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Archive for the ‘1 & 2 Timothy’ Category

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As a landscape can look quite different at different times of day or in different weather as the varying angles and hues of light on a terrain make different parts of that landscape stand out in sharp relief, so reading the Bible in a different cultural setting can highlight and bring out things you’d never seen before. I mentioned a few examples of this in an earlier post and here are a few more features of the Bible landscape that the preaching of Kenyan brothers has helped me see and appreciate in a new way.

Shame

It is sometimes said that African and Asian cultures are shame cultures (concerned about issues of public face and community rejection) whereas Western culture is a guilt culture (concerned about individual objective transgression of the law). Perhaps there is some truth in that but actually I think Western culture is a shame culture too just in a different way. Some things that would not be shameful in Kenya are shameful in the UK and vice versa. I’ll try to explore that more in another post. But what is certainly true is that when you are away from your home culture you notice the shame issue more.

When Ken Irungu was giving us an overview of 2 Timothy and preaching through the first chapter, one of the things that really struck me was how he brought out the theme of shame and being unashamed. In his time of trial Paul has been deserted (2 Tim. 4:16) and he calls Timothy ‘not to be ashamed of the gospel or of me his prisoner’ (1:8) but rather to be like Onesiphorus who was ‘not ashamed of my chains’ (1:16).

Challenging convention, being different, being outspoken can often be taken as shameful in a communal culture. To undergo arrest or punishment by the authorities, even when undeserved, will be seen as shameful. Even to suffer through illness, bereavement or some calamity can suggest that you under some sort of cloud of curse of misfortune. So for Paul to be suffering, and particularly suffering institutional persecution for the sake of his preaching, is a shameful thing and people will naturally respond by dissociating themselves and distancing themselves from him so as not to share the shame or pick the contagion. He will be rejected by the community, in itself a shameful thing, making him even more a figure of shame.

Being shown this theme has made the letter of 2 Timothy stand out in sharper relief for me. And I have also started to notice it all over the New Testament – the words ‘shame’ or ‘ashamed’ coming about 40 times. The death of Christ was a shameful thing (Heb. 12:2). The call of Jesus is to take up our cross (i.e. be willing to be shamed) and not be ashamed of me or my words else the Son of Man will be ashamed of him (Mk. 8:34-38). “Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb. 13:13).

Elder brother

In African cultures the role of the firstborn is well understood. I remember being in a Bible study in the Gambia looking at Colossians 1:15 and the African brothers there had no problem understanding the significance of Jesus being the ‘firstborn’. They didn’t get distracted by the JW misunderstanding that this means that Jesus is a created being, they understood that just as the firstborn in a house is next to the father and has all the rights and authority and status of the father (particularly when the father is away), so Jesus is next to the Father and has delegated to him all the functions and power of the Father.

Then Stanley Wandeto was preaching on Luke 15 – the parable of the two sons – and he showed me something that I had never seen about the elder brother there. It’s a parable full of shocking (shameful) behaviour (e.g. the younger son asking for his inheritance, the old man running, the father begging his son) but the one I hadn’t seen was that the elder brother is shocking in that he doesn’t go looking for the younger son. Traditionally a responsibility of the firstborn is to look after his younger siblings, to keep watch over them, to care for them and keep them in line. When the younger son insults his father and goes off into a life of recklessness, it is the job of the firstborn (not the father) to run after his brother and plead with him to come back.

Now I think of it, I realise that this is the godly concern that many of my Kenyan friends and colleagues have within their own families, particularly those who are firstborns, to pursue and win back straying siblings.

This gives another level and depth to the characterisation of the elder brother in the parable. His hatred towards his younger brother does not start when he comes home and a party is thrown for him, it starts much earlier in his failure to search for him. The self-righteous Pharisees (who are the target of the parable) are at fault not only for their failure to welcome sinners but their failure to go out looking for sinners (cf. Jesus who welcomes and seeks the lost).

Dead dog

Before I came to Kenya I’m not sure I’d seen a dead dog before. Now I see one almost every time I go to the office, lying in the road. Africa is full of stray dogs. Mostly a yellow-brown colour, small to medium size, thin, feral, searching for scraps. They have a hard pathetic life and then they get hit by a truck or starve.

In most African cultures, for a person to be compared to a dog is an extremely insulting and shameful thing. For one thing the distinction between animals and humans is much sharper than in the West (where pets are part of the family and people get very upset over a gorilla being shot) and for another thing dogs are a particularly dirty and ignoble animal (in contrast to something more noble like a lion or a rhino).

