Sunday, January 31, 2016


Paul's Parting Word: Fulfill Your Ministry

This is a sermon I preached to seminary students in the Spring of 2015 in a seminary chapel.  Here is the outline of the sermon.  I am indebted to many sources for the material below, and I wanted to make sure my students understand that these notes represent my reading of other sermons, some commentaries, and lexicons/dictionaries.  I hope it is a blessing to you.  

Paul’s Parting Word:  Fulfill your Ministry!

2 Timothy 4:1-5

1. Fulfill your ministry because Jesus is coming, and when he does, he will judge. 

“His Appearing”: The word epiphaneia could be used in two special ways. It was used for the obvious intervention of some god, but it was specially used in connection with the Roman Caesar. His ascension to the throne was his epiphaneia; but it was also used to describe his visit to any city or province. When the Emperor was due to visit any place, everything was put in proper order. Streets were swept and decorated and all work was brought up-to-date so that the town might be fit for Caesar's visit. So Paul says to Timothy: “You know what happens when any town is expecting the visit of the king; you are expecting the coming of Jesus Christ. Do your work in such a way that all things will be ready whenever he appears.” So we should so order our life that at any moment we are ready for the Christ's appearing.

Paul understands that God is omnipresent and we cannot escape him or his gaze, but soon we may well be in God's presence in a more literal way. It is as if Paul cautions us to remember that God is watching us. Jesus will one day return and then there will be judgment. Some will rise to be blessed and will receive the reward due them. Perhaps most urgent, when He returns it’s too late to do his work. What a sobering charge! One day we will all face the Lord Jesus Christ as a righteous judge. We will stand before Jesus one on one, and give an account for our lives. Romans 14:12 says, "So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." What will we have to show for our time spent on earth as believers? What will we say? Will we be able to say anything, or simply bow our heads in shame? Every generation of Christian leaders faces that same prospect!

2. Fulfill your ministry by preaching/teaching: Proclaim the message, preach the Word—Paul refers back to chapter 3:12-17 here. Paul is telling Timothy to proclaim the inspired Scripture, but it is also to proclaim the message.  What message?  The one Paul has diligently passed on to Timothy.  There is a reminder of discipleship here.  Paul is writing a letter to his disciple, his son in the faith, and it is a last word or a dying wish if you will.  He is telling Timothy, “I entrusted these things to you, now you pass them on to others.”  2 Timothy 2:2 “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.”

A W Tozer: "I heard of one graduate of a theological school who determined to follow his old professor’s advice and preach the Word only. His crowds were average. Then one day a cyclone hit the little town and he yielded to the temptation to preach on the topic 'Why God Sent the Cyclone to Centerville.' The church was packed. This shook the young preacher and he went back to ask his professor for further advice in the light of what had happened. Should he continue to preach the Word to smaller crowds or try to fill his church by preaching sermons a bit more sensational? The old man did not change his mind. 'If you preach the Word,' he told the inquirer, 'you will always have a text. But if you wait for cyclones you will not have enough to go around.'”  

"Preach the word." The word "preach" means to herald, or proclaim publicly. Paul encourages Timothy to boldly and vigorously proclaim the Word of God. The Word of God, the Bible, Sound Doctrine, the kind of things you should be learning in seminary.  These are the things you need to entrust to others.  Let the text determine your message.  Stick to the context.  No need to try to help the text out with your own flourishes, simply let God’s Truth speak and let the Spirit convict. 

Persist in preaching the word: “in season and out of season” Verse 2 continues, " instant (ready and prepared) in season, out of season." It didn't matter if the time seemed favorable or not. It didn't matter if Timothy felt well or not. It didn't matter if there was a ready audience or a rebellious audience. It didn't matter if there was a big crowd or just a few. Timothy must always see himself on call, on duty, ready and prepared to serve, ready and prepared to share, the Word of God. 

Barclay says: The Christian teacher is to be urgent. The message he brings is literally a matter of life and death. The teachers who really get their message across are those who have the note of earnestness in their voice....Any man with the note of urgency in his voice demands, and will receive, a hearing from other men. The Christian teacher is to be persistent. He is to urge the claims of Christ "in season and out of season." As someone has put it: "Take or make your opportunity." 

The Greek here for “Be ready” means something like "Stand right up to it" (according to Spurgeon), be prepared, take a stand, carry on, stick to it. “In season and out” carries the idea of urgency.  We must do this urgently and at all times. We must preach when it is convenient or inconvenient, whether we feel like it or not! We should always be on duty and take advantage of every opportunity for service.

