I’m sure such folks are out there, but I’ve not personally met any Christian who hasn’t struggled with saying the same old things about the same old things in prayer. Before long, such repetitive prayer is boring. And when prayer is boring, it’s hard to pray — at least with any joy and fervency.
Note that the problem is not that we pray about the same old things. Actually, that’s normal, because our lives tend to consist pretty much of the same old things from one day to the next. Thankfully, the big things in life (our family, our church, our job, etc.) don’t change dramatically very often.
Instead the problem is that we say the same old things about the same old things. And prayers without variety eventually become words without meaning. The result of such praying is that we tend to feel like failures in prayer. We assume that, despite our devotion to Christ, love for God, and desire for a meaningful prayer life, we must be second-rate Christians because our minds wander so much in prayer.
No, the problem may not be you; rather it may be your method.
I believe that the simple, permanent, biblical solution to this almost universal problem is to stop making up your own prayers most of the time (because that results in repetitious prayer) and to pray the Bible instead.
Praying the Bible means talking to God about what comes to mind as you read the Bible. Usually you might read the passage first, then go back and pray through what you just read.
So, for instance, if today you turned to Psalm 23 in your devotional reading, after completing it you would come back to verse 1 and pray about what occurs to you as you read “The Lord is my shepherd.” You might thank the Lord for being your shepherd, ask him to shepherd you in a decision that’s before you, entreat him to cause your children to love him as their shepherd, too, and pray anything else that comes to mind as you consider that verse.
Then when nothing else in those words prompts prayer, you continue by doing the same with the next line, “I shall not want.” Thus you would go through the chapter, line-by-line, until you ran out of time.
By praying in this way, you discover that you never again say the same old things about the same old things.
While you can pray through any part of the Bible, some books and chapters are much easier to pray through than others. Overall, I believe the Book of Psalms is the best place in Scripture from which to pray Scripture.
In part that’s because the Psalms are the only book of the Bible inspired by God for the expressed purpose of being reflected to God. God inspired them as songs, songs for use in the worship of God.
The Psalms also work so well in prayer because there’s a psalm for every sigh of the soul. You’ll never go through anything in life in which the root emotion is not found in one or more of the Psalms. Thus the Psalms put into expression that which is looking for expression in our hearts.
Christian, here’s how you’ll benefit from praying the Psalms:
1. You’ll pray more biblically faithful prayers.
The Bible will guide your prayers, helping you to speak to God with words that have come from the mind and heart of God. This also means you’ll be praying more in accordance with the will of God. Can you have any greater assurance that you are praying the will of God than when you are praying the Word of God?
2. You’ll be freed from the boredom of saying the same about the same old things in prayer.
One way this will happen is that the psalm will prompt you to pray about things you normally wouldn’t think to pray. You’ll find yourself praying about people and situations that you’d never think to put on a prayer list.
Another way is that even though you also continue to pray about the same things, (family, church, job, etc.), you’ll pray about them in new ways. Instead of saying, “Lord, please bless my family,” the text will guide you to pray things such as, “Lord, please be a shield around my family today” if you are praying through Psalm 3:3, for example.
3. You’ll pray more God-centered prayers.
When you use a God-focused guide like the psalms to prompt your prayers, you’ll pray less selfishly and with more attention to the ways, the will, and the attributes of God.
Prayer becomes less about what you want God to do for you (though that is always a part of biblical praying) and more about the concerns of God and his kingdom.
4. You’ll enjoy more focus in prayer.
When you say the same old things in prayer every day, it’s easy for your mind to wander. You find yourself praying auto-pilot prayer — repeating words without thinking about either them or the God to whom you offer them.
But when you pray the Bible your mind has a place to focus. And when your thoughts do wander, you have a place to return to — the next verse.
5. You’ll find that prayer becomes more like a real conversation with a real Person.
Isn’t that what prayer should be? Prayer is talking with a Person, the Person of God himself. Prayer is not a monologue spoken in the direction of God. Yet somehow, many people assume that when they meet with the Lord he should remain silent and they should do all the talking.
