ELIZABETH AND MARY REJOICING – Luke 1:39-56

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INTRODUCTION:

The scene opens.  Mary had just told the angel Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant . . . . May it be done to me as you have said” (NIV translation).  She has agreed to be the mother of the Messiah, and the angel Gabriel has just left her to return to the presence of God in heaven.  She is now alone, with her mind filled with thoughts and her heart filled with emotions.  “What do I do now?”  “Has the angel’s announcement already happened?”  “Am I already pregnant?”  “How will I know?”  “Who can I share all these amazing occurrences with?”

That’s where we begin our study of Luke 1:39-56.  The answers to those questions, and what happens next, are all found in this passage of Scripture.

I.  THE JOY OF ELIZABETH (verses 39-45)

Once Mary is able to gain some control over her thoughts and emotions, she remembers the angel’s words about Elizabeth.  “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was barren is now in her sixth month.”  From the response that follows, Mary may have thought, “Elizabeth is having a supernatural pregnancy also!  We have that in common!  She’s the only person I can talk to about these things that the angel told me.  I can’t tell Joseph since I’m not sure it has happened yet or when it will happen.  Her home will be a place of safety for me, and I can be of service to her.”  Are you getting the picture of Mary’s dilemma?

Verse 39 says, “Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country to a city of Judah”.  Mary probably grabbed a few necessities for the trip, and may have left a note for her parents and for Joseph explaining that she had gone to Elizabeth to help her in the final trimester of her pregnancy.  Then she took off “in haste” to avoid any conversations and questions from family, friends, and neighbors.  The home of Zacharias and Elizabeth was 80 miles away, a journey of four to five days on foot.  In her haste to get there, Mary may have arrived in four days or even less.  She had plenty to think about along the way!  But all the travelling is going to be worth the effort on her part.  Her visit with Elizabeth and Zacharias is going to be beyond her highest expectations!  The Spirit of God is going to do some amazing things!

As Mary reaches the hill country of Judah and the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth is in sight, she has been rehearsing in her mind what she is going to say to Elizabeth and how she is going to say it.  There is probably some uneasiness about how this information is going to be received and the responses she might get.  However, when she enters their house and greets Elizabeth, the Spirit of God takes it from there and performs a miracle to her amazement.  Verse 41 says, “And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”  I’m not sure that Mary observed those two things happening to Elizabeth, but she certainly heard the results.  The Holy Spirit immediately informed Elizabeth that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah, and then the Spirit took control of her voice as she described what happened and why it happened.  Verse 42 says, “And she (Elizabeth) cried out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’.”  Her voice was ecstatic and loud.  Notice that Elizabeth says “blessed among women”, not blessed above women.  It is a place of unmerited privilege, not a place of veneration or worship.  Her words were a confirmation to Mary that she was already pregnant.  “But how could she have known that information?”, Mary wonders.  “I haven’t told anyone that information and the news couldn’t have travelled that fast.  God must have told her.”

The answer comes in Elizabeth’s next statement in verse 43:  “And how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Elizabeth not only knows that Mary is pregnant, but also that she is pregnant with the Messiah.  This is a second confirmation of the angel Gabriel words to her.  In verse 44, Elizabeth describes to Mary what happened within her womb when she heard her voice.  “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.”

You mothers know what it looks like and feels like when your baby has moved around in your womb, especially when you are close to term.  Fathers and older brothers and sisters have watched wide-eyed. and with bursts of laughter, when the baby’s arm, elbow, or foot, protrudes in your belly.  It’s an amazing sight to watch and enjoy!

What Elizabeth described to Mary went well beyond the usual occurrence.  You might say that her experience was a miracle in itself.  It makes you wonder what it must have felt like when it happened!   I wonder whether the unborn John the Baptist was not only jumping for joy, but also assuming a position of worship before the Messiah in Mary’s womb.  Just a thought.

Finally, Elizabeth says in verse 45:  “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”  The Holy Spirit had even given Elizabeth insight into Mary’s heart, and Mary’s faith in God’s promise.  Because Elizabeth is saying these things under the control of the Spirit, this commendation of Mary comes not only from Elizabeth but also from God Himself.

II.  THE JOY OF MARY (verses 46-56)

After hearing these words from Elizabeth, Mary’s heart is overflowing with praise and thanksgiving to God.  She responds with one of the most beautiful and worshipful prayers or declarations of praise to God in the Scriptures.  It is often called the Magnificat.  The Latin Vulgate translation begins with the words “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” (“My soul magnifies the Lord”).  The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible states:  “Some of the greatest works of Christian art have been produced around the Magnificat themes.  Artists, poets and musicians have celebrated its theme of joy at the salvation now graciously offered mankind through the gift of the Messiah.”

