Sunday, September 21, 2014

You are what you do

Would you have sex for money?  What if it were only once?  What if it were a clean, healthy and attractive person, and the money was 100 million dollars?  And no one would ever find out about it? 

If you said “no,” then consider how high we might have to raise the price and how much privacy you’d need.  Would you do it for $4 Billion? 

Once you've said yes to this, congratulations: you are a whore. 
Now the only thing left is to negotiate your price. 

It works this way with other things, too.  For instance, if you would normally not steal, but you and your whole family is starving, and you see a chance to steal a million dollars without getting caught – you’re a thief.  Your personal situation and the amount to be stolen are just the price you’re willing to pay to become a thief. 

Consider this from the Greek Philosopher Epictetus:

The other day I had an iron lamp placed beside my household gods. I heard a noise at the door and on hastening down found my lamp carried off. I reflected that the culprit was in no very strange case. "Tomorrow, my friend," I said, "you will find an earthenware lamp; for a man can only lose what he has."

The reason why I lost my lamp was that the thief was superior to me in vigilance.
He paid however this price for the lamp:
In exchange for it he consented to become a thief;
In exchange for it, to become faithless.
(From the Golden Sayings of Epictetus, 1.1.XI - XII)

I read an article about a brain-study on dishonesty.  The author of the article about the study is a young journalist.  Her introduction was interesting:

 “What's the price on your integrity? Tell the truth; everyone has a tipping point. We all want to be honest, but at some point, we'll lie if the benefit is great enough.”

This woman has not only confessed to being a liar (which makes me wonder if I can believe her article) but she believes that everyone else is, too.  What she calls a “tipping point” is the price one is willing to pay to become a liar.  Does everyone have such a tipping point?  I don’t believe so. 

Most of us do have a tipping point, but it’s usually about different things.  I can’t imagine an event that would get me to deny Jesus, but Peter did it, and he had more faith than I’ll ever have.  As for stealing, my tipping point used to be pretty low.  But a man embarrassed me one day, and it changed me.  Stealing is no longer very tempting to me.  But I have other issues now.

This principle presents us with two challenges:

First, we should reflect on ourselves and our own weaknesses. 
What will you sell cheaply?  Are you so prone to loneliness that you’ll do anything that pleases others just to avoid it?  Are you so prone to depression that you seek excuses or comfort or other things to smooth it over?  Maybe your thing is greed, or power or image or physical appearance.  Or maybe it’s pride, arrogance and self-righteousness. 
Examine yourself.  Test yourself.  Find your weaknesses and go to work on them until they are no longer your weakest area … and then go to work on your new weakness. 

Second, we should reflect on others. 
Many people are just like the lying author.  They believe everyone lies, so it’s not that big of a deal.  We expect it of ourselves and others.  If you think about that, you may be tempted to be judgmental.  Or – you may be tempted to be proud of yourself and your successes.  This is where it becomes so vital to understand our Father and His Son.  They are perfect, yet offer both justice and mercy – in just the right measure, and at just the right time. 

Can you be merciful to others who have traded their identity for a price? 
Can you be just with them? 

Most of us tend to be one or the other.  Either we forgive everything or we condemn everything.  But learning to be exactly like Jesus – wow.  That’s a challenge. 

When we are born again, we become new creatures.  But sadly, we often carry a bit of Egypt with us, and eventually we sell our birthright for a bowl of soup. 

This first passage was written to tell a church of its responsibility to one another:

Strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and…
Make straight paths for your feet, so that which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
Pursue peace with all men [note: when the writer says “all men,” that’s a clue that he intends this to include outsiders, i.e., non-disciples – k.m.], and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.
See to it that no one [back to a church-specific command] comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.
(Hebrews 12:12–17)

Note here Jesus was speaking specifically to his disciples:

Jesus said to his disciples,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must:
·         Deny himself, and
·         Take up his cross and
·         Follow me
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?
Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
 (Matthew 16:24–26)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Thank God

God’s anger is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness….

