Jesus. God, Man, Or Both?, Part 1

In response to a currently ongoing discussion about whether God emptied Himself in order to become human, here are some thoughts based on two sermons I preached about two years ago. One on Philippians 2:1-11 called “Rejoice! And Be Made Nothing” and one on Isaiah 9:6 called “Was Jesus Really Both God and Man.”

In this first post I want to take a look at Philippians 2:1-11 and the humility of Jesus, and in a subsequent post I will be digging into the humanity and deity of Jesus.

Unity: The Identity of a Christian
Let me start off by asking a couple of questions to probe your heart.

Do you feel any comfort of being in Christ?
When He saved you, He drew you near to Him, and made you a new creation and you were united to Him as a member of His body. How does this truth affect you when you are in need of His comfort because of any sort of suffering you are going through? How does being in His presence, being His child, being part of His family with many brothers and sisters encourage (in the sense of comfort) you in times of need? Do you feel any consolation from being in Christ? Paul says elsewhere, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Cor. 1:15). And the psalmist says, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Ps. 94:19). There is great encouragement, comfort and consolation to be found in Christ, but do you feel it? Do His consolations cheer your soul?

Do you feel God’s love for you?
God loves you. Consider that for a moment. The creator of the universe, the holy and perfect God loves you. In fact, He cannot stop loving you. He loves you so much that while you were His enemy, while you were separated from Him because of your sin, He sent His own son to die for your sins so that you could have a relationship with Him again. God loves you, always, in every circumstance, and whatever you are going through. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5).

Do you feel the reality of the Holy Spirit in you?
When you received Christ as your Savior, you also received the Holy Spirit. You were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Your spirit got renewed (regenerated) by being united with the Holy Spirit. You can now have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and experience His joy and His comfort, and His counsel, and His truth in your life. In fact, Paul says in Romans 5:5 that it’s God’s love that has been poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit. How real in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in you? How much do you call upon Him in the everyday things of life?

Do you feel a deep love for your brothers and sisters?
When you see one of your brothers or sisters going through some hardship, some sorrow, some weakness, some testing, how spontaneous does your heart go out and desires to help him or her? Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. Do you feel a deep capacity to love your brothers and sisters?

Now, you may wonder why I am asking you these questions. Well, here’s the thing. At the end of chapter one, Paul exhorts us to let our manner of life be worthy of the gospel by standing firm in one spirit and with one mind striving side by side for the gospel – in other words, being in unity together as we deal with all sorts of external conflicts – Paul now continues by saying: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Phil. 2:1-2)

So let me ask you this question: were you able to answer the four questions I asked you with a resounding ‘yes’? In other words, does being in Christ, and being in God’s love, and being in His Spirit, move you to be manifest His love to one another? Because this is what Paul is saying. That if we are united in Christ, and are united in His love, and united in His Spirit, and united by our love for one another, then let us be living in unity with one another, be knit together in mutual affection for one another.

This is our identity as Christians. You could say these are four gifts to a Christian – encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, affection and sympathy. They are real. Communicated to us both in a direct, spiritual way from Jesus, as well as from Jesus through each other to each other. These four gifts are to lead to a deep, abiding, internal unity amongst each others, united in heart, soul, and spirit, setting our mind on the same thing. And it continues what Paul started talked about in the previous chapter: to live a manner of life worthy of the gospel, side by side striving for the faith of the gospel. But in order to do this, Paul encourages the Philippians to get their act together.

Unity is our identity.

Humility: The Activity of a Christian
So how do we attain this unity amongst each other? Paul continues: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4)

Now this statement is absolutely countercultural. Our world exists, thrives, for selp-help, self-esteem, self-love, self-actualization. Not for humility. In the world, humility is not a virtue. It is not found. It is not what people desire or look for, at all. And so we must rebel against our sin nature, against our culture, against western civilization, that life is about your destiny and your rights and your vision and your calling and your giftedness and your glory. We must rebel against all of that, because it’s not true. It’s simply not true. Paul here gives us safeguards about love. He gives us the activity which both flows out of our identity as well as allows us to move toward it. Love through unity is both our starting point as well as our goal. He says first: “do nothing from rivalry or conceit.” Do nothing through strife/self-ambition, or vain/empty glory. Nothing! Because pride works itself out in these ways. So flee it with all that is in you.

