10:45; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18, 19].

[1] Reformation Study Bible, note on Jeremiah 8:22, page 1276

Conscience: Good or Bad?

Those whose consciences no longer function are not content to merely destroy themselves but they seek to bring others down with them.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 5-6; 1 Timothy 1

3 O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
You have struck them down,
but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them,
but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
they have refused to repent.                                                                Jeremiah 5:3

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.  1Timothy 1:5-7

Jeremiah proclaims the Lord’s judgment on Judah. He declares to them that they have already received punishment and correction from God, but they have ignored it. They have “blown it off” as nothing. They have dug in their heels and determined not to repent. Punishment is not the final step in God’s discipline plan. He disciplines those He loves, but there comes a time when He no longer disciplines but “gives them up” to their evil (Hebrews 12:6; Romans 1:24, 26, 28). They falsely assume that God is too weak or too merciful to bother chastising them, but they are wrong. They then face only the wrath of God and eternal judgment.

Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to correct some problems in the church there. There were people affiliated with the congregation whose lives were off track, not characterized by love, a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. It was not enough that these people should go astray by themselves. They had to bring the unsuspecting along with them.  They did this by attempting to teach things they did not really understand. Did their uncertainty make them humble and tentative in their preaching? No, not at all. They were making confident assertions about their lies and shipwreck of their faith (vs. 19).

What are we to take away from this? Let God’s word rebuke and correct you as needed. Seek to be receptive to the Lord’s discipline. Keep your conscience tender. If it seems like God is tolerant of your unrepentant lifestyle, beware that He may have given you up to your evil ways. Call on Him for grace to awaken your conscience and to make you repentant. Watch out for those who confidently proclaim that God won’t judge sin. Flee to Christ from the wrath to come.

 

A Warning to Preachers and Churches

Today’s reading: 1 Timothy 6:3-2 Timothy 4:8

My selection:  2 Timothy 4:1-4

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

My reflections: Paul’s letters advise and warn Timothy about how to fulfill his pastoral ministry in Ephesus, but it also holds much instruction and admonition for Christians in general.  It is obvious from the warnings given to Timothy that he was not an infallible super-Christian.  Nor were his congregants models of holiness and integrity.

Timothy might be negligent in preaching truths that would challenge his hearers.  He needed to be faithful to the Word especially when it ran counter to the thoughts and actions of the people.  On the other hand, Timothy, having told the church the uncomfortable truth, might be impatient to see them think and act accordingly, but he was to have complete patience.  Further teaching might be needed.  Change does not come easily even to those who are sealed with the Holy Spirit.

A congregation might be guilty of rejecting truth that would challenge them.  Sound teaching runs contrary to human passions.  When church attenders hear and reject difficult truth, they either leave or try to replace the preacher with someone who will tell them what they want to hear, “chicken soup for the soul.”

My challenge:  Pastors, beware of soft-pedaling God’s truth or of impatience with those you shepherd.  Church members, beware of resisting the truth that runs cross grain to your flesh. All of us will have to answer to God for our faithfulness, or lack thereof, in heeding His Word.

Tomorrow’s reading:  2 Timothy 4:9-Philemon 25

 

Instructions for a Good Servant of Christ Jesus

Today’s reading: I Timothy 1:1-6:2

My selection: I Timothy 4:6-10

6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

My reflections: In this succinct statement, Paul gives Timothy crucial commands for anyone who desires to be a good servant of Christ Jesus.

1.  Put truth before those you serve, your brothers and sisters.  Do not stray from the teaching you have received by getting into faddish or trendy teachings.

2.  Practice what you preach.  You yourself must be trained in the words of faith.  You yourself must follow the good doctrine, not irreverent, silly myths. This means you not only believe the truth but you train yourself in godliness with the same intensity of an athlete.

3.  Set your hope on the living God, the Savior.  Do not hope in anyone or anything else.  Set your hope on Him.  Keep your hope on Him. There is a life to come so keep that before you.

My challenge: Consider your service to the Lord today.  Are you a good servant by these standards?  What do you teach?  How do you live? In whom do you hope?  Teach the truth.  Be godly in your life.  Hope in God alone.  Never swerve from this.

Tomorrow’s reading: I Timothy 6:3-II Timothy 4:8

Escape from Delusion

Today’s reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 Thessalonians 3:18

My selection:  2 Thessalonians 2:9-12

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

My reflections: I once heard Pastor Joe Novensen ask, “If you were deceived, would you know it?”  The answer is, of course, “No.”  The nature of deception is that the one deceived is unaware of his state.

In this passage we can see that there are several factors working to create a deceived person: Satan, God, and the person himself or herself.

What are the characteristics of the person who is deceived?  They refuse to love the truth or believe what would bring them to salvation.  Often this takes the form of complacency, that is, they see no need to be “saved.”  They are not buying this idea that they are sinners, justly deserving the wrath of God.  They are not buying that there is a Savior, Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself the sins of His people.  The deluded are characterized by taking pleasure in unrighteousness.  They break God’s law and find pleasure in it.

The function of Satan is to make this deluded position seem totally reasonable by offering power, false signs, and wonders.  He appeals to the person who is easily impressed with success, prestige, wealth, and apparent miraculous signs.  Once Satan establishes his position, he can tell any lie and it becomes believable.

God confirms the state of the deluded by strengthening the delusion.  God can save the most deluded, if He chooses to do so.  He is free.  But when He chooses not to save, the deluded one is further confirmed in his state and senses no urgency or danger. He is quite content to remain deluded.

My challenge:  How can you tell you are deluded?  If you thought you were deluded, you would, presumably, turn away from your erroneous beliefs and seek the truth.  But you would be in a “Catch 22.”  You don’t believe because you can’t believe.  You can’t believe because you don’t believe.

Is there no way out?  Yes, the first step is to recognize your delusion.  But how?

The hint is found in the observable characteristics of the deluded:  they refuse to love the truth and they have pleasure in unrighteousness.  The only possible way out for the deluded is to begin to seek to know the truth and to know what God calls unrighteousness.  Listen to the preaching of the gospel.  Read the Word of God and ask for grace to repent and believe.  As my friend, Steve Slater, prayed in his youth before he believed: “God, show me the truth, and give me the courage to follow it.” God answered that prayer for Steve.  May He answer it for you, too.

Tomorrow’s reading:  1 Timothy 1:1-6:2