Mary’s words are similar to the words of Hannah in I Samuel 2:1-10, where Hannah praises and thanks God for giving her a son (Samuel).  You might want to read that passage of Scripture and compare the two prayers.

This declaration of praise to God reveals much to us about Mary’s character, her knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, her concept of God, and her trust in Him.  Let’s take a closer look at her words as she declares the greatness of God’s character, and His wonderful deeds.  Before we study the individual verses of Mary’s declaration of praises, let’s look at all ten verses of the Magnificat so that you can see the whole prayer at once.

“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble estate of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me.  And holy is His name.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.

He has done mighty deeds with His arm.
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever”

That’s quite a statement, isn’t it?  With just a few modifications we could turn that into our own declaration of praise to God.  As we see, this young lady (Mary) must have spent a lot of time meditating on God’s Word.

Mary begins by expressing the source of her praise and joy.  In verse 46 she refers to God as Lord, and in verse 47 she calls Him my Savior.  She is echoing the words of Hannah in I Samuel 2, and the words of David in Psalm 35:9.  Like everyone else, Mary had to acknowledge Him as Lord, repent of her sins, and receive His salvation.

In verses 48 and 49, Mary rejoices in what God has done for her personally. Though she is the least of His servants, God has blessed her with the undeserved privilege of being the mother of the Messiah, who is now in her womb, and every generation will acknowledge this blessing of God upon her.  The focus of her attention is on God, and not on herself.  He is the one who has done these things.  As she says in verse 49:  “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”   I am impressed by Mary’s humility and her willing surrender to God’s will, as well as her concept of God’s power and holiness.

In the next section of her song, Mary includes those who are in the same socio-economic condition as herself (poor, humble and despised followers of Him).  Quoting from Psalms 103, 98, and 118, she praises God for His faithful mercies as He scatters the proud, feeds the hungry, and sends the rich away empty-handed.  Quoting from Job 5, Mary declares how God has exalted the humble and brought down rulers from their thrones.  Mary knows the Word of God, and her praise and confidence in Him is based upon God’s faithfulness to keep His Word.

Lastly, Mary gives praise to God for the things He has done for His people Israel.  In her prayer of praise she recalls to her mind Genesis 17:7 and 17:19, declaring God’s forever-promises to Abraham and his descendants: the land, the seed, and the blessing to all nations.  Many other passages in the book of Genesis are included in these promises.

After Mary finishes her hymn of praise, the Gospel writer Luke writes these words:  “And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home” (verse 56).  “Three months” – so for three months Mary and Elizabeth were praising God together for what God was doing in their lives.  Zacharias was praising God also.  We just don’t have any word from him.  He was speechless until after his son was born.

HAVE YOU FOUND REASONS TO REJOICE?

I think my favorite definition of worship is the one written by William Temple.  He was an Anglican minister, an advocate for social reform, and served as an archbishop for many years.  We have a William Temple House and a William Temple Thrift Store here in Portland, Oregon.   He says:  “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”  As I look at Mary’s prayer again, I find that she employed all of those characteristics of worship.  Mary declares God’s holiness and quotes from God’s Word several times.  She focuses on God’s character (His mercy, power, sovereignty, provision, and faithfulness).  As she expresses these words you can tell that her heart is filled with love for Him, and she counts it a privilege to serve Him.

Beloved, do you find it hard at times, as I do, to express praise and worship to God?  Do frustrations and distractions put you out-of-focus sometimes and rob you of joy and thankfulness to God?  What has often helped to restore my focus on God and an attitude of worship and praise has been to read one or more of the Psalms and reflect upon the character of God and His concern for us.  As a result of this study, I’m also adding the prayer of Mary and the prayer of Hannah to my list of Scripture passages to read in order to prepare my heart for worship.   Many recording artists have recorded renditions of the psalms and other passages on YouTube.  Esther Mui, for example sings beautifully many of the psalms as well as other worshipful passages of Scripture.  You can read the lyrics as she sings and the photos are awesome.  She is one of many artists who have placed their songs on YouTube for everyone to enjoy.

I hope that you have found reasons to rejoice and worship God.  If not, let’s start finding resources today.  I’ve given you a place to start.  I hope you will carry your quest for an attitude of worship and praise beyond my suggestions, and give some suggestions to me as well.

An illustration I just read caused me to realize that we will know when we are truly worshipping and praising God in our hearts because we will feel the nearness of His presence and experience the joy of His presence.    Here is the illustration:  After attending church one Sunday morning, a little boy knelt at his bedside and prayed, “Dear God, we had a good time at church today — but I wish you had been there!”