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and … creatures.

God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

For this reason…
God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer…
God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful. 

Although they know God’s ordinances: that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
(Romans 1:18–32)

Paul’s words above have bothered me most of my life.  If you read them carefully, you’ll see that he describes a progression.  It’s a progression many (maybe most) of the people you know are going through.  It starts out small, but it ends up with people being depraved and just rotten.  But not only have these people become vile human beings, but they “give hearty approval to those who” do such sickening things.  You know these people – look again at the descriptive words, like “gossips” and “slanderers, arrogant, boastful, untrustworthy, unmerciful.” 

As if this weren't bad enough, consider that Paul wasn't writing about non-believers.  He was writing to a church about what can happen to Christians!  These are people who “know God’s ordinances,” who “exchanged the truth for a lie.”  These are Christians who have deteriorated into dreck. 

The reason this bothers me, however, is because of one simple and repeated phrase: “God gave them over.”  Those must be the most horrible words in all of scripture.  God gave up on people – He just let them go right down the drain.  If God lets you go, what hope do you have? 

Because this passage frightened me so much, I studied to understand how it could happen.  What is the thing that makes it possible for “good” people to go from a state of decency to a place where God gives up on them, and finally into the state of folly & depravity?  What causes this? 

  • Though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks
  • Professing to be wise, they became fools
  • They exchanged the truth of God for a lie
  • Worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator
How did this horrible process begin?  By a failure to honor God and give thanks.  

When we fail to give thanks, we are failing to acknowledge the many gifts of God.  When we are ungrateful, we become complainers and grumblers.  We are never satisfied, like God hasn't done enough for us.  We are warned many times about not whining, complaining, or grumbling. 

“Don’t grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”
(1 Corinthians 10:10–12)

Telling disciples not to complain is only part of it.  It can become merely another rule we feel we must obey.  The truth is that complaining is nothing more than the absence of gratitude.  It’s basically like shouting at God that He hasn't done enough. 

The people Paul mentioned who were destroyed were the same people God had brought out of Egypt, out of slavery.  But that wasn't enough. 
God gave them water to drink. But it wasn't enough
God gave them food daily, but it wasn't enough
God gave them health and clothing that never wore out, but it wasn't enough
God made them a nation of holy people, and gave them the Torah, but it wasn't enough
God was leading them to the land of promise, but it wasn't enough

What about us? 
Hasn't God also given you and me food, drink, houses, jobs and all sorts of good things?
Hasn't Yahweh healed us, rescued us from our sins and made us part of His Kingdom?
Hasn't He sent His only Son, so that we could live eternally?

Anyone who can read this, can read.  God has given us everything we need and promises us eternal life.  How can we not be grateful every single minute of every single day?  How can we not thank God continually? 

Only a spoiled, rotten little child whines and gripes and complains for “more.”  “I want” or “I don’t want to” are the expressions of ingratitude and they make God sick. 

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18)

Thank God.  
Thank Him all the time, “without ceasing.”  
Count your blessings more than once a day and realize how much God has given us.  

Gratitude helps us remember how blessed we are.  It helps us show others how great God is.  It builds faith.  And it will keep us from sliding down into darkness so far that God just plain “gives us over.” 

This is the love of God:
That we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Human Animal Christian

These, like unreasoning animals,
…born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed,
…reviling where they have no knowledge,
… will … be destroyed
(2 Peter 2:12)

These men revile things they don’t understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.
(Jude 10)

The study of science and nature is a joy.  The world God made for us is a witness to His power and wisdom.  Sadly, many who share my love of science have come to believe that the entire universe sprang from a teeny speck of magic stuff that exploded into all the universe.  From that one speck of stuff came Hydrogen, which then magically morphed into the entire periodic table of elements, many of which then combined to form molecules and these molecules in turn began to reproduce and from a pool of chemicals, life was born. 