So when Fidel Nyikuri preached Mark 7:27 to us and also reminded us of Mephibosheth in 2 Kings 9, it came home very powerfully what it means for us to be a dead dog – pathetic, despised, dirty, base, in the lowest place. And yet – the wonder of the gospel – we who are not entitled to anything are invited to eat at the king’s table and share the children’s bread (Mk. 8:1-9).

Water and milk

In parts of the world where water comes clean, clear, pure and cold straight from the tap and is basically never cut off, it is difficult to appreciate the preciousness of water. In parts of the world where milk is delivered to the door and is always there when you open the fridge, alongside three or four other beverages and fifteen food items, it is difficult to appreciate the importance of milk.

However in places where the climate is hot and dry and water is scarce, where it has to be searched for or brought up from the ground with effort, then there is much more impact when we read in Isaiah of drawing ‘water from the wells of salvation’ (Isa. 12:3), a ruler and renewal which is ‘like streams of water in the desert’ (Isa. 32:2; 35:6; 41:18; 43:20; 44:3), a shepherd God who leads his people ‘beside springs of water’ (Isa. 49:10). Similarly, in a community where milk (drawn by hand from your own animals) is a key part of the diet (in some pastoralist communities people survive purely on milk for days a time and even down-country in many villages the one animal you will own is a cow), then the land flowing with milk and honey is very meaningful picture.

Preaching from Isaiah 55 Gerald Mwangi helped us imagine working all morning on the farm, digging in the sun, drinking nothing, and then finishing your work in the early afternoon desperate for… water. Then to think of what we take from childhood onwards to make us strong, to give us energy, to build us up… milk.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.”

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Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it by the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Tim. 1:14)

We go through 2 Timothy with each new group of apprentices but it is always fresh and cutting. One of the things that’s really jumped out for me this time is the emphasis on both human work and the Spirit’s work. There is fanning of the flame to do but the fire is God’s gift (1:6). We are to suffer… by the power of God (1:8). We need to guard the gospel… with the help of the Holy Spirit (1:14). We are to be strong… in the grace in Christ (2:1). We are to think hard… and the Lord will give the understanding (2:7). We are to instruct opponents… hoping that God will grant repentance (2:25). We are to preach the Word… strengthened by the Lord (4:17).

Some of us may be tempted to speak only of the Spirit and to downplay human effort. In that case the challenge of 2 Timothy is that guarding the gospel will involve a lot of hard work, hard thinking, intentional effort and careful following of the apostolic leadership training strategy (2:2). Others of us (perhaps more of us) are tempted to focus on human activity and practically ignore (or only play lip service to) the work of the Spirit. For us, we need to remember that the gospel cannot be guarded simply through structures and programmes and curricula. As Ken Irungu pointed out, gospel ministry cannot be professionalised. We wholeheartedly believe in 2 Timothy 2:2 – it is one of the iServe Africa straplines – but transmitting good gospel truth to the next generation of Bible teachers for them to proclaim and teach it faithfully to others will not serve to guard and advance the gospel unless there is also a powerful work of the Spirit.

Why?

  1. Only the Spirit can change hearts. Only the Spirit can move the affections from love of the world (4:10) to love Christ and his people (1:7). Only the Spirit can move us from being ashamed of the gospel to unashamed (1:8). Only the Spirit can produce faithful, hardworking, persevering-through-suffering servants who are concerned to please their commanding officer (2:4-6) rather than the crowd.
  2. Only the Spirit can open minds to understand the truths of the gospel (2:7). J.C. Ryle: “The very same person who is quick and clever in worldly things, will often utterly fail to comprehend the simplest truths of Christianity. He will often be unable to take in the plainest reasonings of the Gospel… They will sound to him either foolish or mysterious.”

So please pray for us! Pray for iServe Africa and the young people starting off their ministry apprenticeship year that the Spirit would go out with His Word and change hearts and minds.