Strife, rivalry or self-ambition is at the heart of our human fallenness, and it has to do with a desire to put yourself forward, to promote your own interest, your own ambitions, and your own goals at the expense of others. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul lists it as a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). And James in his letter says this: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:13-16)

Second, Paul says: “but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Now, what is humility? Humility is not to be confused with false modesty; it does not mean that you should falsely consider others better than yourself. But it has to do with a proper estimation of yourself, being well aware of both your weaknesses and of your glory (we are made in His image after all), but making neither too much or too little of either. Elsewhere Paul says, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Rom. 12:3). True humility is therefore not self-focused at all, but looks to the concerns of others. We are to consider other not in our estimation of them, but in our caring for them, putting them and their needs ahead of our own. So, it is not so much that others in the community are to be thought of as better than you, but as those whose needs and concerns surpass your own.

Here is what I believe Paul says, and which I think is very important to understand so that we can apply it: pursuing humility by God’s grace starts with personal obedience of each one of us individually, but can only be worked out in the context of community; meaning that we need each other in our pursuit of humility. If humility means putting the needs of others ahead of our own, we need others’ needs to be able to do this, right? And I believe that if each one of us individually decides to pursue humility by the grace of God, that this will lead to the unity that Paul is talking about. Nothing builds a church stronger and healthier than humility. Nothing breaks and destroys a church faster and certainly than pride.

Where unity is our identity, it is humility which is the activity that fuels that identity.

The Example We Have In Christ
So, are you pursuing humility or not? The only way to pursue humility is that you and I would not work out of rivalry and conceit, thinking that we’re smarter than everyone else and better than everyone else, but by God’s grace in humility look at Jesus. Paul knows this. And so Paul lifts up Jesus as an example of not only the most humble that ever lived, but the only humble person that every lived or will ever live, by saying, “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 made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)

Paul starts in such a comforting hopeful way. He says, “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” implying that it is possible this mindset. Paul doesn’t give us an example which is impossible to follow or attain. No, he exhorts us to pursue this mind of Christ with everything in us. It is all too easy for us to read this description of Jesus and admire it from a distance. God wants us to be awed by it to be sure, but also to see it as something that we must enter into and imitate. Obtaining this mindset, this attitude, is something we have a choice about. It is something we must choose to walk in. And I believe here as well, Paul is giving us a picture of identity followed by activity. The picture starts with the identity of Jesus, and Paul says that in eternity past Jesus was God. Jesus’ identity is that He is God. Certainly as God, Jesus did not need anything. He had all the glory and praise of heaven. Together with the Father and the Spirit He reigned over the universe. But then Paul says that Jesus did not consider His equality with God as something selfishly to be held on to. Jesus did not think of Himself; He thought of others. His attitude was that of unselfish concern for others. And so He made Himself nothing(!), taking the form, taking the identity of a servant. This is an incredible statement. I won’t bore you with the Greek grammar behind this, but what it implies that the true identity of God, His true inward nature, is that of a servant. Let that sink in for a minute. If you would have to answer the question: “Who is God? What is His true identity?” then the correct answer is: “God is a servant. That is His true identity”. We also mustn’t think that in making Himself nothing that God emptied Himself of His divine attributes to take on the form of a servant (more about this in the next post). No, His true identity, his true nature, is that of a servant, and He added humanity to His nature. This to me is absolutely mind-blowing.

When we read on, Paul tells us the activity that flows out of this identity: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Wow! Jesus humbled Himself when He became obedient. This was something that Jesus could only experience by coming down from the throne of heaven and becoming a man. When God sits enthroned in heaven’s glory, there is no one He obeys. Jesus had to leave heaven’s glory and be found in appearance as a man in order to become obedient. One key to Jesus’ obedience on earth was the endurance of suffering, as it says in Hebrews, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8). This again was something He could only learn by experience by becoming a man. Here is what Paul is saying. Jesus is the most humble person and His death on the cross is the most humble event and act in the history of the world. Jesus willingly humbled Himself. Why? That He might lift us up! What?! Yes. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 8:5). God left being worshiped by angels continually to be disrespected by stiff-necked, stubborn, unrepentant, self-righteous, proud people, like you and me. And how did we respond to Jesus, who is God? We murdered Him. That is how proud we are. Not only that, Jesus, allowed us to murder Him. That’s how humble He is. And in dying, He is so humble that He died for me that I might have salvation and love and reconciliation with God who made me. My pride is laid on Jesus, and His humility is laid on me. This is absolutely astonishing!

