Archive for December, 2013

Through the Bible in 80 Tweets is complete!

December 21, 2013

Through the Bible in 80 Tweets is now complete.

To those who followed throughout, thank you, I hope you enjoyed it.

To those who didn’t, it is not to late to read it on line – follow the link “Start from the beginning”, or to buy the book on line, either in paperback or on the Kindle – follow the link “Buy “Through the #biblein80tweets” NOW.

To all of you, I wish you a very Happy Christmas and trust that you will continue to read the Bible in 2014.

David Cooke

(80) They are not just idle words for you – they are your life – Deuteronomy 32:47

December 21, 2013

In 80 short tweets we have covered the story of the Bible, from creation to the end of the world – and beyond. It is 66 books and yet one book that has turned the world upside down.

Through the Bible we have encountered many great characters who have much to teach us. Abraham was a man of great faith. Jacob struggled with God and set an example in perseverance. Joseph, despite being sold into slavery by his brothers, was able to forgive them and see that God’s hand was on his life. Moses thought that he was beyond being useful until God called him at the age of eighty to lead two million people through a desert to the promised land. Joshua felt inadequate to the task that God set them but found strength in God being with him.

Elijah courageously stood up for God’s standards in dark days. Amos upset the market traders by challenging their fraudulent practices. Hosea demonstrated God’s broken heart for his people through the pain of his on broken marriage. Esther came to a unique position of influence at a time of crisis. Peter let Jesus down but went on to lead the church. Paul put Christians to death but became Christianity’s strongest defender.

All these people set us examples to follow in their different ways. We cannot be like all of them but we need to follow David’s example when it is said of him that he “served God’s purpose in his own generation” (Acts 13:36). That is all that any of us can do.

But the central character of the Bible is Jesus. He was active in creation and came to earth as a baby, born to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy that he would be the “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and would reign on David’s throne forever. Jesus was an amazing teacher and showed great compassion to individuals but his prime purpose in coming to earth was to bring in the new covenant, promised through Jeremiah, by dying to bring us forgiveness of sins, so enabling us to have a relationship with God.

This is the message of the Bible and it has the power to transform our lives. Moses told the people of Israel that the words that God had given him “are not just idle words for you – they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). We have only skimmed it with these 80 tweets but I’d encourage you to continue to follow the example of Ezra who “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord and to do it” (Ezra 7:10 – ESV). This is a life-long journey.

If you have never read the Bible then read Luke’s gospel which starts with the Christmas story and gives a rich account of the life of Jesus. Or, if you prefer the quick-fire approach, read Mark’s version in his gospel. Then read about the growth of the early church in Acts and some of the letters such as Romans or James. If you want to get a broader overview of the story of the whole Bible then read “Through the Bible in 80 Days” which combines Bible readings with explanation.

There are parts of the Bible that are harder to understand and we can all benefit from sharing the experience of others. Get involved with a local church where you will meet people who are also on the journey to understand it better and to put it into practice in their daily lives. If you have not been to a church before then find an Alpha course which will provide an excellent introduction to the basics of the Christian faith.

We will never fully understand everything in this life, but the Bible has the power to open our eyes to God’s perspective on the world and change our thinking forever. As David wrote about God’s words,

“They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:10)

(79) Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them – Revelation 21:3

December 20, 2013

At the beginning of the Bible we see a world that is good. For two chapters everything is perfect. Then in the third chapter of Genesis we are introduced to Satan, the accuser and the one who seeks to undermine the relationship between man and God. Towards the end of Revelation we read more about Satan and his efforts to spoil everything good in God’s world and to destroy as many people as he can.

He is depicted as a dragon, accompanied by fallen angels, at war with the archangel Michael and his angels. He is thrown out of heaven where he has been accusing God’s people to God and from there he is banished to the earth where he makes war on “those who keep God’s commands” (Revelation 12:17).

Satan has many ways to deceive people but one of the most subtle is the lure of material things. The world’s commercial system brings many good things to people but also has great power to corrupt those who make money from it at the cost of human exploitation and misery. The more interconnected we become the more opportunity there is for all of us to become guilty by association with this system which is symbolised by “Babylon the Great” (Revelation 14:8) in Revelation. She is overthrown and utterly destroyed and this news is welcomed with praise in heaven.

