A Fitting Title
A few years ago our church's men’s groups studied 1 Timothy and Titus, using a great study-guide by John Stott. Stott’s commentary on the same two epistles is entitled, Guard the Truth. It’s no mystery why the commentary is named that. Here are a few texts from Paul's two letters that support the choice of that title.
1 Timothy 1:3-4 - As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer  nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work–which is by faith.
1 Timothy 3:14-15 - Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that,  if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
1 Timothy 4:1-2 - The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
1 Timothy 6:3-5 - If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching,  he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions  and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
1 Timothy 6:20-21 - Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,  which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you.
Titus 1:9 - He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
These are just a few of the more obvious texts on the need (indeed, the command) for Christians to guard the truth.
Of Majors and Minors
Throughout the study the discussion kept coming around to the oft-cited observation that, like the culture, there doesn’t seem to be a high premium on truth in the Church today. While this may be a given outside the Church, it should not be so within her walls.
This isn’t to say we ought to appoint “thought police” within to start arresting folks who don’t “think like us.” Nor does it mean every issue is worth fighting and dividing over. There are some things, secondary things, that godly people can disagree over and still not reject the authority of God’s Word, the central doctrines of the faith, and the unity God desires for his Church.
I’ve often shared with folks that when I graduated from seminary I wanted to debate every last detail of every last doctrine. As I have gotten older, and hopefully matured some, I have found the list of things I care to debate has become shorter. However, the things I do hold dear are not only worth debating, but worth dying for.
United Methodist Ordination
The ordination service in my denomination declares and asks,
“Remember that you are called to serve rather than to be served, to proclaim the faith of the church and no other, to look after the concerns of God above all.
“Do you believe in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
“Are you persuaded that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and are the unique and authoritative standard for the church’s faith and life?
“Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry.”
I’m proud to say that, at least on paper, my denomination cares about the truth of God’s Word, so much so, that ordained clergy are tasked with preaching, teaching, defending, and living it.
One of the best parts about attending the ordination service each year at my denomination’s Annual Conference is that God reminds me of my own calling. He reminds me that we in our day, as Jude pointed out in his day, are still heralds and guardians of the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
What’s true of me as an ordained pastor is true of every Christian. May we all faithfully guard and share the truth our Lord has entrusted to our care, not as arrogant fools, but as humble stewards of the God who so loved the world that he sent the Truth himself.
Make a list of the most important Christian beliefs you hold dear and explain why you chose them. What is it about them that qualifies them to make your “to die for” list? How does your list compare to the major historic creeds of the church or of your denomination? Jesus clearly desires the unity of his church. What role does truth play in that unity?
Grace and Truth,
The United Methodist View of Scripture
What is the United Methodist view of Scripture? Is there an official view? I know what the Discipline says, but how much latitude do we allow, one way or the other, before we say a particular view is out-of-bounds? Those are some of the questions we as a denomination have been wrestling with for quite a while now.
Several years ago, at my denomination’s Annual Conference, I heard a phrase (used by two different people) that got my attention. The phrase was, “We take the Bible seriously, but not literally.”
“Seriously, but not literally.” What does that even mean? Does that strike you as a slight of hand? What does it mean to take the Bible literally?
As a former member of the theology team of the Board of Ordained Ministry in my conference, I have been a part of many meaningful conversations about a candidate’s view of Scripture. However, my observation is, in some instances, suggesting a candidate takes the Bible literally is shorthand for saying the candidate takes the Bible a little too seriously.
Taking the Bible Literally
Yet, from everything I’ve read on the subject, taking the Bible literally means, quite simply, reading the Bible according to the literature-style in which it was written. We know there are many kinds of literature in the Bible. There is gospel, epistle, poetry, apocalyptic, wisdom, historical narrative, hymns, etc. They are not all to be read in the very same way. That would be folly. Furthermore, I have yet to read someone who holds a high view of Scripture who believes the Bible should be read in such a way.