How is all this for our example? Here’s why. We cannot be like Jesus in that we can die for the sins of world. That was His specific mission. But we can follow Jesus’ example in our pursuit of humility. Here are two thoughts:

  1. Humility means to be a servant: We have the tendency to be confused. Whereas God doesn’t think He is us, we too often think that we are like god. But if this were true; if we truly want to be like god, we would have to also portray the true identity of God, meaning: taking the form of a servant. Because God is a servant, and Jesus came to serve.
  2. Servanthood comes with sacrifice: Many people are willing to serve others if it doesn’t cost them anything; and if there is a price to pay, they suddenly lose interest. But that’s not serving. Serving comes with a sacrifice. Jesus did not only come to serve, but to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). This means that service and sacrifice go hand in hand.

Jesus’ Exaltation
Jesus revealed that the principle by which God operates is that in order to be exalted, you have to humble yourself and become a servant. It makes sense thus that Paul concludes by saying: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

When we seek to take honor to ourselves, we will always be humbled – if not on earth, then for all of eternity. The promise of exaltation for the humble and humiliation for the proud is one ultimately fulfilled in eternity. Peter said this in his letter, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5-6). The whole purpose of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation is the glory of God. As Jesus faced the cross, the glory of God was uppermost in His mind: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). The joy of pursuing humility comes not primarily from helping others, but from the knowledge that we are glorifying God. We may not see the glory today, but we shall see it when Jesus comes and rewards His faithful servants.

Let us imitate Jesus and make ourselves nothing, becoming a humble servant, willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others. Let us not think about glory other than the glory we want to give to God. Let us not think about our own glory. Jesus didn’t when He came down to rescue us. And if, if, we receive glory, let it be received through the giving of God, which is true glory, everlasting glory.

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Growing in Grace and Knowledge

Every morning I read Spurgeon’s “Morning by Morning” devotional. All of them are great, but some are exceptional. Today was one of those, in which case I do not want to withold it from you.

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter 3:18

Grow in grace – not in one grace only, but in all grace. Grow in that root-grace, faith. Believe the promises more firmly than you have done. Let faith increase in fullness, constancy, simplicity. Grow also in love. Ask that your love may become extended, more intense, more practical, influencing every thought, word, and deed. Grow likewise in humility. Seek to lie very low and know more of your own nothingness. As you grow downward in humility, seek also to grow upward – having nearer approaches to God in prayer and more intimate fellowship with Jesus. May God the Holy Spirit enable you to “grow in … the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.” He who grows not in the knowledge of Jesus, refuses to be blessed. To know Him is “life eternal,” and to advance in the knowledge of Him is to increase in happiness. He who does not long to know more of Christ, knows nothing of Him yet. Whoever has sipped this wine will thirst for more, for although Christ does satisfy, yet it is such a satisfaction that the appetite is not choked, but whetted. If you know the love of Jesus as the hart pants for the water-brooks, so will you pant after deeper draughts of His love. If you do not desire to know Him better, then you love Him not, for love always cries, “Nearer, nearer.” Absence from Christ is hell; but the presence of Jesus is heaven. Do not rest content without an increasing acquaintance with Jesus. Seek to know more of Him in His divine nature, in His human relationship, in His finished work, in His death, in His resurrection, in His present glorious intercession, and in His future royal advent. Live close to the Cross, and search the mystery of His wounds. An increase of love to Jesus and a more perfect apprehension of His love to us is one of the best tests of growth in grace.

The Challenge of 2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

There are some prerequisites here:

  • We need to be a people who are called by His name
  • We need to humble ourselves
  • We need to pray
  • We need to seek His face
  • We need to turn from our wicked ways

All these steps are necessary, and can only happen in this order. It is so easy to think that we are called by His name. I mean, how many people are out there calling themselves Christians (to whatever extent), saying they believe in God. But it is 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, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

Yet even when we are sure of our calling, we need to humble ourselves. Being humble provides us with a set of character traits or attributes which will put us in a position in the world in which we can show the love of God through our good works and sincerity of heart. Secondly, being humble is not an end goal to be achieved, but a starting point to obtain from which all our transformation into Christ-likeness happens. Strangely enough a great book to study humility is James. I did this once, and it was really amazing.