Satan is finally dealt with in the third chapter from the end of the Bible. After making war on God’s people and deceiving many, he is “thrown into the lake of burning sulphur” where he is “tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

After this, Jesus, who is both God and knows the human condition from personal experience, will judge every man and woman that has ever lived. He is uniquely qualified to see to the heart of every issue and everyone is judged “according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Revelation 20:12). This will be an intensely personal experience for each of us as we face a judge who will fully understand our every action and motive. We may be able to deceive a human judge, who can never be 100% sure of our motives, or even ourselves, but we will not be able to deceive Jesus.

If the final outcome of the judgement was made purely on what each of us has done then none of us would qualify for a place in the new heaven that John is about to see. But, as John wrote in his gospel, the good news of the Bible is that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) and in Revelation the final decision about each individual is made by reference to “the book of life” (Revelation 20:15) which records the names of those who have believed. After the dead have been judged, the future for those whose names are found written in the book of life is described in the final two chapters of the Bible when perfection returns.

John sees, “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1) and a new city of Jerusalem. The magnificence of this new city is hard for John to comprehend and, yet again, he struggles to describe what he sees. This is a place of perfection and those who want to persist in their pride and wrongdoing will not be allowed in. They would not enjoy God’s presence. But for those who do enter the new city, God “will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Although there is much in the book of Revelation that is hard to understand, the message of the glorious future hope that awaits those who put their trust in what Jesus has done for them and opens the door of their lives to him is very clear. This is not an exclusive, hidden offer but has been openly advertised by the Holy Spirit and by the church for two thousand years. The offer is for all: “Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).

(78) Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come – Revelation 4:8

December 19, 2013

After receiving the letters to the seven churches, John sees a door into heaven and is invited to “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (Revelation 4:1). He sees God on his throne in heaven surrounded by the four living creatures that Ezekiel saw who are praising God and saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). Again John struggles to find words to describe what he is seeing. He is in the presence of the one who is ultimately worthy of all praise: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:11).

John then sees a series of events in heaven that impact the world. Seven seals are opened on a scroll, seven trumpets are sounded, seven bowls are poured out and each event is accompanied by disasters on the earth. In among the symbolic language we can see references to war, famine, disease, earthquakes, ecological disaster and death which come on the earth. Some would see this as events still to come in the future while others point out that these things have happened throughout history. The times when the world has been free from war are very rare. Famine has affected people throughout the ages as it does still today in Africa and other parts of the globe. In the fourteenth century a quarter of the population of Europe was wiped out by the plague. It seems that Revelation has been relevant from the time when John saw the vision until today.

The situation we face in the world, with so much pain and suffering, natural disasters and man’s inhumanity to man raises a big question about God. Where is he while all this suffering is going on? Revelation provides an answer to this question by looking at it from God’s perspective, not ours.

The main thing to note is that John sees God on the throne. He remains in control throughout. None of the disasters are allowed to come on the earth without his permission, and they are limited in their scope and duration. When Jesus was talking about the end times he said that, “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive” (Mark 13:20).

But if God is in control then why does he allow such things at all? Revelation talks about God’s wrath or anger being poured out on the earth. God’s anger is not a sudden burst of emotion like ours but is an expression of his steady, unyielding hatred of sin. He knows the damaging impact that sin has on those who commit it and on the others they affect. Worst of all, it destroys man’s relationship with God, robbing individuals of fulfilling their potential. God cannot ignore man’s wrongdoing and has to deal with those who break his laws. He is determined that the world will one day be perfect again.

But God is also slow to anger and compassionate. How can we reconcile this with the disasters in Revelation? Until Jesus returns, God is allowing time for everyone to respond to the offer he has made for us to repent and turn to him. When everything is comfortable we are inclined to ignore him, but pain and trouble brings our attention back to God. As C S Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (C S Lewis in The Problem of Pain). God’s purpose will be worked out through the troubles and John saw “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne” (Revelation 7:9). God’s offer of salvation will be available to all peoples and some will respond from every group.