May you experience the nearness of God’s presence and the joy of His presence today as you take time to praise and worship Him.

 

 

ARE YOU LEAVING GOD OUT? James 4:13-17

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James began his letter by talking about the present situation of his readers and reflecting on their past.  Now he begins to look at the future.  He begins verse 13 with the words “come now”.  I think he’s trying to regain their attention.  This is a long letter, and as it’s being read aloud at the various congregations, some of his readers are becoming distracted or falling asleep!  It’s time for a “wake-up call”  So James says “come now”.  We might say, “Come on!  You’re doing it again!  Come on!  Think about what you are doing, and what you are saying to each other!”  A popular saying, when I was a child, was:  “Get your head screwed on straight!”  Nowadays you hear the phrase:  “Get your act together!”  His readers had been setting themselves up in the place of God by judging others.  Now they are doing the same thing again by leaving God out of their plans.

In today’s terms, James is saying that they are telling each other:  “I know exactly where I am going, what I’m going to do, how long it is going to take, and how much money I am going to make in the process!  James’ response is “come now”, where does God fit into all of this?  It reminds me of the poem “Invictus”, written by William Earnest Henley.  The closing lines of his poem are written below:

“It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,        I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

The poet writes about a person whose life is miserable, but who finds some contentment in the fact that he is in charge.  No one is telling him what to do!

Are you leaving God out?  Do you sometimes leave God out of your life?  Do you prefer to control your own destiny, and do you try to impress others by your ability to do so?  Maybe you’ve been doing so today?  Maybe you didn’t even realize it until now?  If you don’t do something about it today, it becomes easier to leave Him out tomorrow, doesn’t it?  What are you saying to God when you make plans without consulting Him?

James isn’t condemning planning.  But he is saying, “As you plan, don’t leave out the Master Planner!”  “He has plans for you also!”  Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  (NKJV)  Like actors and actresses on a stage, we may think that we can play our roles any way we want, but we are of no heavenly good if we don’t obey the instructions of our “Heavenly Director”!  He’s the one in charge of the operation and He knows how to get the job done right!

In verse 14 James asks them a question, and then gives them the answer, recalling to their minds passages of Scripture from the Wisdom Literature (Job thru Song of Solomon).  He asks “What is your life?”  Immediately He answers, “It is a vapor (mist, puff of smoke), that appears for a short time and then vanishes.”

Job says, “my life is but a breath” (7:7); “my days are swifter than a runner” ( 9:15). He also uses such images as a flower, a shadow, and a worm to convey the shortness of life.  Psalm 39 also says that life is a breath, and Psalm 73 speaks of life as “a dream that vanishes when we awake.”  Proverbs 27:1 says, “Don’t boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”  Conclusion:  Life is brief, and life is uncertain.  Can you relate to that?  The older you get, the more you will relate to it!

If you are a “trekkie”, a Star Trek fan, you will like the YouTube film clips of the various phaser settings, the last one being “vaporization”.  I like those special effects!  Here is the site:  (https//www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evl_FYarYlY).  I hope that gets you there!  It is an excellent visual aide for depicting a vapor!

I don’t think that this generation has as clear a concept of the passing of time as my generation and the generation before mine.  My grandfather had a beautiful pocket-watch, and when we came over for a visit, my two brothers and I would take turns sitting on his lap, and he would put his watch against our ears so that we could hear it ticking.  I enjoyed listening to the ticking sound of my first watch whenever I held my left wrist up to my ear.  This action on my part caused me to think for a moment about the passing of time:  tick , . . tick . . . tick!  We now live in a digital age and don’t hear the ticking sound very often anymore.  Nevertheless, time is “ticking away”, one second at a time, whether we can hear it or not!

While I was in college, I attended a Navigator conference and Leroy Eims was the main speaker.  One of his messages was entitled “Investing Your Life”, and this verse, James 4:14, was the primary focus of his message.  After describing what a vapor was, and how long it lasted, he told us that there are only two things in this life that will last forever:  God’s Word and people.  His challenge was:  “What are you going to do with your vapor?  Are you going to invest it in the things that will last forever, or are you going to let it go to waste?  Everything else is going to be burned up!  Don’t wait another moment to commit yourself to God and ask Him to change your attitude, so that the things that matter the most to you are the things that matter the most to Him!”

In verse 15, James corrects their boastful words in verse 13 by telling them what they should be saying.  James says, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, whe shall live and also do this or that” (NASB).  What he is saying to them is not a new revelation.  King David said in Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do Thy will.  Thy Law is in my heart.”  David also said in Psalm 43:10, “Teach me, O Lord, to do Thy will, for Thou art my God.”