When we pray the psalms, though, our monologue to God becomes a conversation with God. I’m not alluding to the perception of some spiritual impression or hearing an inner voice, imagining God saying things to us — away with that sort of mysticism.
Instead, I’m referring to the Bible as the means by which God participates in the conversation, for the Bible is God speaking. God speaks in the Bible, and you respond to that in prayer. That’s why people who try this often report, “The pressure was off. I didn’t have to think about what to say next, and the whole experience just kind of flowed.”
* * *
Want to experience these benefits for yourself? How about right now? Pick a psalm, read what God says there, and talk with him about it.
Donald S. Whitney
Teaching Weekend 22nd-23rd August
Altars were places where the divine and human worlds interacted. Altars were places of exchange, communication, and influence. God responded actively to altar activity
A weekend of teaching and worship
Venue: Barn Church of Scotland and Culloden Academy
Teaching by Joe Barnard of Kiltarlity Free Church and Kenny Ross of Culloden Baptist Church
Sessions as follows:
Saturday sessions will be held at the Barn Church of Scotland
Saturday 1030 The beginning of altars
Saturday 1200 The purity of altars
Saturday 1430 The war of the altars
Saturday 1930 The summation of all altars
Sunday morning sessions will be held at Culloden Academy and Kiltarlity Free Church
Sunday 1030 The altar of our lives
Sunday 1430 The church as altar (This session held at Culloden Academy will include the commissioning of Living Hope Church)
Each teaching session will last around 1 hour and will include teaching and sung worship.
Event arranged by Culloden Baptist Church.
A few weeks back, well maybe months, a fellow minister suggested I read a book entitled ‘Ready, Steady Grow.’ He, having lead a church plant to become a large church, felt it gave a very interesting insight into the different sizes of church. Many people have pointed out that the size of a church will have direct bearing on the church culture. Timothy Keller says the following for instance, ‘A church’s functional style, its strengths and weaknesses, and the roles of its lay and staff leaders will change dramatically as its size changes.’
The the interesting thing about ‘Ready, Steady Grow’ is that it places CBC in a particular category. It suggests there are five sizes of church; small, medium, awkward, large and mega. It appears that we fit into the ‘awkward’ sized church. Encouraging right?! But it is insightful to read.
So why not make some time and have a a read of what follows. Yes it’s a little long, but you know what they say; ‘rake and you’ll get leaves but dig and you’ll get gold.’
“The A- sized church, with a grade ‘D’ for difficulty
I thought there was just one more category – small, medium and of course…large? No, I discovered that there is the awkward- sized church! What exactly is that? It’s the size in which, no matter how hard a full- time pastor works, things seem to come unstuck. Even the highest capacity worker will struggle with much more than 150 attending, unless things change. Indeed, it takes more than leaders with good people skills to take the church through this phase.
Could this glass ceiling be why many churches remain the size they are? Could this be why many plateau and then slowly decline, with lots of frustrated members, as they approach this size?
The awkward- sized church needs exploring in some depth. Whereas there is a lot written about planting and growing small churches, there is little help for leaders at this point. Now is when important leadership skills need to emerge and some very big ‘re- engineering’ changes have to happen if the church is to go forward – either into a larger- sized category or into vigorous church planting.
The awkward- sized church (about 150 to 400 attendees) will present three main problems, and it will not feel as if it provides many positives to its members for some time.
Problem 1: mindset
Essentially, the problem is this: the church is growing beyond everyone knowing everyone by name. For many, belonging to a church in which this happens is a sure sign of relational failure, and for some even a mark that the church is straying from a biblical pattern. In a medium- sized church that is slowly growing, this creeps up on people. To start with, core people keep expanding their network circles to connect to new people. The pastor may work hard, spending extra time with visitors. He may exhort members to be better at welcoming, better at talking to people they don’t know and better at hospitality. But the church which had been so good at embracing the new, the needy and the neglected begins to fear that such people are now falling through the cracks.