If we try and understand every symbol in Revelation we will lose sight of the main message of the book which is that, whatever is going on around us on earth, God is reigning in heaven and he is in control of what is happening on earth. We cannot expect to understand the detail of his purpose day by day but we can trust him, secure in our knowledge of the big picture.

(77) If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person – Revelation 3:20

December 17, 2013

The last book of the Bible is a revelation about the future that God gave to the apostle John. Its name is taken from the first word of the book which is ‘Apocalypse’ in the Greek or ‘Revelation’ in English. It starts with seven letters to churches and then gives us a heavenly perspective on what will take place on earth between the time it was written and Jesus’ second coming. It ends with the creation of a new heaven and a new earth where God’s people will be with him forever. It is included in the Letters section of the New Testament in the Bible Bookcase but is more like one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament in style.

Revelation is a difficult book to understand and there are many different views on how to interpret it. It is full of symbolism, including much from the Old Testament, which would have been understood by its original readers but which can be lost on a 21st Century audience. As an example, the number seven, which appears many times, represents completeness or perfection.

The book starts with John, who has been imprisoned on the island of Patmos, receiving a startling vision of Jesus. John, who had lived alongside Jesus as a man for three years, now sees him appearing in a different form. He sees someone “like a son of man” (Revelation 1:13) – a name that Jesus used for himself taken from a prophecy in Daniel – walking among seven lampstands representing seven churches in Asia. (The Roman province of Asia was in the west of present day Turkey. John was based at one of the seven churches, Ephesus, and Patmos is an island off the western coast of Turkey). John struggles to describe the man he sees and keeps using the word ‘like’: “The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters” (Revelation 1:14-15). John is overwhelmed in his presence but Jesus tells him to write down what he is about to see.

He is then given messages for the seven churches, each of which follows a similar pattern. The church is commended for its positive qualities and then receives a strong challenge. Three are rebuked for following false teaching while three are challenged for the state of their faith. In Thyatira some tolerate immorality in the church. Ephesus has abandoned its first love and Laodicea is described as lukewarm. These rebukes are followed by a call to repent and return to true teaching and practice. Ephesus is warned that if it doesn’t repent Jesus will remove its lampstand. He will not allow churches that don’t stay true to him to continue indefinitely.

The most well known call to repentance is to the church in Laodicea: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). The artist Holman Hunt painted a picture of Jesus knocking at the door of a human heart which can be seen in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The door is overgrown, indicating that it has not been opened for a long time. When it was pointed out that the artist had made a mistake as the door had no handle he replied that the handle was on the inside. Jesus will not force himself into our lives. The decision to allow him in has to be ours.

Each letter ends with a plea to persevere, a promise to the one who perseveres through life’s trials, and a solemn charge: “Whoever has ears, Let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7).

Churches, like people, have unique characteristics. Some are more fervent than others, some are strong on the teaching of the Bible, some on serving the community, while others have settled into comfortable inactivity. The challenge of the letters to the churches in Revelation is that Jesus is not ambivalent about the state of each church. He assesses each one and passes judgement on the positives and the negatives, requiring each church to address its shortcomings and stay true to him whatever the world around it thinks. The letters also challenge each of us as individuals to open the door of our hearts to allow him to come in and be part of our everyday lives.

(76) God is love – 1 John 4:16

December 16, 2013

John wrote five New Testament books, his gospel, three letters and Revelation. He is traditionally thought to have been the youngest of the apostles and wrote late on in his life so making his books the last written in the Bible. John lived in Ephesus in his latter years and his first letter, 1 John, may be a circular to the churches in that region. 2 & 3 John are short letters to individuals.

John’s main theme in his letters is God’s love for us and our love for one another.

Love has its origin in God. John sums it up by saying that “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The use of the word ‘atoning’ would have brought to Jewish minds the annual Day of Atonement when the high priest took blood from sacrifices and sprinkled it on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. This was how the people’s sin was dealt with under the old covenant. The sacrifices restored the relationship between God and man, making them ‘at one’.