Even clearer and more compelling are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  In John 4:14, when food was set before Him and He was encouraged to eat, the Lord Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work”  (John 4:34).  When He taught His disciples to pray, He told them to pray according to the Father’s will, not their own:  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10).  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42).

In the writings of John, Paul, Peter, Luke, and the letter to the Hebrews, we find the words, “if the Lord wills“, or “if the Lord permits”, or something equivalent to that.  May those words be a part of our plans and our conversations as well, and may those words be a true expression of our hearts.

With this instruction in mind, James gives them a stern warning:  “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  Do all of his readers know the right thing to do?  Do they know what he is talking about?  They certainly do!  They were taught the commandments from childhood, especially the two great commandments given in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19.   “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deutonomy 6:5).  The verses that follow say:  “These words . . . shall be on your heart .. . teach them diligently to your sons . . . talk of them . . . bind them as a sign on your hand , , ,  frontals on your forehead . . . write them on the doorposts . . . and on your gates.”  And Leviticus 19:18 says, “, , , You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  So James is saying, in effect, “Therefore, since you know what is right to do, you sin every time you fail to do it!”  Planning is important, but life is lived from moment-to-moment, and from situation-to-situation.  .  God has called us and impowered us to love Him and others each step of the way and every moment of the day.  The following saying helps to get the point across:  “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is for Christians to do nothing.”   I can still remember my father’s words to me:   “Don’t just sit there, do something!”

 

Thank you for coming to this “work in progress”.  This is how far I’ve gotten so far, and I will be start digging into James 5 as soon as I add one or two more illustrations to this section.  May the Lord continue to unfold His plans for you, and direct your steps today!  May your thoughts, words, and actions become more closely alligned with the will of the Father as your love for Him grows deeper.

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TRUE WISDOM IS WITHOUT HYPOCRISY – James 3:17 (continued)

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I’ve spent a lot of time studying and pondering this next attribute of heavenly wisdom.  It has been a very eye-opening and convicting study for me.  I hope and pray it will have the same effect on you also as you read and consider it.  The apostle James, here in verse 17, states that wisdom from above is “without hypocrisy”.  In order to understand this description we must first have a clear concept of what a hypocrite is.

“Hypocrite” is a Greek word which literally means “under a mask”.  It was used in the Greek culture to describe an actor on a stage.  In the ancient theaters each actor played several parts.  To change identities he would simply wear a different mask.  This was the word that Jesus used to describe the Jewish leaders.  Over and over again in the Gospels, especially Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus called them hypocrites.  No sin was so sternly denounced by Jesus as that of hypocrisy.  In Matthew 23 Jesus called them “blind guides”, “white washed tombs”, and “vipers”.  He used the strongest possible language of condemnation.

William Barclay asked the question:  “What were the things which incurred the anger of Jesus?”  The first thing he mentions is:  “Jesus was angry with anyone who was a hypocrite.”  The following are some further exerpts from William Barclay’s comments.  “A hypocrite is a man who says one thing with his lips, and quite another in his heart , , , . The man who is one thing to your face and quite another behind your back, the man who is ostensibly pious on Sunday and completely worldly on Monday, the man who professes a religion of love and of service, and who lives a life of bitterness and selfishness – that is the man who incurred the anger of Jesus (Day by Day with William  Barclay).

Let’s not forget that the first hypocrite described in the Bible was Satan.  He disguised himself as a serpent when he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God.  When we act like a hypocrite we are acting like him, following his example.  II Corinthians 11:14 says that he “disguishes himself as an angel of light”, when he’s really the prince of darkness.

Do we sometimes put on a performance in order to win the applause or approval of others?  Most of us like to “look good”, don’t we?  We like to look good on the outside, and we like to give the impression that we “look good” on the inside.  A seminary professor once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Jesus is coming!  Look Busy!”  He later warned his students about the dangers of “faking it” – pretending to be something we are not.

One way Christians wear a mask is by not sharing their weaknesses, thereby giving the impression that they don’t have any weaknesses.  A close look at their lives will soon show that to be untrue.  And even if people don’t see it, God sees it.  We can’t fool Him!

We sometimes give in to the temptation that we have it all together, don’t we? But a person with wisdom from above recognizes that he has imperfections, struggles, fears, and temptations, and is honest before God and before others.  Such people are sincere, transparent, authentic, genuine, open, and reliable.  As the saying goes, “What you see is what you get.”  There are no “unpleasant surprises”.  They can be trusted because they are not motivated by pride but by obedience to God and love for others.  They are more concerned about pleasing God than impressing people.

Are you happy with the way you look on the outside?  What about the inside? Jesus makes it very clear in Matthew 6:16, “Don’t be like the hypocrites”!