Compounding this, new people don’t even start to get to know everyone; they realize that this is a receding target. They settle into the habit of talking to people like themselves, those with whom they most naturally connect. Many, attracted by the positive aspects of a healthy church, just benefit from what it offers. To core people, these new members seem to be part of a growing fringe that doesn’t commit to helping in the way that everyone had to do when the church was growing from small to medium.
People are coming up against the thing they assume is true of a large church and which they fear is happening to them, namely that the church, their church, is becoming impersonal, and consumed by a chasing after numbers.
Many conservative evangelical Christians in the UK seem to have a strong aversion to such growth pains, and the thought of their church really growing is not what they desire in their deepest heart, whatever they may say.
Problem 2: leadership capability
The pastor now feels that the visitation and counselling and organizing of the growing number of meetings are becoming past him. Everyone still wants him to be their personal pastor/chaplain. He will have to work at speed; what is going to get missed? Which of the many spinning plates is going to crash to the ground first? What else will fail? Will it be his health or his family life? Will there be a sharp comment to a disgruntled person? By now there are quite a few of those, as people are raising all kinds of concerns, in short: ‘The church isn’t what it used to be!’ It all seems so bizarre: ‘We have prayed for growth for so long, so how come it feels so negative ?’ This is the unspoken question that many, including the pastor, are asking.
The leadership of a church approaching the awkward size will begin to notice the organizational complexity. Larry Osborne, an American pastor who has written extensively about this issue, talks about leadership teams that were once very small- scale. He describes the sole pastor being like a ‘track athlete’, with members cheering him on to perform well. That moves on to a form of leadership which he likens to ‘golf buddies’, where a small leadership team is built around personal friendship, shared and tacit understandings of many key spiritual issues, and where decisions are made informally. This gives way, in the awkward- sized church, to a leadership structure more akin to a basketball team, where there are some specialists and roles which are clearly mapped out, and where orders are given and taken by the other leadership ‘players’. Finally, he likens a large- church leadership structure to an American football team with its offence, defence and special teams (a UK equivalent might be a rugby union team with its front row, backs and fullback). If a ‘track- athlete’ sole pastor is to change his leadership style to manoeuvre through all these required leadership level changes, this will take some adjustment.
Problem 3: organizing tasks
On top of this, one of the great frictions in the awkward- sized church is the way work gets done. Typically, in smaller churches, active members often have their fingers in many pies and will be aware of most things going on; this dynamic structure works really well. It is impossible to make this work now, because what brings stability to a smaller church will stifle the progress of an awkward- sized one. So, as it transitions, the church has to make one of its biggest structural changes: no- one can possibly know all that is going on, no- one can meet all the needs, yet jobs still need to get done.
Without knowing how to handle this issue, the leaders will be blaming all the wrong people or the wrong things. We will see how to negotiate these serious structural problems in several of the next chapters.
The strong temptation is to ignore all of this and just enjoy the benefits of no longer being small and struggling. David Anderson has observed that medium- and awkward- sized congregations tend to lose the evangelistic focus they once had, and instead adopt what he calls a ‘club mentality’. ‘You have just enough people not to be missional anymore [and] you don’t have to grow anymore to sustain your budget.’
Having ‘just enough’ – did you spot that? It’s the subtle danger. Enough people to get the jobs done and pay the bills, enough work to keep one pastor busy, enough visitors to create the impression that mission is happening, enough problems not to want any more. It takes a strong sense of urgent purposefulness not to want to stay in this relatively safe place, but to tackle the challenges of growing the church.
However, if the temptation to become self- satisfied can be resisted, the church may, by God’s grace, grow large.”
One of the most counter-cultural things you can do is become an engaged member of a faithful local church.
In our flighty and noncommittal age, neither non-Christians nor Christians are naturally inclined to find a place to put down roots and make longstanding, objective commitments for the good of others. We want to keep our options open and, above all, preserve our own freedom of choice, rather than make a covenant for the long haul and embrace a framework for real life in all its ups and downs.
But what if you went against the grain and became part of the solution to the modern problem of being so noncommittal? What if you joined the rebellion, and pledged your loyalty and engagement to a Bible-believing, gospel-cherishing local church?