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MTC Dec 2014 2

More notes and resources:

And for the 2nd year apprentices:

 

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  1. Christ-centred – the gospel for which I was appointed a preacher (1:11), remind them of Jesus Christ (2:8-14), the sacred writings which make you wise for salvation in Christ Jesus (3:15), preach the Word and so do the work of an evangelist (4:2,4)
  2. Careful – rightly handling the word of truth (2:15), continue in the Scriptures (3:14-16), preach the word (4:2)
  3. Clear – able to teach (2:2,24), avoiding babble (2:16), teaching (4:2)
  4. Compassionate – the Lord’s servant must be kind, correcting with gentleness (2:22-26), complete patience (4:2)
  5. Cutting – that the elect may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2:10) preach the word in the presence of Christ who is to judge the living and the dead, reprove, rebuke, exhort (4:1-2)

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Doctrine of Scripture 2014

Highlights from the first full day of ministry training course for the new apprentices @ the new and upgraded Halfway House, Sigona. With particular thanks to Harrison, Fidel, Mercy and Christine. If I knew how to use Twitter these would be tweets…

The battle for the mind is not to set your hope fully on your dreams but on real events – Cross & Coming (1 Pet 1:13-21) #GospelReality

You can believe the Bible is authoritative and not be evangelical… if you put other sources of authority on the same level. #SolaScriptura

We don’t worship the Bible. The Bible is a witness. To Jesus. (John 5)

It was written *for* you not *to* you. (Rom 15:4; 1 Pet 1:12)

Fear is part and parcel of ministry. It’s v natural when ur dealing with the Word & people. <– maybe Timothy was not so unusual (2Tim 1:7)

All the power of God, his glorious might, is there to strengthen us… for endurance, patience and suffering (Col. 1:11; 2 Tim 1:8)

What went wrong btwn the East Africa Revival and panda mbegu. A failure to guard the gospel.

The saving gospel is what happened 2000 years ago (1 Cor 151-11; John 20:10-31) not what happened 2 years ago

so a story of God’s work in my life *even when it is Christ-exalting* is not the right foundation 4 anyone’s faith. #SubtleDanger

Hire Character. Train Skill. (Peter Schutz)

Servant: faithful, reliable, teachable, available, motivated

colouring, collections, snacks, singing… The ever-present need for Acts 6:1-7 in children’s ministry

Teaching children takes more preparation than teaching adults. Without it you’ll either communicate nothing or lies #LetThemCome

The most important, most foundational thing children need to know is that they are children of Adam #LetThemCome

 

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David & Goliath

Question: What does 2 Timothy 3:15-17 say is the purpose of Scripture? How many aims of Scripture are given in this passage? Are there five or two or basically one?

That might sound like a bit of an obscure academic question but it came up recently at a training conference and it’s actually very important. It boils down to: are we wrong to say that the key purpose of every Old Testament story and song is to lead us to Christ Jesus and an ever-increasing trust in him for salvation? Are we being naïve and simplistic and missing all the other ways we can legitimately use the Scriptures – to teach moral principles, to rebuke immorality, to give people hope in their circumstances, to train people in useful strategies for overcoming problems and making the most of their lives?

I want to argue that there is only really one purpose of Scripture given in 2 Timothy 3:15-17: to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (cf similarly John 5:39-40). All the other uses of Scripture are fit within this as different aspects of this one aim.

The key purpose is stated unambiguously in verse 15. The sacred writings (the Old Testament here) are able/powerful to make you wise for salvation in Christ alone by faith alone. Such a statement cannot be made about any other writings or philosophies. Before moving on it’s worth dwelling on the awesomely wonderful thing this is – to have a book which leads to salvation. Some might be impatient with this as a goal, wanting to find self-help tips or a moral compass or specific guidance or a manifesto for social transformation. But for those who have a right view of eternity, and heaven and hell, and our depravity and lostness and the greatness of Jesus, then this is a wonderful verse.

I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing,—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book] …. I read His book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. (John Wesley, Preface to Sermons)

Then we move on to verses 16 and 17 and the first thing to note is the word ‘profitable’. When Paul uses this word elsewhere (e.g. Titus 3:10; 1 Tim. 4:8) it usually has to do with the profitableness of preaching of the gospel of grace. And he always means eternal profit – not life tips to help me now but what will profit for eternity. There may also be an echo of Jesus’ famous words “what does it profit…” which also have to do with eternity in contrast to this world.

We then move on to what could be four more aims, but perhaps it would be better to see these are just more specific applications or uses of the main statement about Scripture being able to make you wise for salvation. Each one starts (unlike the wording of v15) with a “for”. It’s worth looking carefully at the precise vocabulary here:

