Vision

In Paul's second letter to Timothy he writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) My prayer for this ministry is that by rightly dividing the Scriptures, I might be able to facilitate all those aspects of the Scriptures to the benefit of all those who visit this website.

Mission

The mission of this ministry is to be consistent with Jesus' original command to his disciples: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" Matthew 28:18-20

Personal Disclosure

I am a fellow traveler who doesn't have all the answers and still makes many mistakes. However, I am desperately in love with Jesus Christ, the one and only King of kings, and I am so amazed that he knows exactly who I am and yet still died on the cross for me, then rose from the dead and called me to be His follower!

God's Message To You

"Dear Child,

I wanted you to know just how much I loved you so I sent my only Son, Jesus, to tell you and show you. If you make the decision to believe in Him, then you and I will be able to spend eternity together! I Love You!" (John 3:16 paraphrase)

Method

“Here there is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment.

Here there is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without freedom to think.

Here is vibrant evangelicalism—freedom to think within the bounds laid down by Scripture.”

Dr. Vernon Grounds

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Lies Beneath


(Audio Version; Music: This Love I Know--by RMC Worship & Richie Fike--WorshipMob--Real Live Music) 





Introduction

            One of the things that really irritated Jesus was when the religious leaders engaged Him with ulterior motives by trying to trick Him into saying something they could use against Him. It infuriated Jesus when the religious leaders put on a pretentious show for the people or when they used or manipulated the people to advance their agenda of building and maintaining their wealth and power. On one of the many occasions when Jesus condemned the Pharisees and teachers of the law, he said: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Mt. 23:27-28).” Jesus hated hidden agendas. Not because He could be deceived but because He knew that the people could be deceived and would inevitably be hurt by the hidden agendas of the religious leaders. The religious leaders were taking advantage of the people and Jesus spent much of His ministry exposing them. The deception wasn’t something that happened all at once but gradually over an extended period of time. But Jesus wanted the people to understand that God isn’t interested in popularity or outward appearances, He’s interested in What Lies Beneath.

            “Agenda” can be defined benignly as a list of items to be discussed at a meeting or plan of things to be done or problems to be addressed. No problem so far, right? However, it is also defined as the underlying intentions or motives of a particular person or group. This is the one that causes trouble for so many people especially religious leaders. Now don’t misunderstand me, everyone has an agenda of some sort. If anyone ever tells you that they have “no agenda,” I promise you they’re lying. Everyone has an agenda. What we need to figure out is What Lies Beneath a person or group’s agenda. Sometimes an agenda is perfectly harmless and even beneficial but sometimes What Lies Beneath an agenda can lead people down the road to destroy themselves, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Let me show you what a destructive agenda looks like in the Church.