Does the Bible Even Mention Membership?
Most of us have raised eyebrows at some point about the concept of church membership. “Membership” — where do we see that in the New Testament? Is it really essential to join a church? Can’t I get everything I need as a Christian from being a regular attender?
It’s true that the New Testament makes no direct argument for our modern concept of membership. The gospel’s initial advance into a pagan and pre-Christian world was a different situation than we find today in our increasingly post-Christian society. The complexities of life two millennia later make church-belonging as difficult, and as important, as ever. Not only are we less inclined to make firm commitments, but our cities and towns are much bigger, and church options more diverse.
But whether you call it “membership,” “partnership,” or something else, the New Testament assumes some form of committed, accountable belonging as a reality for every true follower of Jesus. Each Christian has a definite place of local belonging. To be baptized is to become part of a particular local body.
“In the New Testament,” John Piper observes, “to be excluded from the local church was to be excluded from Christ.”
Six Reasons to Put Down Roots
Here, then, are six reasons, among many, to go against the noncommittal grain, put down roots, join a particular local church, and be as involved as possible in the life of that church.
1. Your Own Assurance
Being accepted into membership in a Bible-believing, responsibly-led church rightly gives affirmation and reinforces confidence that your faith is real, that it’s not your own private, self-made religion, but part of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Jesus gives his church “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” and according to Matthew 16:19, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” It is no small thing for a solid local church to find your profession of faith to be credible, and your lifestyle and conduct not disqualifying, and to accept you into membership.
There is more grace to be experienced in this, for our assurance, than most of us know.
2. The Good of Others
This is perhaps the most often overlooked reason for joining a church. In our proclivity to self-focus, we consider the reasons relating directly to us, but overlook how our membership relates to others.
Our belonging somewhere establishes a base from which we can reliably care for others. There are two sides to church membership, and we can’t keep others accountable for their good to a covenant we ourselves haven’t taken.
True love is not only manifest in affection and action, but also allegiance. We do not fully love our brothers and sisters in Christ if we withhold pledging our allegiance to them by covenanting with them in local-church life. Love doesn’t say, “I love these people and don’t need to covenant with them.” Rather, it says, “I love these people enough to covenant with them.”
Living the Christian life in community is more than just loose associations, but committing to each other to be there for each other when life is hard, in sickness and in sorrow.
3. Your Own Good
On the flip side, it is for your own good to have others committed to genuinely caring for you in Christ. And the people who will care for you best in the long run are those who are willing to commit to it.
“The people who will care for you best in the long run are those who are willing to commit to it.” Tweet
Joining the church also formally identifies you as part of “the flock” which the church’s pastors and elders should “shepherd” (1 Peter 5:2) and to which they should “pay careful attention” (Acts 20:28). It is for your own good in being intentionally thought of and cared for by the leadership.
4. The Good of Your Leaders
Connected, then, is the clarity it brings the leadership about who is in their “lot,” who is “in their charge” (1 Peter 5:3), who in particular are they called to serve and shepherd.
In other words, your formally joining the church helps the pastors and elders do their job. How are they to shepherd the flock if they don’t know who is in that flock and who is not?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to respect and esteem your leaders (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13), and honor them (1 Timothy 5:17), and obey and submit to them (Hebrews 13:17) without identifying yourself to them and submitting to the membership structure that allows them to know and care best for those in their charge.
5. The Good of Unbelievers
Another good reason for joining a church is the good of those who are not there yet — even those who don’t yet know Jesus. Because we reach out and show Christ better as part of a committed, stable community. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
A lone-ranger Christian doesn’t make the best witness for Christ. Rather, someone who is grounded, has a home, and is part of a solid covenant community of support is best prepared to draw others into the kingdom.
Community is increasingly important in out witness today. As Christians who are truly faithful to the voice of Christ find themselves more and more in the minority of society, we need other believers to point to, that we’re not alone in our seemingly strange views, both in history and today. And the whole community together serves to put Christ on display better than individual Christians alone.
