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Doing What Is Good October 26, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Titus 3:1-11.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting Titus to remind the Cretans that they should calmly respect the order of civil government; they should obey the laws and submit to the law officers. Indeed, believers should not reproach other people; they should avoid quarrels – even with the lowest and meanest of people.

Paul then reminds the Cretans that previously:

  • their wisdom was vanity, since they did not know God
  • they rebelled against God
  • they wandered about as lost sheep

and so they indulged their carnal desires. Yet because God is kind and merciful, He offered and revealed Christ to believers in the Gospel message. None of their good deeds can regenerate them; yet they have received salvation as symbolized by their water baptism. Indeed, they have been washed by God’s power; His mercy alone enriches them in Christ. He has imputed righteousness to them by His grace; thus, they have the hope that brings them full assurance of their status as heirs of life. Paul solemnly asserts these points; moreover, he wants Titus to strongly affirm them – as they are worthy of praise – so that the Cretans will make good deeds their chief concern.

Now Paul states that Titus should avoid questions – including those that concern the lineage of races and debates that stem from the law – that make no contribution to godliness, since they provoke conflict with obstinate people. He should rebuke them with a public and severe censure. Paul concludes by asserting that there is no hope of repentance for them, as it is clear that their sin is deliberate and voluntary.

Thoughts: In verse 1, Paul highlights the importance of believers submitting to the civil authorities. One must wonder if at least some of the Cretan believers wanted to rebel against the Roman government. Were they subject to burdensome taxes? Did Roman soldiers randomly attack Cretans on their patrols? Did the civil authorities persecute the Cretan churches? Perhaps Paul wanted the Cretan believers to behave in an exemplary manner – in contrast to the rebellious Jews, as Calvin notes in his commentary on verse 1. In this way, the Cretan believers could display the life-changing power of the Gospel to the civil authorities. One must wonder if any of the Roman leaders on Crete converted to Christianity as a result of Paul’s instructions in this regard.

In verses 3 to 7, Paul highlights the amazing transformation that has occurred in the lives of believers by the work of the Holy Spirit. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

There are two implications of Paul’s words here that should be noted. First, people who have now been enlightened by the Lord should be kept humble as they recall their own previous ignorance and so should not exalt themselves proudly over others, nor treat them more harshly and severely than they thought they themselves should be treated when they were in that state. Second, they should realize that what has happened to them may happen tomorrow to those who are outside the church today.

I am sure that all believers struggle with the problem of exalting “themselves proudly over others,” albeit to varying degrees. In my case…as I spent more time studying the Bible and serving in various capacities in my previous church, I became more arrogant toward other believers; I regarded them as being spiritually immature. Indeed, I set a high bar for them, and I judged them for failing to meet that standard. Yet I failed to realize that I could not meet that standard, though my arrogance blinded me to my shortcomings. I still struggle with this problem; I definitely need the assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to be more patient with fellow believers.

Verses 9 to 11 are analogous to the passages in 1 Timothy where Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid engaging in disputes over words that did not edify believers. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

When Paul told Titus to avoid such people, it is as if he said that he should not spend time in satisfying them, for they like nothing more than the opportunity to engage in a fight. This is a most necessary warning, as even people who are happy to take part in verbal battles are drawn into controversies, as they think they would lose face if they did not engage in battle in this way. But Paul does not want Christ’s servants to become too involved in disputes with heretics.

While Paul does identify some of these “heretics” in 1 and 2 Timothy, including Hymenaeus and Alexander, he does not identify any of the “heretics” on Crete. Yet we can be certain that Titus struggled with various heretics who challenged his teaching of the simple – yet pure – Gospel message. Perhaps we can assume that heretics arose in each congregation in the early church with the objective of challenging the apostles’ teaching. Now in the case of the church on Crete, did these heretics refute the divinity of Christ? If that had been the case, then it would have been almost impossible for Titus to refrain from debating them at every turn.

Love of Money August 28, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Timothy 6:3-10.

Summary: Paul begins by condemning empty and irreligious teachers who are carried away by foolish curiosity and despise anything helpful and substantial – they are full of folly and they know nothing. They spread their disease around by engaging in contentious disputes about words that result in anger and strong disagreements. Indeed, they measure Christianity by how much profit they can derive from it.

Paul then asserts that the godly always have sufficient possessions, which brings complete blessedness. Believers should only strive for the necessities of life, since the desire for possessions is evil. Anyone who has the accumulation of wealth as his main aim in life gives himself over to the devil. Paul concludes by stating that countless evils spring from covetousness – including apostasy, which leads to those who are beyond all hope being plagued by the dreadful anguish of their consciences.

Thoughts: In verses 3-5, Paul condemns those false teachers in Ephesus who preached for financial gain. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 4:

…but rather the kind of question dealt with in the schools of the Sorbonne, which displayed intellectual ability. There one question led to another, and there was no end of them, everybody indulging his vanity in seeking to know more than he should, ending up in infinite quarrels. Just as in hot weather thick clouds cannot be dispersed except by thunder, so these thorny questions are bound to cause disputes.

Now I learned about Calvin’s disputes with the theologians of the Sorbonne when writing a previous post. I do wonder if the theologians of the Sorbonne were aware of Calvin’s commentary on 1 Timothy; if so, how did they respond to it? Were these teachers of the Sorbonne motivated by intellectual “vanity” and the desire to display their knowledge, or did they genuinely seek a deeper understanding of God’s Word? Which passages of Scripture did these theologians of the Sorbonne study intensely? I assume that Calvin’s dispute with these teachers of the Sorbonne was not resolved during his lifetime – yet I hope to meet them in the next life and learn more about their “infinite quarrels.”

In verse 10, Paul notes that some of those believers who suffered from the sin of greed ended up falling away from their faith. Calvin drives home this point:

People who suffer from this disease gradually degenerate until they completely renounce their faith.

In some sense, this verse highlights Paul’s overriding concern in this letter: the Gospel must be effectively preached in order to save as many of its hearers as possible. Anything that hindered – or even reversed – the progress of the Gospel must be nipped in the bud, and Paul knew that the sin of greed was a major stumbling block for at least some believers. Paul must have been deeply frustrated as he wrote this verse, as it is probable that he and Timothy had initially converted at least some of these apostates; watching greed ruin their good work for God’s kingdom must have been heartbreaking. Hopefully these apostates had the opportunity to hear Paul’s teaching on this point and repent of their sins.