Christians struggle with this, too.  Many seek to merge the atheist explanation of origins with those of the Hebrew Scriptures.  For a moment, let’s pretend this doesn’t insult both God and science.  Let’s pretend that the days in Genesis were not an evening and a morning, but rather were zillions of years during which humans evolved (with some help from God) from lower species.  If that is true, what are the consequences? 

Or to put it another way – if humans exist for a reason other than that God created us in His image – what does that have to do with our everyday lives?  If humans are merely intelligent apes with opposable thumbs, then we are NOT “superior” to other species.  If we’re special because we’re intelligent, then the ox is special for his power, the cheetah for her speed and the worm is special for the ability to tunnel through earth. 

The scriptures at the top of this article are extracted from two different letters, written by two different men, but they’re writing about similar groups of people.  They are writing about men who are church leaders.  And they are warnings to the people to take heed not to follow their example or be like those men who have several things in common in both groups.  Let’s focus on one of those things now.  They are said to be “like unreasoning animals,” who behave from “instinct.” 

Remember that when these were written, there was nothing like our modern science, so don’t get too hung up on words like “reasoning” or “instinct.”  Instead, focus on the essence of these men, and the writers’ objections.  They are obedient to the desires of their flesh. 

Sometimes the word for “desire” is translated as “lust,” and that’s too bad because for most of us “lust” has only to do with sexual things.  But the truth is that our bodies want several things, and they are all sensual – which is to say, they have to do with our senses. 
We want to look at pretty things, smell good smells, taste good tastes, hear great sounds and of course feel good feelings.  This is what our senses, or our bodies, want.  This is our evolutionary master – the “desires” of our bodies, or flesh. 

So the question is … are you the master of your domain? 

Throughout the scriptures, but especially in the New Testament, we are taught to be the masters of our bodies, and not to let the body master us.  When my flesh gives me orders, it tells me to eat – because I love the taste of food, it tells me to seek good music and comfort.  My body never tells me to go outside and exercise and to limit my food intake.  My body is a greedy and foolish thing, and so is yours. 

Most “Christians” these days seek to merge more than science and scripture, they also want to merge the demands of their true lord (their flesh) with the demands of the Lord they claim to follow with their mouth (Jesus).  But as Jesus himself said, we cannot serve two masters. 

Now back to our original issue.  If you serve your body/flesh/instincts like an unreasoning animal, then you ARE nothing more than a smart ape.  But if you seek to let Yahweh and His son Yeshua be your Master, then you are behaving like someone re-created in the image of God. 

It’s a choice.  It’s not a fact of evolution or creation, it’s a choice.  We are all animals physically, but when we choose to be born again in baptism, Paul wrote that we change in our very nature!  He wrote that we become “new creatures.”  That’s a lot more than a mere metaphor – it represents a choice we make to be different than our nature.  We no longer want to be slaves to our body’s cravings.  Now we want – we have – a new Boss, a new life, and new desires.  We answer to no one, and no thing, including our own appetites – but Yahweh alone is our God. 

So now consider the deeds of the flesh.  They result in all the things we think of as sin, and they start with nothing more than something “we” want.  But is it really something you want, or is it something your body wants? 
Are you going to let it boss you around? 
How many gods are there in your life? 
Are you REALLY born again, or is it a lie you and your friends tell yourselves? 

Choose you this day whom you will serve.

Speaking out arrogant words of vanity
…they entice by fleshly desires,
…by sensuality,
…those who barely escape from the ones who live in error,
…promising them freedom
….while they themselves are slaves of corruption;
for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.
(2 Peter 2:18–19)

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect … even to those who are unreasonable! …
You wives, be submissive to your husbands in the same way….  just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.”
(1 Peter 2:18–3:6 excerpts)

Wives, submit to your husbands, just like slaves submit to their owners

No one wants to preach that sermon.  No one wants to talk about submission these days – even Jesus’ disciples!  Jesus: the single greatest example of submissive service in human history. 