  1. “For teaching/doctrine” – When Paul writes to Titus he uses this word to mean “the doctrine of God our Saviour” (2:10) quite apart from (but essential grounds for) the specific ethical implications. The sound doctrine is all about the grace of God appearing in Jesus, God saving us apart from works (2:11-14; 3:4-7). Another interesting place is Romans 15:1-7. Here Paul gives a worked example of how the OT is for our ‘teaching’ (same word). In this passage he reads Psalm 69 as a Psalm about Christ’s sufferings and draws the practical lessons for us who have been welcomed by this Christ. In this way the OT was “written for our teaching… that through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4) – i.e. they are for teaching us Christ, encouraging us in him, teaching us to live a Christ-shaped life, a life of hope, longing for him.
  2. “For reproof” – The noun form is very rare in the NT but its root is ‘proof’ and the verb form means to expose or convict. So it is not simply rebuke (reproof and rebuke are distinguished a few verses later – 2 Tim. 4:2); it is proving wrong on the basis of evidence. It could be in relation either to wrong living (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:19-20) or, as in Titus 1:9 and v13, in relation to wrong teaching. And there in Titus it is by holding to sound doctrine that one will be able to reprove the false teachers (1:9). Again in Titus 2:15, ‘reproof’ is in the light of the gospel of grace and designed to bring people back to this gospel (2:11-14).
  3. “For correction” – The exact word is unique in the NT but its root is ‘to make straight’, also used at Titus 1:5: “For this reason I left you in Crete, in order that you should straighten further the things that are wanting.” And how is Titus to straighten things out? By appointing faithful elder-teachers and by himself reproving false teaching while declaring and insisting on the gospel (1:13; 2:15; 3:8).
  4. “For instructing/training in righteousness” – There is a very close parallel to this phrase in Titus 2:12 where it is grace (in the sense of the historic saving work of Christ) which ‘teaches’ (same word as that translated ‘instruct’ or ‘train’ in 2 Tim. 3:17) us to live ‘righteously’ (again same root word as in 2 Tim. 3:17).

Beyond word studies it’s interesting to note the ways Paul himself, in his letters, uses the Scriptures to teach, reprove, correct and train.

  • The letter to the Romans could very largely be described as ‘teaching’ or ‘doctrine’. When Paul uses the OT Scriptures there (esp. in ch. 4; 8-11; 15) it is to teach about the unrighteousness of man, justification by faith in Christ, suffering in Christ, and the great plan of salvation history centred on Christ. And this is to Christians who already know these things (Rom. 15:14-15).
  • Galatians could be basically described as ‘reproof’ – a stern indictment of the church that they have deserted the gospel – and there Paul uses the OT extensively, to preach justification by faith in Christ who became a curse for us, to show how Promise is more basic to the OT than Law.
  • 1 Corinthians is basically ‘correction’ – they haven’t denied the gospel to the extent of the Galatians but the gospel is assumed and so there are piles of problems to be straightened out. And how does Paul straighten them? By applying the gospel of Jesus as found in the OT Scriptures – the wisdom of God (cf. 1-2), the Passover Lamb (ch. 5), the Rock in the desert (ch. 10), the sin-bearing death and new creation resurrection of Christ (ch. 15).
  • Philippians could be described as a ‘training in righteousness’ letter and notice again how does Paul use the OT there? Most clearly at Phil. 2:10-11 where he stunningly shows that something said in Isaiah of the LORD was about the crucified and risen Jesus and so, in the light of that reality, we should have the same humility as the God-man our saviour and Lord.

To sum up – 2 Timothy 3:15-17 is not giving us 5 aims of Scripture but one purpose – to preach the gospel to us. Paul states that purpose in v15 then goes on to give four aspects of gospel preaching.

So please, please, please, may we hear lots and lots of Jesus-centred gospel preaching from Exodus, from Ruth, from Samuel, from Kings, from the Psalms…

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Free-the-Word21

At the ministry training today two things came out particularly strongly for me:

  1. The gospel is for believers. Fidel preached on 2 Tim. 2 and wonderfully brought home verse 1 – be strengthened not by your bank balance or friends or vague hopes or false promises but be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Then in Colossians 1 we saw that we mustn’t move on one inch from the gospel we first heard (v23). The way to get people mature in Christ is… to preach Christ (v28).
  2. God has given us books. Not a random pick-and-mix collection of verses. I’m getting increasingly excited about preaching and discipleship and training that is basically just going through books. Instead of coming up with our own ideas and complex schemes and finding verses from all over the place to support that, how about taking the books that God has given us and seeing what the particular message and target of each of them is and just let them do what they’re there for. So instead of coming up with 10 points on gospel ministry that we think the apprentices need to know at the beginning of their year, let’s just let Fidel preach 2 Timothy – a letter all about handing on the baton of gospel ministry. Instead of us trying to come up with an introduction to the doctrine of God, the gospel, expository preaching and how to live in the light of the gospel – let’s just go through Colossians.

Notes from the day:

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