            My daughter, Elizabeth, is majoring in applied health on her way to medical school but she’s also minoring in biblical studies. Part of the deal I made with her before she went off to college is that she would pay for the text books related to her major and I would pay for the text books related to her biblical studies provided I got the books when she was done. Last semester I got the small stack of theological books Elizabeth finished using for her classes. One of the books was Struggling with Scripture. It’s 69 pages long and written by Walter Brueggemann, William C. Placher, and Brian K. Blount. However, I want to focus primarily on the section written by Walter Brueggemann. Throughout the section he wrote, he focused on the belief that no one can be absolutely certain of all the things the Bible seeks to teach us. He goes on to say that we must always be prepared for the Spirit to teach us something new. Furthermore, Brueggemann believes that we must use our imagination to open our minds to possible new meanings of the text. Throughout Brueggeman’s writing he kept using the example of the church’s historical teaching on homosexuality to make his point. I disregarded it at first but by the end of his section, something was nagging at me that I couldn’t put my finger on when he wrote: “What if liberals and conservatives in the church, for all their disagreement, would agree and put their energies to the main truth against the main threat? This is not to sneak in a victory about gays and lesbians for anybody, but to say that the issues before God’s creation (of which we are stewards) are immense; those issues shame us in the church when our energy is deployed only to settle our anxieties…Recently, an Israeli journalist in Jerusalem commented on the fracturing dispute in Israel over who constitutes a real Jew—orthodox, conservative, or reformed. And said he about the dispute, ‘If any Jew wins, all Jews lose.’ Think about it: ‘If any Presbyterian wins, all Presbyterians lose.’”[1] Wow it sounds so great doesn’t it? It sounds like something everyone could rally around and agree on. It sounds exactly like something everyone wants to hear. However, I began to wonder what Brueggemann would consider to be the “main threat” that Christians face. I couldn’t leave that nagging feeling alone so I did a little research into Walter Brueggemann and here’s a bit of information that you might not know. Brueggemann is the Old Testament professor at Colombia Theological Seminary (CTS). Do you know anything about Colombia Theological Seminary? They are affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA). Are you seeing the agenda yet? Brueggemann wrote the section of the book attributed to him back in 2002 and has since retired from teaching at CTS. Now if we fast-forward 12 years to the year 2014 we learn that the PCUSA General Assembly voted to allow their churches to perform same-sex marriages. Additionally, the General Assembly voted to divest itself of any financial interests it held in Israeli companies as a show of support for Palestinians. Not surprisingly, Brueggemann is also a vocal Palestinian supporter. Did the light just go on for a few of you? I thought so. What seemed like such a wonderful rallying cry of unification and a call to open-mindedness when it comes to biblical interpretation was really an effort by Brueggemann (and no doubt many others) to advance an agenda. For decades, Brueggemann and other religious leaders of the PCUSA taught the things that people wanted to hear; the things that sounded so unifying; things that seemed to make sense; things that demonstrated open-mindedness and inclusion but what they really did was they let the Devil in the door. I have no idea what Brueggeman considers to be the “main threat” facing humanity but let me see if I can help the good professor out since it’s the same threat humanity has been facing since the beginning of time—Satan’s lies and his never-ending desire to separate us from God. And nothing aids Satan more than religious leaders who are more interested in being liked and popular than they are in telling the truth. Remember, everyone has an agenda. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived by fine sounding arguments from anyone. It’s your job to be sure you understand What Lies Beneath a person or group’s agenda. Paul warned Timothy that a day would come when the people wouldn’t care to hear the truth but instead would insist on teachers who taught them the things they wanted to hear; the things that would make them feel good about themselves and their lives—even if that meant condoning sinful behavior or twisting the clear teachings of the Scriptures.

Subject Text

2 Timothy 4:1-5
           
1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Context

            This letter, known as one of the Pastoral Epistles, contains some very important lessons from Paul. You see, this letter was written by Paul from a Roman prison while he was awaiting his execution. There’s something about people condemned to death—they seldom mince words and Paul was no different. There was an ever increasing danger of false teachings surrounding the young Church that Paul was constantly battling in addition to outright unbelief: “They were increasingly endangered by a judaizing-gnostic countermission that included church leaders and probably coworkers. Some house churches were ravaged and near collapse.”[2] Paul’s letters to Timothy were not only intended to instruct but also to encourage Timothy to always be prepared to faithfully and diligently carry out his calling and to persevere in the face of coming hardships. Paul anticipated that there would be some who would abandon the truths of their faith and turn to false teachings. The Pastoral Epistles “Anticipate such behavior ‘in later times’ (1 Tim 4:1; cf. 2 Tim 3-4).  But they already know of false teachers who have ‘missed the mark with regard to the truth/faith’ and who ‘upset the faith’ of some in the church (2 Tim 2:18; 1 Tim 6:21). Some ‘will depart from the faith’ (1 Tim 4:1) and ‘will turn away from hearing the truth’ (2 Tim 4:4). Departure from the faith comes from accepting ‘teachings of demons ’” (1 Tim 4:1).[3] As I said before, false teachings by religious leaders serve to let the Devil in the door and leads to division in the Church.