No, these days we are taught to “stand up for our rights,” and never let others tell you what to do.  If a woman is submissive to her husband, you can bet she will be mocked.  If an employee is submissive to his boss, he’s seen as a kisser of unmentionable body parts.  And woe to the poor minority person who is seen as submissive to authority, especially authority of a different race, gender or sexual orientation.  The world cries out to dominate – never submit.  Brag, never be humble.  We defensively refuse to ever “allow anyone to take advantage” of us.  We prefer the philosophy of Conan the Barbarian:
What is best in life?
To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women

Or we constantly seek revenge disguised as justice like gangsters, mobsters or the Hatfields & McCoys.  Nobody better wrong us, or we’ll wrong them back. 

And so there's never a time when preachers say: "submission is a virtue," or "let others take advantage of you" or "turn the other cheek means exactly what Jesus said it meant."  Audiences today would lynch any such preacher.  

I believe this is a huge problem in God’s kingdom.  I’m not so much concerned with the world, but within the kingdom, we’re supposed to understand that submissive service is not only honorable, it’s powerful. 

Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. So he came to Simon Peter who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.”

So when he had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined again, he said to them,
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord;’ and you are right, for I am. If I then, the Lord and the teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.   For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
(John 13:5-7; 12 –17)

Jesus was not putting on a show, like we so often see these days in silly foot-washings.  Jesus was doing the job of a low-down slave.  And why?  To make a point. 

Pay special attention to the relationship of lords and servants.  We tend to think like the world: that the ‘lord’ is the one with the power – and so we want to be the boss, the master, the teacher or lord, so we can tell others what to do.  But scripture refutes this notion, and Jesus focuses on the power of submission. 

Submission comes up in lots of ways in God’s word.  Not only are we to submit to good leaders, but during the reign of Nero Paul would write that we should submit to governing authorities.  Above Peter (who seems to have learned his lesson from Jesus) says slaves should submit even to bad owners and wives to their husbands.  Paul wrote several bits about submission to the church in Ephesus, even at one point suggesting we “submit to one another.”  (Ephesians 5.21)

Another way submission is important and misunderstood is in our relationship to Yahweh.  Because of the centuries-old bickering between various denominations, we've become a culture obsessed with the mechanics of salvation.  Are we saved by works, faith, grace, or some of each?  Of course the problem for works-based folks is that they cannot succeed, so they need work-arounds, like priests telling people to say “Hail Marys,” or just outright selling indulgences.  The problem for the grace-based folks is that they have to go out of their way to explain that nothing they do is ever designed to save them.  And why is this such a problem? 

It’s a problem because our admission to God’s kingdom is not based on winning a battle over sin, or winning anything, for that matter.  Our admission to the kingdom comes when we surrender.  We become God’s children when we are begotten of God and surrender to rebirth.  Baptism, therefore, isn't something we do, it’s an act of submission.  When a general loses a battle and kneels before the conqueror (or signs papers, or surrenders his sword), the only action he’s doing is submission.  If the victor tells the loser that he’ll spare his life if he will kneel, then the kneeling loser didn't do something to be saved other than submit to his better. 

“We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.
(John 8:33–34)

“How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
…knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

… Don’t let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
…Don’t you know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.”
(Excerpts from Romans 6)

When we are born again, we become new creatures.  The difference between us before that moment and after it isn't just that now we’re going to try to be good.  The difference is a change in ownership. 
We used to be slaves to our own flesh, obeying its desires.  Now we are slaves of God.
We used to be subject to our pride and ego – now we humble ourselves before Yahweh.  
We used to be slaves to the opinions of others – now we care nothing for the opinion of men, only God. 

The whole of our new lives is to be surrendered – submitted – to God, and God only.  It’s not something we DO or don’t do, it’s a surrender.  Surrender may come with terms, but those terms don’t mean we “did” something to win … it simply means we bow before our new boss. 

Being disciplined requires effort, but surrendering is giving up.  It’s quitting. 

Going forward

Your challenge is to consider how you submit and to what or whom you submit.

Do you think it’s a bad thing to submit? 
If so, please reconsider. 