Teach with patience:  Timothy must preach the Word impartially.  We must preach to all equally. Verse 2 concludes, "..reprove, rebuke, encourage with all patience and doctrine." Timothy was to administer the Word of God as it was needed. The Word of God is described in the Bible as a fire, hammer, and a sword, and as such it has many applications! To some, it meant reproof. The word "reprove" means to correct, which involved pointing out their faults and errors. As pastor, Timothy must tell people where they have gone wrong, and what they need to do to correct it. To some it meant "rebuke." The word "rebuke" means to confront using sharp words with authority. It involves warning someone in order to prevent an action. As pastor, Timothy must not mince words when it came to turning people from sin and destructive behavior! This alone is enough to get most pastors of churches in America, fired (according to Leonard Ravenhill). If a pastor starts reproving and rebuking today, he may not last long. To some it means "exhortation" or encouragement. The word "exhort," means to comfort or encourage. Once someone is rebuked, the pastor must come along side of him or her in love, with encouraging words.

Timothy is to do all this with patience and sound teaching/doctrine. Timothy's words must be rooted and saturated with the truth of God's Word.  “Patience” here means “longsuffering” or “endurance” or some such.  The idea is that we are to fulfill our ministry of proclaiming God’s Word/Jesus with an eye toward the long haul.  This is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  Isaiah 6:11-13—"How long, Lord?" And He replied: “Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants, houses are without people, the land is ruined and desolate, 12 and the LORD drives the people far away, leaving great emptiness in the land. 13 Though a tenth will remain in the land, it will be burned again. Like the terebinth or the oak, which leaves a stump when felled, the holy seed is the stump.” Keep proclaiming God’s message until God tells us to stop or until God finishes his work. We do not determine the “fullness of time,” that is God’s job. We should simply obey. The key to success as a disciple of Christ is simple—obey. Fulfill your ministry even if the crowds leave. 

3. Fulfill your ministry even if everyone runs from it:  Paul does not minimize our difficulties. He comes right out and warns us that we may well encounter some very frustrating conditions as we fulfill our ministry. We will attempt to make God’s Word known with all our might, and like Isaiah we will find that people aren’t really interested in that. They may find somebody who suits them better. They may complain about sound doctrine. Eventually they may also believe anything but the truth. Remember that this section of 2 Timothy comes directly after Paul's reminder that all Scripture being inspired. In other words, people may well reject the truth.  It is not always enjoyable to hear.

The phrase "itching ears" in verse 3b, speaks of people who are more interested in being titillated, excited with pleasure, than being set straight. They will seek entertainment instead of enlightenment. People will often want to hear something that is positive instead of a message that convicts or speaks truth. “Itching ears” here has the idea of “hearing” that focuses on pleasure. Like my dog loves her ears rubbed, sometimes people will not tolerate truth. They will want to have their ears rubbed. Paul tells us that Biblical teaching and preaching often involves telling people what they do not want to hear, and making demands that they do not want to follow.

4. Fulfill your ministry with a clear head, endurance, and evangelism: If we’re going to attempt this, we must be personally fit for it: Be clear headed or sober minded. Know what we may face.  Be aware of the potential problems and make up our minds to endure. We should know by now that suffering may be part of the call. Regardless, do your job in spite of these things. Yes, it really is that simple.

Stay calm, collected, and focused in all situations. Verse 5 begins, "But watch thou in all things." The word "watch" means to remain calm and collected. It has the sense of being in control or temperate. There was once a Dry Idea deodorant commercial that said, "Never let them see you sweat." Unfortunately a pastor is never afforded the luxury of losing it. He must always stay in touch with his call and the expectations of his office.  

Always be ready to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Verse 5 continues, " the work of an evangelist." The word "evangelist" speaks of the bearer of good news! The "good news" of course is the gospel of Jesus Christ! Timothy was to share the message of the gospel at all times with all people. Timothy's preaching must always point people to Jesus Christ! Peter Wagner gives three parts to evangelism:  Presence, Proclamation, and Persuasion. We are to be living, breathing representatives of Jesus.  Serve others in word and in deed, that is true evangelism.

So, we are called to fulfill our calling and ministry. Verse 5 concludes, ". . . make full proof (make the most) of your ministry." The apostle Paul was telling Timothy to fulfill his ministry, to do all that God had called him to do. Timothy was no Paul. There was only one Paul. Timothy was gifted differently and given a different assignment. He was to fulfill his own ministry. The same is true for us.  As my mentor Dr. Bill Lane used to say, "Never covet another person's gift, and never despise your own."  Whether we are teaching a Sunday school class, working in a small group, greeting visitors with a warm smile and welcome hand shake, or preaching to thousands, we are to fulfill our ministry in our own way and with God's guidance.  We are not to endeavor to be "like" another minister, we should strive to be like Jesus in our service to others.  We must each fulfill our own calling.  What has God called you to do?  Do it with all your might!  Complete it as a humble servant looking for his king's approval. 