Text Analysis

            For vv. 1-2, it’s important to remember that Timothy is Paul’s protégé and here we see that Paul is passing the torch on to Timothy to continue Paul’s work. The Greek that translates: “I give you this charge” is a technical term that has multiple meanings including the term for the official transfer of office. This is a solemn moment as Paul organizes his affairs in anticipation of his imminent execution. Paul invokes the witness of God and Christ in the deed with the reminder of the things that await us: That Christ will return in the final days as the ultimate Judge of all things and the establishment of the Kingdom. “All of v. 1 is thus a shout to lean into God’s certain future that is even now becoming present. But the commission still needs to be filled out in practical terms.”[4]

The practical terms of ministry for Paul, and by extension for Timothy, are identified broadly as five elements: 1) Preach the Word; 2) Always be available and prepared; 3) Rebuke/correct; 4) Encourage; and 5) Minister with great patience and careful instruction. It is important to remember that these ministry elements are given to Timothy in the context of an oath. This is evident by the aorist imperative verb tense used. “Timothy is to preach the word. As it conflicts with the Ephesian heresy,[5] he will need to confront the false teachers and their teaching, rebuke those who will not listen to him, and exhort those who will listen and follow the true gospel…Timothy must have complete and total patience, and his teaching must inform his preaching, confronting, rebuking, and exhorting. While Paul is thinking of Timothy in this verse, what he says is true for all Christian ministers.”[6] There are many interesting Greek words found in this text but I’d like to focus briefly on one:  This is the word for “rebuke.” The word is used twenty-nine times in the New Testament but only once by Paul. It is an extremely strong word that is used by Jesus to rebuke demons. Paul tells Timothy in his first letter to Timothy that demons promote false teaching. I touched on this earlier and I’ll come back to this at the end but remember where lies originate from and false teachings are nothing more than cleverly disguised lies.

Vv. 3-4 are at the heart of this week’s lesson. In v. 3 Paul warns Timothy of a time when people will reject proper and sound teaching. Actually, they won’t just reject sound teaching, the text says, “they won’t put up with it.” Instead, they will insist on surrounding themselves with teachers that will tell them what they want to hear. They don’t want teachers that will tell them the truth, they want teachers to make them feel good about themselves and the lives they have chosen to live. “In this case the problem is viewed more from the angle of weak, sinful believers who are willing to be duped. Paul describes those who have surrendered to worldly values and sinful passions of various sorts so much so that these things determine the kind of teaching they will listen to.”[7] Paul describes it as only wanting to hear what their itching ears want to hear. So they gathered about themselves only those who would scratch that itch. The term can be understood as a metaphor intended to “Depict an appetite for novelty that cannot be satisfied; the metaphor implies that the false teachers will ‘scratch’ (satisfy) the itchy ears for them.”[8] Or else it can mean “A pleasant tickling more than scratching of their ears.”[9] In either case, “This group has a curiosity so active and a craving for novelty so insatiable that they are driven to extremes without any discretion for judging between truth and error.”[10] As if rejecting sound teaching weren’t bad enough, they crave and pursue false teachings and myths instead.

V. 5 contains the closing instructions and encouragement directed at Timothy. Clearly Paul envisages some difficult times ahead for Timothy when a clear and level head will be needed for his sake and for the Church’s benefit as well. Paul is certainly familiar with the difficulties and dangers that come with ministry—particularly since he is writing to Timothy from prison. Thereafter, Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” seems a bit out of place here only because it hasn’t really been included in any part of Paul’s instructions to Timothy previously in this section of the text. But remember that Paul is turning over the ministry to Timothy and Paul, more than anything else, was an evangelist. In fact, Paul was known as the evangelist to the Gentiles. Timothy needed to receive and carry this torch as well from Paul. Finally, Paul generally restates his charge to Timothy in his final statement. V. 5 draws a dramatic distinction between the behavior of those who are unfaithful and the faithfulness with which Timothy is to carry out his ministerial duties in service to those already a part of the Church as well as those who may yet become part of the Church.

