A Delight of Reading the Whole Bible in a Year

I have not had as much chance to post this past week as I have been way at a conference. Several of the speakers delivered fantastic sermons, which is always a benefit of these events. But I had a special delight this year as I heard from books like Daniel, Ezra, Ephesians, and Timothy. As the preachers delivered the messages I was so much more familiar with the scriptures that they were using.

But that isn’t to say that I now know enough. In reading though the Bible this past year I am instead primed to learn more and learn better. I loved knowing the context of the stories, remembering conversations had or posts written about those passages, and being challenged in new ways on what I thought I knew.

When they stepped back to give context, I was right there with them. The texts were still fresh in my mind, much closer to the surface, and much more accessible for the Spirit to use in my hearing and responding to the Word. It wasn’t like I was having to watch the same movie over again. It wasn’t at all tired or boring. The Bible is a living Word and I could see that as I had the chance to sit and receive it.

I pray you find that same delight as you grow more familiar with it and continue to read and re-read and read again God’s Word.

God’s Work, Not Our Work

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
2 Timothy 1 :8-9

As much as this is a letter to Timothy and about his ministry, it isn’t really about him. Paul wants to keep the focus on Jesus Christ and what he has done. It is not on the basis of our work that we are called, but because of God’s purpose and grace.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t called to do a work. We are. God has a plan for us and wants us to follow it. But just as it isn’t all about Timothy, it isn’t all about you or me. We are to make our work point to Jesus.

We do have a role to play, but Jesus deserves all the glory. We would have nothing if not for the grace given in him.

It reminds me a bit of this quote from Stacey King, a teammate of Michael Jordan.

I’ll always remember this as the night that Michael Jordan and I combined for 70 points.
(Said after Michael Jordan scored a career high 69 points and Stacey King scored 1 point against the Cavaliers. )*

*But when it comes to the work of our salvation, we don’t even contribute that one point.

Remember Jesus Christ: a lesson from The Silver Chair

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
2 Timothy 2:8-10

To remember Jesus Christ was important for Paul, since it was for Jesus’ that Paul suffered. And he charges Timothy to remember, and not only for himself and for his work, but for others. Timothy is to guard the truth, care for it, and pass it on, reminding the brothers and sisters of this gospel.

Likewise, our common calling is not just to speak about God, but to remind each other of this gospel: That God came to earth in Christ, he put to death death itself, has forgiven our sins and will give us life with him forevermore. Do you remember that? Something has happened on the cross and who we are is a consequence of Jesus Christ. We should never grow weary of thinking back to these things.

To understand better what Paul is saying here we need to stop and look at what it means to remember. I want to make sure the active tone of this word is coming across. It is not just reminiscing or simple, dull memorization so that if someone quizzes you about Jesus you can ring in with the answer.

It’s not quite, “Don’t forget.” It’s more.

My family does a far bit of road tripping up and down the East Coast. One thing we do to pass the time is listen to audiobooks. One year we went through a great recording of The Chronicles of Narnia. In my favorite, The Silver Chair, I think we learn well what it means to remember, and why we should. The Christ figure, Aslan, a lion, tells a girl Jill four signs to lead her on her journey. And before he sets Jill on her way, he gives her a speech in which he says:

“But first, remember, remember, remember the signs, say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. … The signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you met them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart, and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs.”
(Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis, 560)

Jill leaves Aslan and discovers her quest is to find a lost Prince. Tragically, all along the way the signs are forgotten or misunderstood. The result is her group had to begin their journey without official support, they end up on the menu of a group of giants, and almost fail entirely when they come face to face with the prince himself—since they hardly were able to recognize him.

The Silver Chair Cover

The problem was she had learned the signs, but was not remembering them.

She knew one sign was to find an ancient city, but failed to recognize it in the rubble she saw because she was distracted and her attention was on the bitter cold and dreams of a warm fire. She knew the Prince would be the one who spoke the name Aslan, but when that person who spoke was an imprisoned, enchanted mad-man, she was paralyzed with fear. Fortunately – against all her “better judgment”, she decided to let this dangerous man loose, freeing the prince, for she says, “What was the point of learning the signs if we weren’t going to follow them when they came up?!”

If only she could keep the signs straight. If only she could remember.

The Silver Chair Illustration

We try so hard to do the same in our lives and in the life of the Church, and how far off the path do we find ourselves. Once we are entrenched in the world the commands of Jesus, the truths of the Bible, even simple ones like “love you neighbor,” do not seem so clear to us. We get distracted, we are afraid or anxious about life, or maybe we focus on our own comfort.