Under the new covenant Jesus came to die for us and, through his sacrifice, dealt with our sins that block our relationship with God once and for all. God, in the ultimate expression of his love, took the initiative to make us ‘at one’. And he went much further than that as he adopted us as his children, something that John still finds amazing: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).

The best love that we can show to one another will flow from God’s love for us. John gently urges his readers: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). This love for one another is not a nice warm feeling. John sets the standard very high when he tells us that “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). If our love is to match God’s standard then it will be costly and sacrificial.

We can only love if we are in right relationship to God and to one another. John tells us that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5) and this means that we have to deal with our own sin by bringing it into God’s light and confessing it. If we hide it then we remain in darkness but “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice we can, and will, be forgiven. In the same way we are to walk in the light with others, loving our brothers and sisters.

John would be happy just to talk about love, but he is well aware of the dangers that his ‘dear children’ are facing from those who would seek to undermine belief in Jesus and who he is. John writes that “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:2-3). The modern comic strip view of the antichrist as a frightening monster is far from the picture John paints of subtle philosophies that seek to set up alternatives to Jesus as the way to God.

The last letter before Revelation is from Jude who introduces himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude 1). Like James, he did not want to claim anything special from his relationship as a brother of Jesus. He sets out to write positively about salvation but finds himself having to address false teachers and their teachings.

Jude ends with an a wonderful expression of the confidence we can have in God’s ability to sustain us through all life’s troubles: “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 24-25).

(75) A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone – James 2:24

December 13, 2013

Between Hebrews and Revelation, the last book of the Bible, there are seven letters from close associates of Jesus during his time on earth. Peter and John were two of his twelve apostles while James and Jude were Jesus’ brothers. Because they are so small – 2 John and 3 John are less than half the length of this article – they are shown on mini-shelves on the Bible Bookcase.

James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem and he addresses his letter primarily to Jews, encouraging them to stand firm in the face of trials. He even tells them to be joyful when experiencing trials as persevering in our commitment to God in all circumstances is the path to maturity.

James writes a lot about the importance of what we say, He tells us to “be quick to listen” and “slow to speak” (James 1:19) as, although the tongue is just a small part of the body, it can have a hugely negative impact. James calls it “a world of evil among the parts of the body” (James 3:6). Men can tame animals but cannot tame their own tongues. Like a horse that is controlled by a small bit or a ship that is steered by a tiny rudder, so the person who can control what they say will avoid many pitfalls.

While Paul emphasizes the importance of justification by faith – the fact that we cannot earn our salvation by what we do – James emphasizes the importance of demonstrating our faith through deeds. He is challenging those who claim to believe but whose lives don’t reflect that faith. He, like Paul, uses the example of Abraham and says that his faith was no good without deeds, as his actions provided the evidence for his faith. He concludes that “a person is considered righteous [or justified] by what they do and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). This doesn’t contradict the message that we can do nothing to earn our justification, it just indicates the importance of true faith. Paul agrees: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).

We have two letters that Peter, the leader of the twelve apostles, wrote to churches. 1 Peter contains a lot of practical teaching on living the Christian life, including how to deal with trials and suffering, our relationship to civil authorities and the importance of loving one another.

A dilemma that faces every Christian is how to share the good news that we have with others. We have all seen over-zealous Christians who ram the message down the throats of everyone they come into contact with which can have a very negative impact. Peter, who was always the first to open his mouth in every situation, has some wise advice. He tells us first to “Live such good lives among people that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12). It is when our lives become the message that we will get the questions, so we must “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

2 Peter was written shortly before Peter’s execution. As one of the remaining eye-witnesses to Jesus’ life on earth Peter underlines the importance of remembering his teaching and of the Old Testament scriptures which were inspired by the Holy Spirit. He refers to “our dear brother Paul’s” letters as “Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16), indicating that the New Testament books were circulating among the churches a few decades after Jesus’ death. He denounces false teachers and stresses the importance of being prepared for Jesus’ return to earth by being “spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:14). He warns that many will scoff at such an idea, denying that the world was created by God’s word and ignoring the fact that he will one day bring it to an end (see Peter 3:3-10).

