There are, in the end, only two kinds of people: people who do what they say and those who don’t. Do you and I walk our talk? Jesus called the former group of people “hypocrites,” play-actors who wore a mask that hid the true self underneath. God desires that we be genuine, unhypocritical, and real—the same on the inside as we are on the outside.
This is easier said than done. Only by the grace of God can we be the kinds of people God wants us to be. Yet follow-through is of absolutely critical importance, as James, the half-brother of Jesus, told his readers: “But be doers of the... Read More
Interesting, isn’t it, that the apostle of love—the apostle John—is also the one who has several very stern passages warning believers against false teachers. I once went to a church that was going through a nasty split and that was divided into two parties: the “love party” and the “truth party.” Those in the “love party” focused on God’s love and forbearance with sinners, while the “truth party” emphasized God’s righteous demands. Silly, isn’t it? I say “silly” because both are true if held in proper balance. God is a God of love—in fact, as John tells us,... Read More
Many of us can identify with the experience of the psalmist who wrote, “But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray. For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps 73:2–3). Indeed, when we look at this world, hard-working teachers (such as the one writing these lines!) command only a basic salary—though they are trying to be content and make ends meet as best as they can!)—while celebrity athletes—and even those hardly known—make millions upon millions. Who can blame the psalmist for being tempted to envy the arrogant when he saw their... Read More
If humility is defined, in Paul’s terms, as “consider[ing] others as more important than” ourselves (Phil 2:3), then, clearly, humility is a uniquely Christian virtue. In this fallen, sinful universe, with its “survival of the fittest” mentality, the prize goes usually to those who are aggressive, assertive, and pursue their own interests, even if this means stepping over others to get ahead. Considering others as more important than ourselves does not come naturally.
But this is exactly what Christians are told to do in Scripture. How can this be so? In short: because humble is... Read More
What was Paul’s goal in ministry? He tells us in Colossians: “We proclaim him [Christ], warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. I labor for this, striving with his strength that works powerfully in me” (Col 1:28–29). This, of course, is nothing other what Jesus said should be the goal of his followers in the “Great Commission”: “Go, therefore, andmake disciples of all nations, baptizing them … [and] teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19–20). Likewise, John tells us that when some... Read More
When Paul came to Thessalonica and tried to establish a church there, he was faced with vehement opposition, so much so that he had to cut his time there short after a few weeks and leave town by night (read the account in Acts 17:1–10). But a wonderful thing happened: the believers in Thessalonica imitated Paul’s Christlike attitude in persecution, and thus became examples to others in their entire region. This is the way Paul puts it in his first letter to the Thessalonians:
You know what kind of men we were among you for our benefit, and you became imitators of us and of the Lord when,... Read More
Apparently, when Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, there were those who believed Christ’s second coming was so imminent that all they had to do was quit their jobs and wait around until his arrival. Paul had no sympathy for such teaching. In fact, he commanded believers to “keep away” from those who lived “irresponsibly” (2 Thess 3:6, 11), reminding them of his own example when he was with them: “we did not eat anyone’s bread free of charge; instead we labored and toiled, working night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thess 3:8). So... Read More
When Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, he had planted dozens of churches, master-minded the early Christian mission almost single-handedly, and orchestrated the astonishing growth of a worldwide movement that had been spawned by a humble Galilean who met an ignominious death on a Judean cross. If ever anyone was entitled to a dose of self-congratulatory satisfaction, or legitimately could have rested on his laurels, it was the apostle to the Gentiles. But Paul remembered his roots; he remembered his former pride and sin. Do you and I remember that if it were not for the mercy and grace... Read More
Paul’s plan of discipleship was as simple as 2-2-2: that is, as simple as laid out in 2 Timothy 2:2! In this his final letter to his foremost disciple, the apostle wrote the following about his mentoring strategy: “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” In this short sentence Paul lists as many as four generations of those who safeguard the faithful passing on of the Christian tradition:
Generation #1: Paul the apostle
Generation #2: Timothy
Generation #3: Faithful men
Generation #4:... Read More
Here’s a question for you: when someone who is a liar says all people are liars, is he telling the truth? This has been called the “liar paradox,” and it is raised by a statement in Titus 1:12–13, where Paul writes: “One of their very own prophets said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true.” So, then, there is one exception to Cretans always being liars: when they say of themselves that they are always liars, that statement, at least, is true! This is the solution to the puzzle of “liar paradox.”
In Titus’s case, of course, this... Read More
Paul was in prison when he wrote his letter to Philemon, the Christian master of the runaway slave Onesimus. Yet in his opening words he identifies himself, not as a prisoner of Rome, but “a prisoner of Christ Jesus” (Phlm 1). The way Paul saw it, he was in prison by the will of God. And while others may have been slaves of their earthly masters, he was God’s slave, God’s servant (see, e.g., Titus 1:1: “Paul, a slave of God”). For faith changes everything.
Faith also changed everything in the life of Paul’s new protégé, Onesimus. Apparently, Onesimus, a slave, had run away... Read More
For Jewish people who were used to relate to God through the Mosaic Law and to satisfy its requirements by offering sacrifices through their priests, trusting in Christ for their salvation demanded a major paradigm shift. How could that which was so right at one point (trying to keep the Law) be all of a sudden be wrong, now that Christ has come? It is hard for us—most of whom are non-Jews—to understand the difficulty with which Jews were faced in this regard.
Yet change they must—understanding, as Paul pointed out, that the function of the Law was limited to the time before Christ. The... Read More
While in prison, John Bunyan, an English Baptist, wrote one of the most-loved Christian books of all time: Pilgrim’s Progress, which appeared in two parts in 1678 and 1684. Bunyan’s allegorical novel, which has been translated into numerous languages, traces Christian’s journey from the “City of Destruction” to the “CelestialCity.” Yet the idea of Christians being pilgrims in this world is certainly not original with Bunyan. In fact, it is already found in the pages of the NT, especially in the Book of Hebrews and also in Peter’s first epistle.
Peter addresses his epistle... Read More
Peter wrote his second letter not to tell his readers something new, something they didn’t already know. Instead, he wrote to remind them of things they already knew (2 Pet 3:1). In this Peter’s audience was like many of us who basically know what we should be doing in our Christian lives but who need occasional (or frequent) reminders to help us stay on course or get back on track.
Most distinctive is the “staircase of Christian virtues” Peter lists in the opening chapter of his letter. After assuring his readers that God had given them everything they needed to live a godly life,... Read More
In the third verse of his short letter, Jude, strikingly, tells his readers that the letter they received was not the letter he actually set out to write. Jude intended to write an encouraging letter “about our common salvation” (Jude 3), but when false teachers threatened the church, he instead wrote a scathing denunciation of the false teachers in order to protect the congregation from harm. Rather than glossing over the difficulty, or hoping it would go away on its own, Jude took drastic action. In this he serves as an example for today’s churches in which materialism, convenience,... Read More