Our new boss (Jesus) taught us to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile and to love our enemies.  Everything he did and said was an act of submission, leading to even his death.  And yes, sometimes people will take advantage of you, just as they took advantage of Jesus.  That fear is exactly what Satan uses to keep you as his ___. 

Do you think submission is weakness? 
It can be.  Submitting because you’re afraid is weakness.  But godly submission is not so! 

Scripture teaches women to submit to husbands, not for husbands to insist upon it, and mistreat them if they don’t.  If a wife refuses to submit, then that’s it.  If a wife (or anyone else) submits because they’re afraid, either of their husband, their boss, or of going to hell if they don’t – then that’s not true Godly submission.  Godly submission is something we do who are confident in the power of God.  We can “afford” to submit, because we are faithful enough to take it.  When Jesus allowed people to spit on him and beat him, was it because he was afraid of them?  Absurd.  Jesus submitted precisely to show his great power, and so can we. 

God gives us the same choice we must give others.  We can submit to God or not.  He never tries to force us.  Only Satan uses coercion, bribery and intimidation.  Sons of God give others a chance to submit or not.  Children of Satan stand up for themselves and never let others “bully” or take advantage. 

Do you think that obeying God requires great strength and discipline? 
Then you don’t know submission/surrender. 
Right now you are fighting against your boss – your fleshly appetites, or the opinions of other people, or whatever it is that governs you. 

Fighting your boss IS hard - so change bosses. 
Men, stop letting your ego, your vanity, your taste buds and/or your wieners boss you around. 
Women, learn the strength your great-grandmothers had.  They, like Jesus, understood the power of servant leadership.  They understood that true beauty isn't external – it’s strength and wisdom.  This will earn you more than affection, it will earn you respect.  Learn to be generous like Tabitha in Acts 9 or shrewd like Abigail of 1 Samuel 25.  These were women who understood the power of submission from wisdom and humility; and did not submit to the court of human opinion.  

Please take some time to actually sit and think about submission as a source of true power and as a means to obedience.  Remember that in scripture it’s always the humble person, the servant – who is God’s favorite. 

Submit yourselves (for the Lord’s sake) to every human institution….

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

For you have been called for this purpose: since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin (nor was any deceit found in his mouth); and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear….  

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing….

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.
And don’t fear their intimidation…
And don’t be troubled,
…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts….

For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few … were brought safely through water.
Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
(Excerpts from 1 Peter 2:13–3:22)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Always learning, but …

This passage bothers me.  It’s an accurate and undeniable prophecy.  What bothers me is how embarrassing and humiliating it is to see some of these things in my own life; and how painful it is to see it in the lives of others:
“Realize this: that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be:
…lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God……holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.  
Avoid such men as these.
For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses - always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (2 Timothy 3:1–7)
This is a part of a letter from an experienced preacher (Paul) to his former “intern” - now preacher (Tim) written 2,000 years ago.  Yet the words ring hauntingly true today in our culture. 

Let’s consider Paul’s main points.

First, Paul predicts the kinds of things that will be true of these people – they’ll love money and they’ll brag, gossip, and have no self-control (among other things).  And we can tell from the context that these people consider themselves Christian.  So imagine an overweight, upper-middle class person talking about someone at church negatively, and you can now see the person Paul is describing.  If you've been to “church” recently, you certainly have a lot of choices. 

Then comes a part that’s hard for me to understand.  Remember that Paul was writing to a young preacher when he wrote “avoid such as these.”  Really?  Shouldn't a preacher try to teach them, or help them or provoke them to repent?  Not according to Paul, no.  Rather, they are to be avoided.  Paul doesn't say why, but I believe the reason is the same as is found elsewhere in scripture: most sins are contagious.  We become like the people with whom we associate.  Gossip, for instance, is very hard to stop when all your friends are doing it.  And self-discipline is pretty hard for a glutton who hangs out with foodies, or alcoholics whose friends are all drinkers.  If all your friends are partiers and love to have fun and hang out together rather than look for ways to serve God, it will always be hard for you to love God more than pleasure. 