Many of the folks I’ve talked to who hold a certain disdain for the notion of biblical inerrancy, for example, have never read a single book by an inerrantist on the subject of inerrancy. Instead, it seems many critics of inerrancy are often reacting to the very worst caricatures that have been built into conference folklore over the years. And frankly, who would want any of those caricatures to come to life and serve a local church in our conference? Not me!
Your Stigma Against My Dogma
I’m not saying concerns about inerrancy (or, at least, folks who hold that view) are completely unjustified. I am saying few people in United Methodist circles have read much on the subject and thus have the worst possible view of it. That doesn’t strike me as very open-minded, something on which we United Methodists pride ourselves.
I would like to see an end to the negative stereotypes of folks who hold a high view of Scripture. I would like to hold a high view of Scripture without being accused of bibliolatry (the view that the Bible, and not God, is being worshiped).
Let me be clear: I’m not defending any and every bad interpretation that has come along in the name of Scriptural authority. Both sides of the debate have clearly misused and even abused the Bible. What I am for is a holy and reasonable discussion, free of character assassinations and straw men (or straw persons, if you prefer).
Let’s Actually Take the Bible Seriously
Let’s roll up our sleeves together and do the hard and responsible work of rightly interpreting the Bible, all the while, maintaining a grateful, joyful, and humble attitude toward the Bible’s inspiration, authority, and sufficiency in our lives. We won’t always agree, but we can still disagree with integrity. Text management (i.e., “I like this verse, so it’s authoritative for me; I don’t like that one, so it’s not.”) is not the reasonable, mature, wise, or godly way to go about it.
Our denomination will not thrive without truly taking the Bible seriously.
What are some ways you as an individual Christian can begin learning how to take the Bible seriously and literally? What are some ways a denomination can agree on the Bible’s authority and still disagree on various interpretations, with integrity? What are some ways a denomination (or individual Christian) should not interpret Scripture?
Grace and Truth,
Where There is No King
There’s a prophetic and sobering verse at the end of the Book of Judges, one which speaks directly to us today. Judges 21:25 says, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Another translation puts it this way: “in those days Israel had no king, and everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.”
The Book of Judges, and that verse in particular, sets the context for the Book of 1 Samuel, which describes Israel’s sinful desire and demand for their first human king.
Judges 21:25 tells us there was no accepted authority over the people of Israel. They no longer submitted to the King they already had. They weren’t content with their invisible, yet divine, King. Thus, the people did whatever they wanted to. We too live in a culture that makes light of any authority outside ourselves. Many of us know parents who have abdicated their rightful authority in their own homes, schools where students do not recognize the authority of the teachers, and communities where citizens no longer respect police officers as authorities in their lives.
So too, the Church at large no longer commands the respect of authority it once did. How often we have heard words to the effect, “Well, my church believes such and such, but I don’t.” Perhaps most sadly, the Bible, the Holy Word of God, is no longer held up as the authority in the lives of many. How often have you heard someone dismiss something the Bible plainly teaches because, according to them, the Bible is nothing more than what ancient people wrote a long time ago, and therefore isn’t relevant to our day and age? That sentiment is so often expressed it’s practically a cliché.
We too might say, “There is no authority in our day, and each person does what is right in their own eyes.”
Our culture is confused and many in the church are following the culture’s lead.
When there is no recognized authority to govern and lead a people, then the people themselves become the measure for all things. You can imagine the chaos which would ensue if each person in a city, large or small, thought he or she was his or her only authority. Such a conclusion would lead us to ask the same question as the late Francis Schaeffer: “How should we then live?”
Rock or Sand?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of two builders who built two homes, which based on casual observation looked basically the same. Yet our Lord tells us there was a profound difference between them. One house was built upon the shaky foundation of sand. The other house was built upon the sure foundation of rock.
Jesus was teaching that we are all builders of lives. And, according to Jesus, we’re either building our lives on the sand or on the Rock. Furthermore, when Jesus spoke of the sure foundation which should undergird every sphere of our lives, he had something particular in mind. He said the only foundation that can give us the strength we need to withstand the raging storms of sin and crises is his Word – both hearing and obeying it.