This happens best not in fly-by-night, uncommitted associations, but in deep, committed, long-standing, life-together relationships in this time-tested arrangement called “the local church,” established and upheld in the wisdom and power of Jesus himself.
6. Your Own Perseverance
Finally, covenanting with others now not to let you wander from the gospel, without pressing hard to bring you back, may one day prove priceless for your perseverance in the faith — and your eternity with Christ. It is, after all, as Jesus said, the one who endures to the end who will be saved (Matthew 24:13).
In a good church covenant, we yoke ourselves to accountability while we’re in our right minds, in case someday sin gets a foothold in our hearts and blinds us to the truth. Church discipline is hard, but so good. The purpose is always restoration, and God often has been pleased to use this difficult means to pour out his striking grace.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19–20)
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org, pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and adjunct professor for Bethlehem College & Seminary. He has edited several books, including Finish the Mission, Acting the Miracle, and most recently Cross, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.
In Matthew 6:21, Jesus teaches, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Since all sinful behavior ultimately stems from idolatry or disordered loves, this is a profoundly important statement. The implication is that by examining what really drives our financial decision-making, we can discover more precisely the nature of our brokenness and what we actually worship.
Initial attempts to diagnose our primary financial motivations will likely yield general observations. For instance, through candid introspection about my own feelings related to money, I may acknowledge a struggle with greed, materialism, or envy. That is helpful but not specific enough. To determine what it is I actually “treasure,” I need to dig deeper.
Consider the following: “I struggle with greed because I ultimately seek ______ and believe money can provide it.” Or, “I envy people who are richer than me because money can help them experience a greater degree of ______.”
Based on research and experience as a financial planner, I believe we can narrow down to four possible options for filling in those blanks. The primary motivators for financial decisions are:
None of these is inherently bad, but each of us is prone to turn at least one of these into an idol by valuing it above all else and looking for money to provide it.
Blind Spots to Financial Sin
Unless you are looking for them, these motivations are often hidden. That’s why the Bible cautions us to watch out for greed and monetary temptations (Luke 12:15). We can often be completely oblivious to sinfulness related to money because, unlike many other sins, there are no easily identifiable markers or absolutes. You know if you’ve committed adultery, murder, or lied. But materialism or greed is a lot harder to identify. It is a heart issue, which is why it may go completely undetected, particularly in a culture that prizes individualism and financial success above all else.
For instance, many highly successful and wealthy people trust in money to provide security. An undercurrent of worry and anxiety about never having enough can actually fuel fiscal responsibility. As a result, this type of person can end up in an admirable financial position in which even most church-sponsored money management courses would provide nothing but positive reinforcement and praise.
As a financial planner, I’m not saying wise management is all bad; financially responsible behaviors should be encouraged. But if we are concerned about more than achieving some version of the American dream, we need to examine not only the results but also the motivations fueling those results. In this example, a desire for control may be this person’s functional savior. Financial independence may provide an illusion of control and self-sufficiency that seemingly does not require trusting God for provision.
The person who looks to money to provide a certain level of status or image is likely suffer unceasing discontent beneath the surface. Augustine’s comment—“You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”—is particularly poignant. For this person, hunger for power can become an insatiable desire; like spraying water in the most arid desert lands, you always need more. Any hope of genuine joy or gratitude from the fruits of financial success often quickly evaporate for this person.
On the other hand, those who ultimately seek comfort do not struggle with enjoying the fruits of their labor. They tend to search for experiences and a certain type of freedom. But instead of freedom to become part of God’s redemptive mission for the world, they desire freedom from constraints or having to do anything in particular. Ironically, when great wealth is achieved, it can actually feel paralyzing. As Jessie O’Neill documents in her book The Golden Ghetto, “Prison walls can be constructed of infinite possibilities as well as a severe limitation of choices.”
The last of the primary money motivators is the need for approval. For this person, net worth equals self-worth. The irony is that the more money she accumulates, the more insecure she becomes. This irony an be seen in the mindset of an inheritor of great wealth. She is constantly questioning the true motives of others. She wonders, Do people appreciate and like me for who I am (out of genuine love, respect, or admiration), or are they simply being nice to me because of my money?