Application

            Charismatic leaders, in this case religious leaders, can say virtually anything they want without question. Truth is irrelevant! People only want to hear what makes them feel good about what they think should be true so they can feel good about the sinful lives they are living or about the sinful culture they want to be part of. I have to tell you that I see this more and more every day and it breaks my heart when religious leaders advance false teachings. Let me take you back to something I referenced earlier by telling you a story from a long time ago. I’ll share the relevant part of the story:

            Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Gen 3:1-6)

Remember when I told you earlier where false teachings come from? Well here we have the father of lies doing what he does best—deceiving God’s followers! You might also note that Satan didn’t drag Eve kicking and screaming to the tree and cram the apple down her throat. No, I suspect her ears were itching and Satan was more than happy to scratch the itch.

So let me again say something to you from the deepest part of my heart—don’t be deceived! Please be willing to listen to the truth even if it is very difficult to hear and be willing to speak the truth even if it is very difficult to say. Don’t simply go along with what someone says just because it affirms what you believe or how you live. First see what God’s Word says and then think for yourself! I wish I could somehow convey to you how serious this matter is. My professors at Seminary used to say: “You have a duty as a follower to follow only the Truth even if it leads you to the cross and as a Pastor to teach only the Truth even if it means leading someone to the cross.” It won’t always be easy but sometimes we might have to have some very hard conversations with family and friends about the Truth of God’s Word. We must be willing to hear some very hard truths contained in God’s Word about our own lives and make the changes necessary to conform to those truths. The truth of God’s Word is life giving even if it means the death of certain long-held beliefs or sinful behaviors. Those hard truths might just save us from destroying ourselves. Let me share an illustration with you about this principle that might help. I have friends who have a young son that was diagnosed with cancer in January 2010. Hearing those words from the medical professionals was certainly heart-wrenching, but the hardest truths were yet to come when the doctors began educating them about leukemia and the grueling treatments that would be needed in order to save their son’s life. It was a long and difficult road but he completed his final treatment in June 2013. With his cancer in remission since early 2010, he’s now a senior in high school and making plans for college![11] Now what do you suppose would have happened if the doctors and nurses didn’t want to tell his parents the hard truth that their son had cancer or what if they didn’t want a doctor or nurse to tell them the truth about what it would take to heal their son? Well you can guess that for yourself.

            When I entered seminary, I thought I just needed to learn the finer details of the Bible and I’d be properly equipped to be a pastor. However, my professors did something I will always be grateful for: They challenged my long-help beliefs and insisted that I always knew why I believed what I believed and that what I believe must always be rooted in the truths of the Bible. They challenged me to constantly examine the agenda of my ministry; what really motivates my teachings; What Lies Beneath. I want to challenge you to do the same about your life generally and about your life of faith specifically. Have you been deceived by religious leaders who have been telling you what you’ve been itching to hear; teaching you the things that will help you fit in and live peacefully in a sinful culture; teaching you how to ease your tormented conscience while continuing to live a sinful lifestyle? Remember that everyone has an agenda—you do and so do I. The agenda for this ministry can be found in the Mission and Vision statements at the top of the website. What you don’t see is What Lies Beneath: The desire to love God with my whole being and to love others as myself. Are you willing to examine the agendas of your life; why you believe what you believe? Are you willing to do the difficult and sometimes painful work of digging beneath your own agenda to reveal What Lies Beneath?




[1] Walter Brueggemann, William C. Placher, and Brian K. Blount, Struggling with Scripture, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), pp. 26; 28.
[2] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 661.
[3] Ibid., p. 44.
[4] Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2006), p. 600.
[5] The Ephesian heresy was an aberrant form of Judaism combined with Gnosticism. It emphasized the Law but minimized Christ and faith. It taught the virtue of asceticism and denied the resurrection. It produced sinful lifestyles and was destroying the Church’s reputation in Ephesus.
[6] William D. Mounce, WBC Pastoral Epistles, (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, 2000), p. 573.
[7] Philip H. Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1994), p. 205.
[8] Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, p. 604.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid., pp. 604-605.
[11] September is childhood cancer awareness month—pass it on!