Francis Schaeffer compared this idea to the small bridges throughout Europe built by the Romans 2,000 years ago. He said those small bridges have lasted centuries and centuries because they were strong enough to support people and even horses and carriages. Yet, he pointed out they would immediately crumble if a modern-day 18-wheeler were to drive across one of them. They are strong enough for the light load, but the heavy load would destroy them.
God’s Word is the sure foundation we need for every sphere, season, and circumstance of our lives, for the light and heavy loads.
Continue in What You Have Learned
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith, to make this very point. Paul reminded Timothy that he knew Paul’s teachings and his way of life. Timothy knew how greatly Paul was persecuted and suffered for the faith. Timothy knew how God rescued Paul from all of that. He then reminded Timothy all Christians would be persecuted, and false teachers would run rampant, and even become more blatant in their deception.
It was in that context Paul encouraged Timothy to continue in what he had learned from the Holy Scriptures. He then explained to Timothy why the Holy Scriptures should be Timothy’s authority for his salvation, faith and life. “The holy Scriptures,” Paul wrote, “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16).
Every culture in every age is in desperate need of a transcendent authority that does not blow with every wind of change. Every person needs a clear and true Word from God to guide them through this life and safely into the next. God’s word provides all that and more.
John Wesley beautifully expressed this idea. He wrote,
“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. Only God is here.”
God’s God-Breathed Book
The Bible is authoritative and sufficient for us, Paul says, because it is God’s book. It is God-breathed. Some translations say “inspired,” but the N.I.V. gets it right. The idea is not that the Bible is inspired in the way we might say, “The actor in the play gave us an inspired performance.” Instead, the meaning of the phrase, “God-breathed,” literally means words breathed out by God. Paul is teaching us the words of Scripture are literally God’s words to us. We have in Scripture precisely what God wants us to have, the way he wants us to have it.
What did God, as John Wesley put it, condescend to teach us? In addition to the way to heaven through Christ, Paul indicated all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. We have been given Scripture for a reason. Paul reminds us that Scripture is sufficient for all our needs and should be our comprehensive guide and authority for every sphere of faith and life.
Reformed writer, R.C. Sproul, once shared the story of a time when he was preaching on the authority of Scripture. After the service was over he saw a familiar face walking toward him. It turned out to be his college roommate. Sproul had not seen him for many years. His friend had gone to the mission field for three years after college and then came back to the U.S. to attend seminary in New York. Sproul had attended seminary in Pittsburgh and then went to Europe for doctoral studies. They had lost contact over the years.
Their reunion was a happy one, and they decided to catch up over dinner. During dinner, Sproul’s friend said to him,
“R.C., before we begin visiting, I want to tell you that I heard your sermon tonight where you affirmed your confidence in Scripture as our authority for life. But I have to tell you, after having been a missionary for three years where I learned about many other religious books, and after going to Seminary in New York and learning about biblical criticism, I don’t believe in the authority of Scripture anymore.”
Sproul said he was a bit surprised to hear his old friend say this, and so he asked him, “Well, what do you still believe?” His friend said, “Oh, I still believe that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord.” Sproul said he was delighted, of course, to hear that. However, his friend’s answer led Sproul to ask a follow-up question. “You say that Jesus is your Lord. Can you tell me how Jesus expresses his Lordship over you? That is, a Lord is someone who issues commands. How does Jesus, as your Lord, give you your marching orders?”
His friend said that it was through the church. Sproul responded by asking, “What church? The Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran church – what church?” His friend answered, “through the Presbyterian church.”
“Which Presbyterian church?” Sproul asked. “The one in New York or the one in Dallas or the one in Atlanta?” “The General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church,” his friend responded. Sproul followed by asking, “Which General Assembly, the one that voted one way last year, or the one that voted a different way this year?”. “Well, I guess I have a problem,” his friend conceded. “Yes,” Sproul said, “You have a Lord who is unable to exercise Lordship over you.” (from Sproul’s video: “Hath God Spoken?”)