Dr. M.R. DeHaan of the Radio Bible Class Ministries says:  “The biggest hypocrite of all, however, is the man or woman who refuses to come to Christ because there are so many hypocrites in the church.  Such a person is being inconsistent.  Business is full of hypocrites, but that does not stop him from doing business.  Society is full of them, but he does not decide to become a hermit.  Hell is full of hypocrites, so if a person doesn”t like hypocrites he had better make sure he’s not going there.”  There’s no bigger hypocrite than the person who pretends that he doesn’t need Jesus.

Our lives are on display, like the ads in the newspaper.  Who is being advertized in your life?  Is the Lord Jesus Christ being advertized on the front page and on every other page of your life?  Jesus wants “top billing”, not  “honorable mention”.

The Coca-cola company used the following slogan in a song about the quality of their product:  “What the world wants today is the real thing.”  I hope that’s true of our world today – that more and more people are seeking the real thing.  If so, let’s be the “real thing” ourselves, not cheap imitations.  Let’s reflect the character and the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ to our world today.  That’s what the Spirit of God will do in and through us if we’ll get out of His way and allow Him to take control.  Are you ready and willing?

 

 

 

 

 

EXERCISE GODLY WISDOM – James 3:13

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INTRODUCTION:

Do you consider yourself to be a wise person?  Do others consider you to be wise?  What is wisdom?  Is there more than one kind of wisdom?  These questions are addressed in this passage of Scripture.  Remember that this is a letter, written by the apostle James to Christian Jews who have been scattered throughout Asia because of the persecution by the Jews and by the Roman Emperor Nero.  They have been separated from their Hebrew culture and the values of their forefathers,  and are now being exposed to, and immersed in the Greek culture of their new environment. Because of this, one of the issues that James is addressing is the wrong understanding of, and application of wisdom.

According to the Scriptures, wisdom is one of the most desirable things in life. Proverbs 8:11 says, “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.”  King Solomon wrote those words, and of all the people in the Old Testament, he ought to know!

Mankind has always wanted wisdom, hasn’t it?  Right from the beginning, in Genesis chapter 1, man has wanted to be as wise as God.  The apostle James even says, at the beginning of his letter, that wisdom is something that is available to all.  Let me read James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach.”  The word “ask” in James 1:5 means to “beg”. Though wisdom is available to all, it is only received by those who recognize their own inadequacy and realize that only God can provide it in answer to earnest prayer.

There are many words in Chapter 3, verses 13-18, that James has used to describe wisdom.  This passage is opening up for me a whole new meaning of the concept.  I hope this will be as eye-opening and profitable a lesson for you as it has been for me so far on the topic of wisdom.

I  A Challenge (verse 13)

James begins this verse with a question:  “Who is wise and understanding among you?”  He is not being sarcastic here.  He is being honest and forthright.  Many of his readers are well-educated people:  teachers, businessmen, and experienced craftsman.  His question is more than just a question.  It is a challenge.  James is saying, “If you claim to be wise and understanding (and many of you are), show it, or demonstrate it in the ways that true wisdom should be demonstrated.  The word translated “show” is the Greek word “deiknuo”.  It literally means “a turning to and fro”. Life is considered to be a quick motion to and fro.  We sometimes use the phrase “the ups and downs of life”.  True wisdom and understanding are demonstrated regardless of the changing circumstances of life. James used the same word in chapter 2, verse 18 where he says, “I will show you my faith by my works.”  Here James is saying, “show me your wisdom by your conduct (or good behavior).”

Verse 13 ends with an attitude of the heart that accompanies true wisdom:  “gentleness”.  Other translations say:  “meekness”, or “humility”.  It is a word that has lost most of its original meaning, and is considered a sign of weakness today.  Yet Jesus used that word to describe Himself.  He also pronounced a blessing on those who are meek in His Sermon on the Mount. In ancient Greece, the term was often used to refer to a strong and high-spirited horse which was brought under control.  It’s strength and spirit were now harnessed and put to good use.  Gentleness or meekness is one of the marks of true wisdom.

Greetings!  There is so much to study and learn in the next five verses, especially the qualities of heavenly wisdom, so I am going to give you an outline of the rest of the paragraph, and will continue at verse 14 in my next message.   The rest of the outline is given below.

II.  A Warning (verse 14)

III.  A Contrast (verses 15-17)

A.  Earthly Wisdom (verses 15-16)

B.  Heavenly Wisdom (verse 17)

IV.  A Conclusion (verse 18)

Summary and Application

 

II TIMOTHY – Background and Survey

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

John Calvin, the great theologian and preacher of the Protestant Reformation, had this to say about I and II Timothy:  he said, “What I owe to these two epistles to TImothy can never be told.”  In other words, he couldn’t say enough about them and their effect on his life.  II Timothy is one of the great heart-warming letters of the Scriptures.  It has been called Paul’s last will and testament to Timothy, and through him to the church.