Both James and Peter were greatly used by God in their generation and have left us a legacy in their letters, but both were humble and left the same message for those of us who would think too highly of ourselves: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6, similar to James 4:10).

(74) Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see – Hebrews 11:1

December 12, 2013

After Paul’s letters there is a large letter called Hebrews. This is because its content is aimed particularly at Jewish believers, although this does not stop it having a wider relevance for all. The author is unknown.

It starts with a few majestic statements about how God has spoken through Jesus in contrast to the message of the prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus is God’s own son, “whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:2-3). This Jesus has become our “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14), the one who mediates between us and God and who brought in the new covenant.

In contrast to the old covenant, where the priests offered sacrifices for sins repeatedly, Christ offered himself “once for all” (Hebrews 9:12) and not with the blood of animal but with his own blood. All the symbolism in the old covenant sacrifices point to Christ’s sacrifice. The priests that stood day by day offering the same sacrifices were symbols of our great high priest who offered one sacrifice for all time and then “sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12) to indicate that his work was complete. Everything that we need for our redemption (having our past sin dealt with), our salvation (being declared right before God), and our sanctification (being purified from our sinful nature day by day), was accomplished through Jesus’ sacrifice. The new covenant, announced by Jeremiah (see Hebrews 10:16, quoting Jeremiah 31:33), has become a reality.

This truth ought to so captivate our hearts so much that it changes our lives forever, but the human heart has a constant tendency to forget and drift away from God’s truth and from God himself. The writer to the Hebrews is well aware of this – all the New Testament letter writers are pastors as well as teachers – so he warns his readers of the dangers and urges them to persevere in their faith. He uses the example of the Israelites in the desert to warn against hardening our hearts. Sin deceives us into drifting away and some even lose their faith altogether despite having seen the goodness and power of God in their own lives.

The way to avoid this is to take advantage of what Jesus has done in opening up access to God so we can “draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings” (Hebrews 10:22). If we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins then we can be 100% certain of being accepted by God. We draw support from others and are encouraged to “spur one another on towards love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24) as we meet together with other Christians. We are to love one another, show hospitality, remember those in prison, honour marriage, resist the lure of money, and respect our leaders, not making their lives difficult.

Hebrews contains a famous chapter on the heroes of faith. The writer defines faith as, “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). This is not blind hope or wishful thinking as he demonstrates by listing men and women of faith from the Old Testament. Enoch pleased God through his faith, Noah saved his family, and mankind, through his faith, Abraham lived his life in faith in God’s promises to him and these were passed on by Isaac and Jacob. Moses led the people out of Egypt in faith, Joshua led them into the promised land in faith, and Rahab the prostitute saved herself and her family through her faith.

“The world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38) of such people and our challenge is to imitate their faith as we take on the challenge of running the marathon that is our own, unique life. To succeed we need to avoid becoming weighed down or entangled by sin. Our ultimate example is Jesus himself who suffered hostility and was prepared to go to the cross for us because he believed that there would be great joy beyond his death. If Jesus could endure the cross for us, then surely as we consider his sacrifice we too can endure the temporary sufferings of this life knowing that we will receive much more in the life to come (see Hebrews 12:1-3).

(73) All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training – 2 Timothy 3:16

December 11, 2013

In addition to writing to churches Paul also wrote three letters to church leaders, two to Timothy and one to Titus.

Paul met Timothy in Lystra on his first missionary journey and when he passed through on his second journey he invited Timothy to join him. Timothy had a Jewish mother and had been brought up to know the Old Testament scriptures. He became one of Paul’s closest and most trusted companions and like a son to the older man. After Paul was released from prison in Rome they travelled together again until Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to deal with issues in the church there. Titus was another of Paul’s travelling companions who Paul left on the island of Crete to appoint elders in the churches he founded on the island.

The main theme of all three letters is warning against false teaching and those who teach it. Paul warns Timothy and Titus against those who discuss myths, genealogies or other speculations which lead to distractions from advancing God’s true work. He is stinging in his attack on those who preach prohibitions on marriage and eating certain foods declaring that “everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Some of the false teachers used their position to gain financially and Paul warns against the dangers of wanting to get rich, “for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10 – sometimes misquoted as “money is the root of all evil” which is not what Paul is saying).