This solemn charge given by Paul needs to burn within each of us as believers in Jesus Christ. We are living in the "last days." These are "perilous times." We never know just when we will be called home, or when Jesus Christ will return to catch us out. Are you committed? If Jesus returned today, would He find you faithfully and effectively serving Him? How are we doing?  What are we building for Jesus?  What is our call, and how are we doing in fulfilling it for Christ's sake?  

It may be as simple as completing the degree to which God has called you, or writing that paper, or taking that test, or loving your neighbor or spouse or child . . . it may be something like sharing the love of God with someone who has been overlooked and denigrated . . . it may simply mean doing the right thing when nobody is looking.  Whatever it is, let us hear the great apostle to the Gentiles reminding us. . . Fulfill your ministry.  Finish what he has called you to do.  Be faithful, and get it done!  

Thanks for reading! 

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Saturday, January 09, 2016


Beautiful Mess: Appearances can be Misleading (Genesis 29:1-30)

Several months ago I was privileged to preach at Gospel Community Church in Lynchburg, VA.  We are going through a series on the book of Genesis, and our pastor (Andrew Moroz) asked me to speak on Genesis 29:1-30.  They recorded the sermon, so if you'd like to see and hear me preach this message, follow this link:  GCC Appearances can be Misleading .  I will also post the notes I used for the sermon below.  Please feel free to comment if you'd like.  I hope this sermon is a blessing to you.

Beautiful Mess: Appearances Can Be Misleading Gen 29:1-30

Intro: The Story so far:  Pursuit of the Seed (Gen 3:15) to destroy the Serpent and Sin. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. Jacob vs. Esau. Esau is angry, so Jacob has to leave. His mom encourages him to go to her hometown and find a wife there. On the way, he “meets God” in Bethel (i.e., Jacob’s Ladder—referenced in John 1 as being Jesus himself). Now, he makes his way to Haran. 
The Fairy Tale: Once upon a time a strong prince came to a magical well where sheep were watered. The stone covering the well was so enormous it could only be moved by all the shepherds working together. The prince saw a beautiful princess at the well… she was so beautiful he fell in love at first sight, and kissed her, weeping for joy. His love was so strong it enabled him to move the enormous stone, to uncover the well, and to water her flock. They went to see the king, who was overjoyed at the love match. The end.
But appearances can be misleading.  There was once a man who loved cars.  He saw an ad for a car a Cadillac for $100, so he went to see the car.  As he looked at the car, he realized that it was worth more than $100, and said to the woman selling the car:  "Ma'am, this car is worth more than $100."  She replied, "Yes, I know that.  But what you don't know is that my husband recently left me to be with his secretary, and he called me and requested that I sell his car and send him the money.  So I am."  Appearances can be misleading.  
The Real Story . . . Jacob is not quite as noble as he pretends, the beautiful princess is not God’s intended goal, and the king is not as honest and caring as he appears.  Three points—Jacob Takes a Trip, Jacob Takes a Job, Jacob Takes a Wife

Jacob Takes a Trip (vv. 1-12)
“lifting up his feet”—he has a new spring in his step since Bethel, but has he really changed? He travels 400 miles from Bethel to Haran.  Haran is his mother’s home town, so he hopes to find family there.
The well? (Remember Rebekah’s story here). Tries to get rid of the shepherd’s kind of like a boy getting rid of his kid brother so he can have time alone. The shepherd’s don’t buy it.
Jacob is unlike his father’s servant in that he is acting on behalf of God instead of letting God act on his behalf.  Jacob is still trying to make things happen on his own terms.  He sees Rachel, and he decides to pursue her.  He doesn’t ask for God’s direction, he simply bulls his way in. 
               Jacob shows off—he moves the stone by himself (to impress Rachel?  Here Jacob acts more like Esau), he waters her sheep, and he kissed her (the first kiss recorded between cousins “kissing cousins” and the first kiss in which a man kisses a woman that is not his mother or wife).  Jacob is being a bit presumptuous, it seems, and running ahead of God.  He pursues Rachel, he does not wait on God.  
               It appears here that Jacob may be casting off conventions in an effort to make a good impression. He is actually the despised son of his father, a man who cheated to get what he wanted from his brother, and a man who is even now trying to “help God out” in fulfilling the promise.  Jacob is not yet broken, he still thinks he can “fix” things.  Fresh off of his radical experience at Bethel and after hearing God’s promise, Jacob doesn’t humble himself and seek God’s guidance.  As usual, Jacob wades into the situation with his self-confidence in tow and tries to help God complete the promise.  Proud Jacob sees Rachel and decides to claim his territory without even asking if that is what God intended! 
               How are we like Jacob?  Where have we heard the promise of God about our situation or lives and yet keep trying to “help” God out? 