The last part of this section is a description of a sub-group of the larger whole.  “Among them” are those who preach and teach themselves.  They are able to be convincing to the gullible, and those who are loaded with guilt and fear.  Fear, guilt and gullibility are three things among many that make us extra vulnerable to deception from those who look to take advantage of us.  That’s why churches today are filled with gullible and fearful people. 

Now let’s focus on one very troubling line about these religious teachers:
“…always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

What does that look like and feel like?  I can tell you, for I have been guilty of this myself.  It’s a lot of work, for one thing.  For another, you can do lots of neat things with knowledge.  We are no longer ashamed to learn “trivia,” despite the self-description that what we’re learning is of no real value: it’s trivial, after all.  Knowledge makes us able to impress others who are impressed by knowledge.  “He really knows the bible,” they’ll say, or “He’s a great scholar,” or “He is so smart!”

But knowing the truth does not produce the same fruit.  People who know the truth praise God, not His servants.  The truth doesn't make you look smart or impressive in any way.  It’s God’s truth, after all, not a result of our work. 
Knowledge w/o truth & nice shoes

The difference between “knowing the truth” and “having knowledge” is huge to those who can recognize the difference, but for those who don’t know the difference - there is no difference!  Having eyes, they cannot see. 

There are many differences between ‘knowledge’ and ‘knowing truth,’ but the most important is that ‘knowing truth’ has real value.  It is the pearl of great price one sells all to attain (Matthew 13.45-46).  Knowing the truth is of infinite value because it’s freedom, salvation and love. 

  • Knowing truth is wisdom and discerning, not trivia  
  • Knowing truth is knowing that which can set us free – free from sin & from death
  • Knowing the truth is knowing Jesus (“I am the truth”) and by extension, his Father
  • Knowing the truth is love, for then we know the proper times and occasions for justice & mercy
  • Knowing the truth is knowing God loves grace more than sacrifice

But how sad for the group Paul was writing about!  “…always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  These people are able to learn many things, but not the truth.  They are smart and hard-working, so they are “always learning,” but the truth itself eludes them.  And they don’t even know it. 

If you were one of those people, would you know it? 

Usually (maybe always) the people Paul is writing about are not aware of their own futility.  They have grown accustomed to accepting the evaluation of other humans.  They want to be judged favorably in the courts of human opinion – loved and respected by religious people or scholars or their audience … they spend very little effort concerning themselves with fruit that pleases God.  They love people recognizing how learned they are – and confuse knowledge with truth.

The hard part of this lesson is challenging yourself.  Each of us must ask ourselves if we may be guilty of being one of these people.  
Among the questions you want to ask yourself are:
  • “Is my godliness only the ‘form’ of godliness, and not the real thing”? 
  • “Am I sometimes a lover of pleasure more than God”? 
  • “Am I boastful & arrogant, do I gossip - and then deceive myself by denying it”? 
  • “Am I ungrateful”?  (A good test for this is to measure your ratio of complaining or asking God for stuff to how often you count your blessings.  That is, are you mostly content and grateful to God for your current life, or mostly filled with desire for other things?) 
You get the idea.  Go through Paul’s list item-by-item and challenge yourself.  Take these things one by one and before you consider how others you know fit into these categories, first examine yourself.  And be hard on yourself!  Ask God for help to let you see your own self-deceptions. 

If you are faithful to God, He will open your eyes on this matter. 
More importantly:
He will give you the ability to repent.  Even when it seems impossible, God can do this if you seek Him without holding anything back. 

And once you have started down this road, then you can not only learn the nonsense we all must learn to get by in this life, but also you can come to a knowledge of the truth – which is of eternal value. 

Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.
And he was saying,
“Don’t you understand this parable?  
The sower sows the word. 
And … the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these … have heard the word, but:
1.       The worries of the world, and
2.      The deceitfulness of riches, and
3.      The desires for other things …
…enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

(Excerpts from Mark 4:3–19)