Give Me That Book
Is Jesus your Lord? In truth, Jesus is Lord whether you recognize him as so or not. Yet, he exercises his Lordship through his Spirit working through his Word. Thus, we must hear his voice in the pages of Scripture and obey them. Let us say with John Wesley, “O give me that book! At any price, give the book of God! Here is knowledge enough for me.”
Only the Spirit of God working through that book, the Bible, will lead you to Christ and the real, abundant, and eternal life that comes through faith in him. Only God’s Spirit working through God’s Word will sanctify you, making you more and more like Jesus. In a world full of people, ideas, and activities competing for your allegiance, there’s only one standard worthy to be your sure foundation. May it be for you the Word of God.
How often do you study the Bible each week? How has the study of it taught, rebuked, corrected and trained you in righteousness? What are other authorities in your life competing for your allegiance? When do you find they have the most influence over you? Today, prayerfully recommit your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and bow to his authority found in his Word.
Grace and Truth,
Peter Making A Point
Five times in the first chapter of 2 Peter, we find a form of the word knowledge. Five times! That alone should at least grab our attention.
More than likely, Peter’s letter was a response to the “secret knowledge cults” and the Gnostic heresies of his day. For them, knowledge wasn’t available to all, but only to those who had “the inward spark” of divinity and who attended the secret and sacred initiation rites.
Knowledge for Christians, however, is public knowledge. Specifically, it is knowledge of God and his Son Jesus Christ, which is eternal life (John 17:3). It is in Christ that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Col. 2:3). This is how we gain grace and peace. Peter writes,
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2)
It is by God, through God, and for God that we are given everything we need for life and godliness. Our access to this comes through knowing him (v. 3). Peter encourages us to add knowledge to our faith (v. 5). Furthermore, he beckons us to seek godly qualities in increasing measure because they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But Not Just Any Knowledge
What all of this means is, knowledge matters. But not just any knowledge.
It is true Paul cautions us about knowledge which puffs us up with pride. But that’s only if we value knowledge as an end in itself. Instead, knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ gives us eternal life, grace and peace, and affects the way we live. In short, knowing God influences every sphere of life.
It is in and through the revealed Word of God that true, life-giving, life-transforming knowledge resides. Let us rejoice that our Lord has not left us alone to grope in the dark but has given us the light of knowledge – the light of his Word – which impacts every sphere of a godly man's life. This is surely why Peter closes his letter with these words,
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)
Based on this devotional, what does it mean to know God? What are three ways in which that knowledge makes a difference in your daily life? What are three ways you can grow in that knowledge? Are you presently meeting with other Christian men to study God's Word and pray together? If not, prayerfully consider two or three other men you might begin meeting with to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Pray about that today and contact them tomorrow. Get started before this time next week.
Grace and Truth,
Everyone Is A Theologian
Godly men know that, for good or ill, everyone is a theologian. We each think thoughts and imagine ideas about God, even if those thoughts and ideas are that God does not exist. Some have plumbed the depths of theology while others have only skimmed along the surface. Regardless of one's efforts or abilities, thinking theologically is unavoidable.
Far from being dry, boring, and stale, theology ought to be spirit-renewing, soul-forming, and life-transforming. It isn't (or, shouldn't) be merely for academic and intellectual pursuits, but instead, to draw us closer to God and conform us more to his likeness. Thinking more intentionally about God should lead us to know him better and love him more. Indeed, the more we learn of God's magnificence, the more worship, joy, and gratitude ought to break out among us. In fact, it will become impossible to contain our pleasure brought forth from our discoveries of the person and work of God.
Soli Deo Gloria
The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: "What is the chief end of man?"
The answer: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever."
To increasingly know ("about" and "relationally") and love God leads men pursuing godliness to seek their Lord's glory in all aspects of their lives. They shift from self-centered to God-centered lives in which every sphere is integrated because each is connected to and empowered by God, who is at the center. And each part exists to bring God the glory due his name.
Studying textbooks about God alone won't accomplish all of this. But pursuing God more intentionally will move us in the right direction of knowing, loving, following, and trusting God, as well as seeking and submitting to his will. This is theology at its best.
Brothers, is God your chief pursuit and greatest desire?
Soli Deo Gloria,
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