Appearances can be misleading—The manipulator tries to be a hero, but he is still manipulating

Jacob Takes a Job (vv. 13-20)
After Jacob introduces himself to Rachel, she runs to get her father.  Laban in turn runs to meet this young man.  Do you think Jacob made an impression on Rachel?  The fact that his mother’s family are running to meet him would indicate that the old Jacob charm was still working.  Of course, giving what we learn about Laban later, it may just mean that Laban thought he had a “sucker” on the line. 
“Kiss” and tell—Jacob receives a customary greeting and shares his story.  Does he tell all? Including the details of his trickery to his brother and father? Laban’s response “You are my own flesh and blood” could warn of issues to come.  We could hear these words as Laban’s ringing endorsement of his nephew. Or… maybe there the tiniest hint of warning. If Laban is perfectly suited to his nephew, might that mean that the deceiver has at last met his match? Time will tell—Appearances can be misleading.
Lonely Jacob finds a welcome place, a place to call home. For one month he enjoys hospitality and rest. He got to know Rachel better, and Laban got to see what kind of suitor/employee Jacob may be. This month brought both Laban and Jacob to the conclusion that a continuing relationship between them could be of mutual advantage.  But, appearances can be misleading, and the month-long vacation may be about to end as we move to the next scene.
Laban makes a proposition, and Jacob offers a counter.
Lackluster Leah vs Ravishing Rachel-- Please note the irony here: Laban has two daughters—an older one named Leah and a younger one named Rachel.  Jacob has an older brother too, remember their relationship?  Esau lost everything a first born could hope for, and he lost most of it by means of Jacob’s manipulation. Rachel and Esau were desirable, but Leah and Jacob not so much. “Cow” and “delicate” eyes versus “Ewe” and shapely beauty. Jacob chooses beauty over character. 7 years of labor=over $200,000 today.
Breaking convention yet again, Jacob responds to Laban’s proposition with a counter-offer, and both men think that they will win.  Appearances can be misleading, and this seven year engagement will not end exactly as Jacob plans!