Try to imagine how Timothy must have felt when he received this letter from his friend and spiritual father who had recently been taken away from him forcibly by Nero’s soldiers.  Timothy probably thought that Paul had already been put to death by the Roman emperor, Nero.  What joy and encouragement must have filled Timothy’s heart as he read about Paul’s affection for him, and about Paul’s appeals to him and promises to Him from the Lord Jesus Christ!  Tears must have filled Timothy’s eyes as he read this letter, realizing the sufferings Paul was experiencing and the death he faced because of his committment to Jesus Christ.

II.  BACKGROUND:

The apostle Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy in 67 or 68 A.D., just five years after his first letter to Timothy.  Paul experienced two imprisonments in Rome.  The first was more like a house arrest.  Paul lived in his own rented house and was given a great deal of freedom.  After this first imprisonment at the end of Acts 28, Paul made some more missionary journeys.  Then there developed a dramatic change in attitude toward Christianity on the part of the Roman government.  Just a few years  before the writing of this epistle, in July of 64 A.D., a great fire destroyed a large part of the city of Rome.  There was evidence that the fire had been ordered by Nero himself, and those rumors spread.  In a desperate effort to clear himself and get the focus of attention away from himself, Nero blamed the fire on the Christians.  The result was that many of the enemies of Christianity took sides with Nero and started persecuting and killing Christians.  This perseccution spread to all the Roman provinces.  It was not known for sure where the apostle Paul was when he was again arrested, but it may have been at Troas because Paul’s cloak and his precious books and parchments were left there.

The aged apostle Paul was now in chains in the dungeon of a Roman prison, locked in his cell and chained to a Roman guard day and night.  This epistle to Timothy must have been written only a few months before Paul’s death.  Whether or not Timothy arrived at Paul’s side before his execution is not known.

Timothy had been Paul’s faithful missionary companion for over 15 years.  He had travelled with Paul throughout most of his second and third missionary journeys.  He also went with Paul to Jerusalem in Acts 20 and may have been with him on his voyage to Rome.  Paul mentions Timothy’s name along with his own when he writes to Philemon and to the Philippian and Colossian churches.  In I Corinthians 4:17 Paul calls Timothy his “beloved and faithful child in the Lord.”  He also calls Timothy his “brother and God’s faithful servant in the gospel of Christ” in I Thessalonians 3:2.  Because of Timothy’s genuine concern for the welfare of the churches, and because of the loyalty with which he served with Paul “as a son with his father”, in Philippians 2:20-22 Paul went so far as to say, “I have no one like him.”  Among all of Paul’s associates, Timothy was unique.

After Paul’s first imprisonment, Paul left Timothy in Ephesis as the accepted leader of that church.  But though he was in leadership, Timothy still had some things that weren’t in his favor.  Timothy was still young.  He was probably in his mid-thirties, but at that time a person of that age was still considered a youth in the Greek and Roman cultures.  He was also a frail person with several physical ailments, and he was apparently a shy person.

III.  PURPOSE AND CONTENT OF THE LETTER

Imagine for a moment the aged apostle Paul in a dungeon in Rome with no escape but death.  His apostolic work is over.  But now he must make sure that the work of Christ is carried on to future generations.  As Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy, Paul must have been thinking, “Who is going to continue the battle for the truth of the Gospel after I’m dead?”

Paul’ purpose in writing is to remind Timothy again that the precious Gospel is now committed to him, and now it’s his turn to assume responsibility for it, to preach it, to teach it, to defend it, and to preserve it for future generations.  In II Timothy 2:1,2 Paul says, “My son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  And the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who may be able to teach others also.”

Paul’s main purpose in this letter is to focus on the character of the Christian, and he gives several images or portraits of the ideal Christian minister.  He is to be like his Master, the “suffering servant” described by the prophet Isaiah:  patient, gentle, hopeful, and praying for his enemies.  He is to be like a soldier who is single-minded and ready to obey his commanding officer.  Thirdly, he is to be like an athlete, running the race according to the rules of the contest, and fourthly, he is to be like a farmer, working hard and earning his reward.  Paul also gives an image or portrait of himself.  In II Timothy 4:7-8, in the face of death, Paul is unafraid, and gives his own eulogy.  He says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

It is significant that the last time Timothy’s name is mentioned in the New Testament is in Hebrews 13:23 where it is reported that Timothy was recently released from prison.  He too is keeping the faith in Christ regardless of the consequences to himself.