Paul gives a comprehensive description of how people will be “in the last days” – meaning the time between Jesus ascent into heaven and his return – saying that they will be “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). This list contains a challenge to all of us in our attitudes as all are potential dangers to us on a daily basis. The final one confronts the tendency for us to become religious, making our Christianity into a ritual rather than a living, powerful relationship with Jesus.

The antidote to all this is sound doctrine, something that Paul encourages both Timothy and Titus to teach and this is based on a sound knowledge of scripture. He tells Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We are to approach God’s word expecting to be taught how to live, to be rebuked or challenged about how not to live, to seek correction where we realise our failings and, by regular, repeated application, to become trained and experienced in how to live right before God and in doing good to those around us.

Church leaders are there to teach sound doctrine and refute error, but it is interesting to note that Paul is far more interested in their character than their head knowledge: “The overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2-3). We learn more from a leader’s example than from their words.

2 Timothy is the last letter we have from Paul’s hand, written from prison in Rome. He is expecting to die soon and longs to see Timothy before he dies as many have deserted him and others like Titus are engaged in work elsewhere. Only Luke is still with him. Imprisoned and cold, he asks for Timothy to bring his favourite cloak.

Paul’s impact on the spread of Christianity is impossible to underestimate. His journeys spread the good news about Jesus to the heart of the Empire but his writings have provided a treasure store of material for Christian living which has been invaluable to Christians throughout the centuries.

(72) And so we will be with the Lord forever – 1 Thessalonians 4:17

December 10, 2013

Paul’s letters to the Colossians is a warning against “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8). The Greeks loved discussing ideas and philosophy and it seems that people were already coming up with different ideas about who Jesus was. Some denied that he was God or included him as one of many gods. Others saw any real knowledge about God as a mystery which was only available to those with special access.

Paul strongly refutes this saying that he wants everyone to “have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Colossians 2:2). We can all know Jesus who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15), the one who created all things in heaven and on earth, and the one who is supreme over all things. Jesus shows us everything we need to know about God, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (Colossians 1:19). We don’t need to add anything to the message of who Jesus is and what he has done.

Another part of the Greek philosophy was that the way to deal with our sinful tendencies was to impose harsh rules and regulations on ourselves about what to eat, what to do and how to worship. Paul describes those who teach such things as puffed up and having “lost connection with the head” (Colossians 2:19) and says that although such regulations “have an appearance of wisdom” they “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Colossians 2:23). He goes on to provide practical advice based on a knowledge of who Christ is and what he has done for us.

Paul also wrote a very short letter to a man who lived in Colossae called Philemon about his slave, Onesimus, who had run away from his master and ended up supporting Paul while he was in prison. He asks Philemon to receive him back not as a slave but as “a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 16). Whilst not condemning slavery as it was practiced at the time, Paul was always concerned that masters should treat their slaves with dignity and respect.

We have two letters that Paul wrote the church in Thessalonica. After moving on to Athens he was concerned to hear how they were dealing with the persecution they were facing and sent Timothy back to strengthen the church. Timothy returned with a good report and Paul wrote to express his joy at what he had heard.

He goes on to give particular teaching about what happens when we die. He does not want the church “to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The hope that Christians have for a better life after death comes from the resurrection of Jesus. After we ‘sleep in death’ “we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17), a glorious prospect that is beyond human comprehension.

Paul also talks about “the coming of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15) which is a major theme for both 1 & 2 Thessalonians. As the angels promised to his disciples after he ascended into heaven, Jesus will return to earth. Some in the church had heard a rumour that this had already happened but Paul assures them that no one will miss this event. He wrote that “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” and that those who are still alive at that time will be taken up “to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). In line with Jesus’ teaching, Paul promises that much trouble will come on earth before Jesus returns but the timing of this event is unknown and will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Rather than trying to work out when Jesus will return, our priority is to stand firm in our faith and be ready at all times.