Appearances can be misleading—What looks like help, may really be deception

Jacob Takes a Wife (and gets Taken) (vv. 21-30): The big day arrives.  After seven years of labor, 364 weeks, 2,555 days, Jacob goes to Laban and demands his pay!  “Give me my wife!”  Jacob may well have had this day marked on his calendar, the day the woman he loved enough to work for her for 7 years would finally become his wife . . . the beautiful romance will finally be fulfilled.  Most couples today wouldn’t wait 7 days to have sex, but Jacob has waited 7 years (and worked hard during that time) just so he can marry the woman he desires.  He wants to be paid. Laban calls a feast—but this won’t end well for Jacob. His emotion is boundless, his excitement is off the charts. He is finally getting the beautiful woman he desires! Jacob is focused, and after the proper amount of feasting, he heads to the marriage tent. But remember, appearances can be misleading.   Things are not as they seem.
Laban has replaced Rachel with Leah. We aren’t sure exactly why the switch is made (except for Laban’s excuse later). Perhaps Laban realized he could get more free labor out of Jacob? Greed could be the motive. On the other hand, imagine how the women here may have felt. Why did they go along with their father? Were they victims or participants? Was their competition between the two for Jacob (next week’s sermon)?
Jacob is deceived, but how did he not figure this out—the wedding veil and the alcohol may have contributed. The darkness of the tent may have been a factor. Remember, appearances can be misleading. In the dark, Leah may seem a lot like Rachel. (Jesus calls us to walk in the light).
Imagine the next morning. Jacob wakes up, light is streaming into the tent. He rolls over to kiss Rachel, and “Look! It’s Leah!” I can imagine he jumped five feet into the air, wrapped a blanket around him, and said, “What are you doing here?” I wish that conversation had been included. Jacob grabs his robe and heads to confront his father-in-law about the change in wages! What is this you’ve done? Why have you deceived me?
What irony that Jacob should repeat almost the identical words of Pharaoh to Abraham (12:18) and almost the same expression of Abimelech to Abraham (20:9) and Abimelech to Isaac (26:10).  Interestingly, the Hebrew verb translated “deceived” is cognate to the noun used in 27:35 to describe Jacob’s deception of Esau. Jacob is discovering what goes around comes around.  The deceiver is deceived. The trickster is tricked. The younger brother who supplanted the older brother finds that the younger sister whom he loves has been supplanted by her older sister, to his great dismay. And now it is Jacob’s turn to suffer.
Laban had a response (older marries first), but note the irony. Jacob had dishonored the principle of the firstborn by cheating his brother out of the birthright and the blessing. Now God forces him to honor the principle he had violated by marrying Leah first. And who had Jacob deceived? His father, Isaac. Now the deceiver is deceived by his father-in-law! Everything that goes around comes around.  Laban is going to change Jacob’s life forever. Up until this point, Jacob has lived by his wits. He has survived by relying on his native intelligence and his shrewd ability to take care of himself in any situation. Now, he finds himself agreeing to another seven years of labor for his love for Rachel.  Appearances can be misleading—the happy wedding day has turned into a bit of a disaster.
God trains Jacob by allowing him to meet his own sins in someone else. Now he knows what Esau felt when he was tricked out of something that was precious to him. Jacob is being made to see just how despicable his tricky ways are. It is all a part of the training in his life. If Jacob hadn’t stolen Esau’s blessing and had patiently waited for God’s intervention and timing, he would have had the financial resources to acquire Rachel immediately, rather than having to invest 14 years of his life, laboring for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Lesson: Taking short cuts and failing to trust God is costly! What a heavy price sin requires! Galatians 6:7 says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” Jacob has been sowing for a long, long time. Reaping day has come. He’s been sowing the seeds of deceit, and the harvest is about to come.  Jacob is deceived, yes, but he is also receiving God’s discipline (cf. Hebrews 12).
The story of Genesis is the quest for the “seed” to destroy the work of the serpent and the sin that came as a result.  Abraham receives a promise that his descendants would bless the nations.  Isaac carries the same promise (as does his son Jacob).  While Jacob looked to ravishing Rachel for the fulfillment of that promise, it will actually be lackluster Leah through whom God provides the seed.  Of the many children Leah produces for Jacob, two of them are named Judah and Levi.  From Levi the children of Israel will find a model prophet/leader named Moses.  From Judah they will receive a model king/leader named David.  These two men become the models for the future Messiah who will be known as a prophet, priest, and King.  Oh, and it is through Judah that Jesus is born according to human lineage. 
Appearances can be misleading—What looks like a problem may actually be a blessing

Leah is actually God’s provision (Things are not always as they seem)

Conclusion— We must remember that appearances can be misleading.  What we think are negative things may in fact be positive things.  While those things we sometimes cherish may turn out to be not as precious as we thought.  In fact, they may turn out to be stumbling stones for us.  The invisible or overlooked things in our lives may well be the vessels through which God provides the teaching and the lessons we need to become the children of God he intends us to be.
1) Make sure what you cherish is genuinely precious: Jacob loved Rachel, and his love for her is evident. Nonetheless, it was through Leah that the world would be blessed, and Jacob later realized that when he was buried next to Leah and honored her. What are the beautiful things we try to grasp? Are they really important to our lives spiritually, or do they just get our attention because they are flashy and pretty? Do we need to repent about putting too much faith in things that are not that precious?
2) What is overlooked may be vessels of grace: Jacob overlooked Leah, and she was the vessel of grace. Pay attention to the “overlooked” things in our lives. We may find a blessing there. God sometimes works out godly character in hard situations (Romans 5:3-4). God also will sometimes use weakness to reveal his strength. Or he will work through our weakness to show himself great (1 Cor 1:26-31).  

Appearances can be misleading

Application—1) Evaluate your situation: Are we trying to manipulate your situations? Are we trying to help God out? Where are we pretending to be a hero when we are not? Where are we trusting what looks good instead of seeking God’s guidance?  How are we like Jacob here?
 2) Value those who are overlooked: Who in our world needs attention?  Maybe we are the invisible and overlooked Leah, where do we go? Proverbs reminds us that to have friends we must be friends. Look around, and see who is “hidden” or “overlooked,” we may find a blessing. Remember, things are not always what they seem.
3) Accept God’s help/guidance: we must quit trying to be boss and let him lead. Where do we need God’s guidance? Where do we need his help? Will we be bold enough today to step out of our invisibility and come to the front of this building to say we are turning to him? Will we repent of putting our faith in what looks good on earth, and start looking for our help from God?

Thanks for reading!  

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