IV.  AN OUTLINE OF II TIMOTHY:

There are many outlines of the second letter of Paul to TImothy, but my favorite is taken from John Stott’s book entitled, “Guard the Gospel”.  I like this outline because it is simple and easy to remember;  and also because it views Paul’s letter as a series of challenges to Timothy.  Here is his outline:

Chapter 1 – The Charge to Guard the Gospel

Chapter 2 – The Charge to Suffer for the Gospel

Chapter 3   The Charge to Continue in the Gospel

Chapter 4 – The Charge to Proclaim the Gospel

V.  THE SIGNIFICANCE AND APPLICATION TO US:

This church, and every church of true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, needs to heed the message in this second letter of Paul to Timothy because many churches and many Christians are relaxing their grip on the Gospel, and in danger of letting it slip from their hands.  They are no longer determined to proclaim it;  they are unprepared to suffer for it;  and they are are unwilling to pass it on pure and uncorrupted to the next generation of Christians who will rise up after them.

In II TImothy we see that even though the aged apostle Paul faces death in prison, his passion for fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission by making disciples  is as strong as ever.  What does the Lord require of us?  He requires faithfulness to Him and His work, not only on Sundays but throughout every day of every week for the rest of our lives.  God wants us to finish the race He has entered us in, looking forward to the day when we shall see Christ face-to-face in heaven.  Paul’s final charge to Timothy is “Guard what has been entrusted to you”, and his final words are “Grace be with you.”

MAN’S WISDOM VERSUS GOD’S WISDOM – I Corinthians 1:18-25

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INTRODUCTION:

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 16:25 says the exact same thing.  Is that significant?  How can something that seems so right be so wrong and have such terrible consequences?

The passage of Scripture I’m sharing today, I Corinthians 1:18-25, gives us an instance in which the reverse principle is also true:  “There is a way that seems wrong to a man, but its end is the way of life.”  In I Corinthians 1:10-17 we read that the Corinthian church was being divided because of quarrels between groups in the Church.  Today we will see that the problem was a reliance on human wisdom.  There is one area where human wisdom plays absolutely no part, and that is the salvation of one’s soul.

I.  THE SUPERIORITY OF GOD’S WISDOM (verse 18)

When man focuses on and glories in his own wisdom, he automatically tries to lower God’s wisdom, which seems like foolishness because it disagrees with his own thinking.  In verse 18, “the word of the cross” includes the whole gospel message and Christ’s saving work.  The thought of God becoming a human being and dying on a piece of wood on a small hill in a remote part of the world, and that this would determine the eternal destiny of every person who has ever lived, sounds foolish or stupid to the natural man.  It leaves no room for man’s wisdom, man’s achievements, and man’s pride.

A Christian was made fun of by an athiest because of his faith in God.  “The idea that the blood of Christ can wash away sin is foolishness”, said the atheist.  “I don’t understand it or believe it.”  The Christian, a student of the Bible, answered, “I think you’re telling the truth.  In fact, you and the apostle Paul agree exactly on one thing.”  “What do you mean?”, asked the atheist.  The believer read I Corinthians 1:18 which says, “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness”.  Then he witnessed to him and told him that Christ could change his life.  But the atheist walked away unmoved.  He was not willing to accept the Lord. The next time you share the Gospel with someone  and the person responds by saying, “that’s’ ridiculous”, you might show that person I Corinthians 1:18 and say, “that’s just how God said you would respond!”

On the other hand, verse 18 goes on to say, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Another story illustrates the truth that those who believe the Gospel will experience the Lord’s saving power.  A missionary told the story that he went to a western town to pastor a small church.  He didn’t know that many of its members were antagonistic to “old-fashioned preaching”, and that some were practically atheists.  As he spoke about sin and the atoning work of Christ, the irritation of his audience became obvious.  In a few weeks the attendance had dwindled to 10.  But the faithful preacher continued to give out the Word and the Holy Spirit brought sinners under conviction.   At one service three entire families received the Lord, and the downward trend was reversed.  The Gospel is indeed the power of God!

There’s a Chinese tale about a young man who captured a tiger cub, brought it home, and raised it in a cage.  When it was full grown, the man loved to brag about how ferocious and powerful it was.  “That tiger isn’t wild anymore,” scoffed his friends.  “He’s as tame as an old house cat!”  This went on until a wise old man overheard them and said, “There’s only one way to know whether this tiger is ferocious or not.  Open the cage!”  The young man smiled, placed his hand on the latch and challenged his friends, “Want to try out my tiger?”  There was a moment of silence, and then one of the friends said, “We’ll believe you!  Just don’t open that latch!”

A tiger’s strength, of course, is destructive and can bring death, but the power of the Gospel leads to life and freedom.  It destroys guilt and breaks the stranglehold of sinful habits.  If we have experienced this power ourselves, let’s challenge others to “try out our tiger!”