Not surprisingly, the false idols that money promises to deliver fail us and, more often than not, the underlying desire actually increases along with the person’s balance sheet. Addiction may be the best way to describe the situation. Despite unparalled levels of prosperity in America, we feel trapped by an endless pattern of emotional distress in which the apparent object of our desire only intensifies the desire itself. Hence, you see debt crisis we face as a nation both at the level of the individual and the federal government.
Storing Up Eternal Treasures
So what is the answer? We cannot hope to simply remove these disproportionate desires. As Augustine would say, we are made to love, and what we love defines us. Instead, we need to fall in love with God’s kingdom above all else. We need to be motivated by “treasures in heaven” as Christ describes it (Matt. 6:20).
And how do we do that? Randy Alcorn, in his great little book, The Treasure Principle, relays the following anecdote: “I’ve heard people say, ‘I want more of a heart for missions.’ I always respond, ‘Jesus tells you how to get it. Put your money in missions—and in your church and the poor—and your heart will follow.’”
In A Christmas Carol, Dickens showed us Ebeneezer Scrooge’s transformation from heartless indifference toward the suffering of others to overflowing generosity and cherishing every single encounter with anyone in his path. Not unlike George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooge was profoundly changed by gaining an eternal perspective. It revealed, as C. S. Lewis put it, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”
The implication is that every moment truly matters and pursuit of earthly riches is seen for what it is: trivial and fleeting. May we, too, be graced with proper reordering of our loves that redeems our relationship with money.
Chad S. Hamilton
Man of God
The church has a ‘man’ crisis on it’s hands. And by that no-one means that there are no human beings over a certain age who happen to be male. The crisis is a lack of what the bible refers to as ‘men of God.’ At the same time this is posted I’m delivering the bulk of this material to a group of guys who I hope are all striving to be a ‘man of God.’
‘Man of God’ is such and interesting and intriguing title. Sometimes applied in the Old Testament to unknown individuals who just turn up and declare the will or word of God into a situation. Like the guy in 1 Samuel where it says, ‘And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him,…’ And then he proceeds to speak the word of God into the situation. We’ve no idea who he was but we know what he was, ‘a man of God.’
None doubts the fact that believers are urged to pursue maturity. If the believer is male then surely that means striving to become a man of God. But what does that look like? The New Testament only ever ascribes that title to one man. Intentionally I believe, that we might look to him to learn from him.
His name is actually formed by taking the Greek word for ‘honour’, and crashing it into the Greek word for ‘God.’ So his name means something akin to ‘the one who honours God.’ Not surprising maybe that this one guy gets referred to as ‘man of God.’ His name is of course Timothy.
Exploding the modern myth of manhood
The thing about Timothy, this man of God, is that he kind of doesn’t quite live up to modern standards of manliness. Maybe not even to some standards of manliness that have been propagated by some contemporary churches.
Our cultural understanding of a man is often portrayed as someone who is robust, strong and has a commanding presence. The alpha male type who when he walks into a room people notice. A tough and rugged individual that others might aspire to be like.
The fact that in the New Testament Timothy alone receives the title of ‘man of God’ immediately causes the modern myth to be undone. Timothy was not really all that rugged. In actual fact Paul lets slip that he had frequent ailments and that there was something wrong with his stomach. Hardly the modern tough and rugged type! After all who would really want to be the patron saint against stomach ailments like Timothy? Paul also when writing to Timothy commanded him to not let people despise his youth (although he was probably around 40. that makes me happy being 41!!).
When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church he explained that Timothy would be visiting them soon. Then being carried along by the Spirit he wrote the following; “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you. For he is doing the work of the Lord as I am. So let no-one despise him. Help him on his way with peace…” 1 Cor 16: 10-11
You are left with the impression that Timothy was physically weak and was often unwell. He didn’t have that commanding presence that some have, in actual fact it would be easy for people to despise him. And he probably was a little nervous and needed some help to be put at ease. But this man alone is referred to with the title ‘man of God’ in the New Testament. But why?