We veer from our course, and all too often also try to justify it. If only we could see more clearly. To follow Christ can be simple enough, but it is difficult. It is easy to lose sight of him. That is why we need to have the discipline to remember Jesus Christ… each night, every morning, and even when we wake in the middle of the night. Only when we keep him fixed in our sight are we able to live the life and follow the path that God has laid out for us.

*This was originally a sermon I preached years ago, but have chosen a selection of it and edited it down as it fits with readings for Year in the Bible this week.

A Word About 1 Timothy and Paul

You may live your whole life and never once hear about the issues of authorship that arise in the discussion of the pastoral letters of Paul. And that life would be just fine. But questions do come up as to whether or not Paul wrote the New Testament book we’re reading this week for Year in the Bible, 1 Timothy.

As I said, you could live a full life without spending great time and energy on this question. But I bring it up because the authors of these books are important and I don’t want to make it seem like this issue is hidden. When churches never touch on controversial issues there can be a feeling that it is because if the controversy is true and some new idea becomes the norm, everything will fall apart. If Paul, by his own hand with his favorite quill, did not write 1 Timothy, do we then throw away the Bible and quit church? I do not think so.

One thing we shouldn’t do is use these questions as an excuse to dismiss parts of Scripture that we find difficult. Just recently at a conference at Princeton Seminary a professor, instead of tackling an issue that is raised in 1 Timothy, just dismissed whichever parts she was unsatisfied with saying something like, “Well, Paul probably didn’t write that book.”

1 Timothy is still part of the Bible. Clear on that? If Moses didn’t write all five books of the Pentateuch, does that mean we can then say, “Well, that’s in Genesis, and Moses probably didn’t write it.” The Bible is God’s book and he has worked upon many people throughout generations so that we may know his story.

That introduction aside, here is a very brief rundown of some thoughts about 1 Timothy. First, the issue of who wrote it is brought up because of different styles in grammar and form between a book like 1 Timothy and Paul’s epistles. I am no great expert, but in hearing these objections while in school I couldn’t help think to my own writing and how different it must have been my first year in college compared to my final year, my first year in seminary to my final year, and compare that to my writing today. Take that into consideration along with different causes for writing and different audiences and I thought that could account for a good deal of change. Perhaps that is far too simple an explanation. But I do know Paul was not perfect, and even though he was a teacher to many, he certainly had lessons to learn as well, and as he matured he may have had a better sense of what to say, how to say it, and to whom to say it.

Without further ado, here are three views quickly summarized with the help of New Testament Theology by I. Howard Marshall (397-398).

  • Paul is aided by a colleague in ministry who had a certain degree of freedom in composing the message.
  • The letter was written by someone else who wanted to bolster the authority of the letter by associating Paul’s name with it.
  • This letter contains Paul’s materials that were appropriate for the needs Ephesus and were formatted into a letter so as to be better received by the church.

False teaching and speculation is not only wrong, but a waste of time

The more letters of Paul you read the more you may notice patterns. He, along with other writers, often expresses a great concern for false teachers. There are warnings against their doctrines and the gospel is then described in stark contrast. 1 Timothy begins no differently as part of Timothy’s charge in watching over the church in Ephesus is to pay careful attention to what is being taught. Timothy needs to keep the teaching pure and put in end to false teachings.

I think most of us would rather stand for something rather than against it, but there are times, as we see in the Bible, when it isn’t either/or. There is a time for subtlety. There is also a time to call attention to false teaching and false teachers. And it is not only an issue about what is true and how should we protect that. Here in 1 Timothy we see one concern of Paul’s is that some in Ephesus have devoted themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Are they the most threatening issues affecting the church? Perhaps not. But they result in speculation and vain discussions.

What Paul wants Timothy to promote is proper stewardship from God and to foster love from a pure heart. If we spent all day speculating on unimportant issues we would have spent the whole day on unimportant issues! We certainly may have discussions that border the core elements of our faith, but we ought not devote our whole selves to them. In Ephesus people do devote themselves in this way, desiring to be teachers, to be authorities, yet they have no idea what they’re even talking about (rough translation of 1:7).

If you ever listen to talk radio, be it sports or politics, it is amazing how many hosts can go on and on for hours filling up time without saying much at all. Try taking notes during the program and then at the end look back at just how much was said. I doubt it’ll be very much. That is not the model for Christianity. We aren’t to endlessly babble or speculate, whine or critique. There is a great place for discussion, teaching, and study. But these are to lead us in following Christ and being a people of action, acting out our faith in love.

Proper stewardship isn’t just an issue of money. Vain discussions and speculation are poor stewardship of one of our greatest possessions: time. God has given us each day to live and we need to be wise in how we manage such an wonderful gift.