II.  THE PERMANENCE OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 19-20)

In verse 19, Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14.  It reads:  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”  Paul’s purpose is to point out that the wisdom of men will be destroyed.  The background of this verse is important to the understanding of it.  In chapter 8 of Isaiah, God tells the people of Judah that Assyria is going to invade them.  Instead of asking the Lord what they should do, they went to witches and sorcerers, and in Isaiah 30, following their advice, they make a treaty with Egypt, thinking that will protect them.  But that treaty gets them into even more trouble!  Their plans fail, but God shows them that He has a better plan.  Judah would be saved completely by God’s power, with no human help.  In Isaiah 37:36 God destroyed 185,000 men of the Assyrian army with just one angel!  The complete account of this is given in II Kings 17.  I encourage you to read it.

The apostle Paul teaches here in verse 20 that human wisdom is not only unreliable, it is also not permanent.  Paul asks several questions.  Each question is asking, “Where are all the smart people today that have all the answers?”  How much closer to peace, in the world and in the heart, is man today than he was a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago?

Paul asks:  “Where is the wise man?”  He is paraphrasing Isaiah’s words, and the prophet Isaiah was referring to the wise men of Egypt – the sorcerers and magicians who made promises but gave bad advice that led Egypt astray.  “Where are the scribes?”  Paul is probably referring to the Assyrian scribes who went along with the soldiers to record the plunder that was taken in battle.  But God saw to it, in this case, that they had nothing to record, and nothing to count or to weigh.  What was left of the Assyrian army ran away empty-handed.

“Where is the debater of this age?”  Paul is probably referring to the Greek philosophers of his day who spent most of their time arguing with each other!  Throughout history human wisdom has never solved the basic problems of man.  And nothing has really changed over the years, has it?  Life has the same problems.  People have the same struggles.

III.  THE POWER OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 21-25)

Verse 21 says that God planned it that way.  Man cannot come to know Him by the wisdom of the world.  In Acts 17, when Paul came to Athens, he noticed a shrine on which were written these words:  “To an unknown God.”  With all their learning and philosophies they made for themselves many gods, but the God who had made them, they did not know.

God does not expect people to come to Him through their own wisdom.  He knows they cannot.  But they can come to Him through His wisdom.  And that wisdom has been given to us in the simple message of the Gospel.  It is not through philosophy or human wisdom that salvation comes, but through believing God’s’ Word and His plan of salvation.  God saves only those who believe.  People cannot figure out salvation, they can only accept it in faith.

Unbelief is always the basic reason for not accepting God’s will and God’s way, but unbelief can be expressed in various ways.  In verses 22 and 23, the Jews wanted supernatural signs before they would believe the Gospel.  The Gentiles, represented by the Greeks, wanted proof through human wisdom, through ideas they could consider and debate over.

These two groups that Paul mentions here, the Jews and Greeks, are representative of all unbelieving mankind.  Whether, like the typical Jew, they demand proof by a supernatural sign, or like the typical Greek, they want proof by natural wisdom, unbelievers will find an excuse for rejecting the Gospel.  But God has called out a people for Himself from among the Jews and the Gentiles.  These will believe and find that Jesus Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Paul closes this portion of his letter by saying that, even if God could possess any sort of foolishness, it would be wiser than man’s greatest wisdom.  And if God were able to have any weakness, it would be stronger than the greatest strength that man could muster.  Jesus may have appeared to be foolish and weak as one imagines Him hanging on a Roman cross, suffering and dying.  But by doing so, Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the world and opened the gates of heaven for all who would believe in Him.  Christ’s death and His resurrection were actually His greatest demonstrations of His infinite wisdom and power.

CONCLUSION:

I would like to give two different applications of what Paul has taught us in this passage of Scripture.  First, God’s wisdom is opposed to man’s’ wisdom.  We Christians make a great mistake when we water down the Gospel message to make it acceptable to people, and reasonable to them.  The Gospel isn’t an argument, but an announcement.  And this announcement is meant by God to be proclaimed clearly and accurately.

Secondly, if you still have your own personal philosophy about God and about life, and it doesn’t agree with the Bible, the wisest and most needful statement I can make to you is that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died on the cross for your sins in your place, and shed His blood so that you could be acceptable to a holy God.  And the wisest decision you could ever make in your life would be to believe that announcement, repent of your sins, and accept Jesus Christ into your life and your personal Savior and Lord.  If God is calling you to make that decision, don’t delay or look for excuses, but respond to His call by receiving Him into your life;  and let other Christians know what you have done so that they can rejoice with you and help you grow in your knowledge of Him.