From boy to man
Darrin Patrick in his book ‘Church Planter: The man, The message, The mission’ describes a certain category of adult male as a ‘ban.’ Meaning ‘a hybrid of both boy and man,’ hence ban. Timothy was not a ‘ban.’ He had made the transition, that some never make, from boyhood to manhood.
His childhood is actually described for us rather well in Scripture. Both his grandmother and mother were believers. Both of them were commended by Paul as having a sincere faith dwelling within them. Paul also makes it clear that it was clearly their custom of reading and teaching the Scriptures to Timothy as he grew. Paul says to Timothy, “… from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings…” Little wonder then that when Rembrandt decided to paint a picture of Timothy as a child he portrayed him leaning against the skirt of his grandmother gazing into the Scriptures that lay on her lap.
Yet this boy went from leaning on and learning from his mother and grandmother to allowing the church to lean on him whilst he taught her. Finally proclaiming the gospel to a crowd of pagans as they made their way to their false worship and idolatry in Ephesus. They then turned on him and beat him to death with their clubs such was the hatred they had for him and his Redeemer.
What caused a timid and unassuming boy to become this stalwart in the church, a martyr and the sole beneficiary of the title ‘man of God’ in the New Testament?
Man of God
His move from one stage to the other is recorded for us in Scripture. Just have a read of Acts 16: 1-3. Paul turns up in Derbe and Lystra again and he keeps hearing about this Timothy. Everyone is speaking well of him both at Lystra and Iconium. Paul had already fallen out with Barnabas by this stage so he decided that as well as Silas this Timothy would be a fitting companion for the work.
So Timothy is circumcised!!
The amazing thing about what happened is the context. The chapter before this records the first ever church council. It is called because some folk claimed that in order to be saved one needed to be circumcised as well as have faith in Christ. The church council is gathered and the result is this, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to lay on you a greater burden that these requirements: that you abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality..” The point being; that circumcision is not required, faith alone is enough.
Yet in the very next chapter Paul takes Timothy and circumcises him, because of the Jews. Christian liberty meant that Timothy didn’t need to be circumcised, he was freed from that by faith in Christ. Christ fulfilled all the law on his behalf. But therein lies the heart of why Timothy is referred to as a ‘man of God.’ He was willing to sacrifice even his christian liberty for the sake of the gospel and the mission of God. He didn’t have too, but he willingly did.
In that very action what we have displayed before us by the Spirit, is a heart which is moulded to a likeness of it’s redeemer. Remember where it says about the Christ, ‘Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself taking the form of a servant… ‘
Timothy had his christian liberty. It was earned for him by his Redeemer, confirmed by the church but when he submitted to being circumcised he was actually allowing his christian liberty to be sacrificed for the sake of the gospel. No wonder he is referred to as a ‘man of God.’
That man crisis then
So back to my lead point, the man crisis within the church. If only the men in churches could humble their hearts in submission to God on account of all that he has done for us in Christ. Holding an open bible in our hands. A bible which is given according to 2 Timothy 3: 17 “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Imagine what that would look like. Men willingly sacrificing even their christian liberty for the sake of the gospel and the mission of God. Imagine what that would like within the bonds of marriage, within the parent-child dynamic, within the workplace, and of course within the church. Men stepping up to take a lead in the spiritual direction of both home and church.
Our villages, towns and cities would be given a display of what it truly means to be a man of God. In a culture where men have a crisis of identity on their hands they need to see this.
I came across an online video offering help to believers on how to engage in the debate surrounding gay marriage. Whilst the video and information was good, the greater part was the sensitivity that the speaker, a guy called Christopher Yuan, showed in applying biblical principles to the discussion in hand. So I looked him up and have downloaded his book entitled ‘Out of a far country: A gay son’s journey to God. A broken mother’s search for hope.’ I appreciate that simply commending the book to you won’t get you to read it, so how about just listening to him tell his story? Yes it’s 37 minutes long, but I think it is worth it to hear about the transforming work of the Redeemer! But you be the judge.