When studying the book of James on the theme of humility my aim was to go through each verse and see if the character of humility was to be found in there. The main two distinctions is what character humility will produce, and what humility will give us. Humility is being patient (James 1:4, James 5:7-8, James 5:11), being self-controlled (James 1:19-20; 3:2), being content (James 4:1-3), being receptive to the Word (James 1:21), being repentant (James 4:8-9), being submissive (James 4:15), and being self-sacrificial (James 5:4-5). Humility will give us glory (James 1:9-10; 4:10), will give us grace (James 4:6), will give us rewards for work (James 1:25), and will give us spiritual healing (James 5:16). For each of the above, we at least need to find the humility to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5; 3:13).

Our humility should (and maybe can only) drive us to our knees, to pray. The reason prayer has such great potential for changing things is God. And the reason prayer is surrounded by such difficult problems is God. If it weren’t for the power of God over natural process and over the human will, there would be no hope in praying for change in the world or in people. And it is that very same power and prerogative of God that creates the problems we stumble over in prayer. This is what Spurgeon said:

“It is our full belief that God has foreknown and predestinated everything that happeneth in heaven above or in the earth beneath, and that the foreknown station of a reed by the river is as fixed as the station of a king, and “the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses.” Predestination embraceth the great and the little, and reacheth unto all things; the question is, wherefore pray? Might it not as logically be asked wherefore breathe, eat, move, or do anything? We have an answer which satisfies us, namely, that our prayers are in the predestination, and that God has as much ordained His people’s prayers as anything else, and when we pray we are producing links in the chain of ordained facts. Destiny decrees that I should pray — I pray; destiny decrees that I shall be answered, and the answer comes to me.”

And prayer is hard work! “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). The Greek word used here for “devote yourselves” is “proskartereō” and means to “to be devoted, steadfastly attentive, persevere, constant readiness, be strong”. Wow, to be devoted to prayer means to be constant ready, to be steadfastly attentive. Prayer is hard work. I never considered prayer to be hard work. I mean, do you ever need to take a shower after you’re done praying because you sweat so much of the hard work? I don’t! The other verse is “Epaphras… always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12). The Greek word for “laboring earnestly” is “agonizomai” meaning “to contend with adversaries, fight, to endeavour with strenuous zeal”. So it’s not only hard work, it’s a fight.

But not only pray, but also seek His face. The Bible talks about this in a number of verses:

  • Jehoshaphat sought God’s face on the eve of a great battle (2 Chronicles 20:2-4);
  • We are commanded to seek His face (Psalm 24:5-6; 27:7-9; 105:4; Hosea 5:15)
  • We receive justice through it (Proverbs 29:26)
  • Daniel sought His face in his prayer about the 70 weeks (Daniel 9:3)

Turning towards God, seeking His face, means being confronted with His glory. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are being transformed – progressively, degree by degree – into the image of Christ the Lord. This work of transformation is a process. We are becoming like Christ. We are growing in our capacity to show Christ by being like Christ. That is God’s will for us. That we be progressively be conformed to the image of Christ. When we behold the glory of God we see the face of Jesus Christ, and it transforms! God’s life in us is started or brought into existence and our human heart life, love, thoughts and power is replaced by God’s supernatural life, love, thoughts and power. It cannot be that we are beholding the glory of God and are not being transformed. Yes, we have our own willpower, but “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) must have as a result that we turn from our wicked ways…

And the result? God will listen, and respond. Isn’t that amazing!

Discipleship 101 #4 – New School

So, what does this all mean for us in our daily lives? What is it that a disciple of Jesus does? Let me list five things a disciple of Jesus does.

A disciple is a Reborn Follower of Jesus
There is no distinction between being a Christian and being a disciple. Christian means “belonging to Christ” and thus that Jesus Christ is your Master, your Rabbi, which means that you are His disciple, and thus follow Him. Now, here we could go into all sorts of discussions of belonging to Christ means justification, and that those who are being justified also will be glorified (Romans 8:30), so that no sanctification or following is required of a Christian/disciple/follower of Christ, for you will be glorified anyways. But regardless of the fact that this is true, this doesn’t take away the fact that Jesus Christ demands a lot from a Christian, which (if He is your Master, because you are His follower) must be obeyed. For those interested to find out what Jesus exactly demands from a Christian (and the world), a good book to read would be John Piper’s “What Jesus Demands from the World” which lists 50 demands from Jesus. Like I said in my first post, in the old Jewish tradition, the relationship between a disciple and his teacher is one of complete loyalty, dedication and submission. In Matthew 4:18-20 we read about the immediacy of following Jesus where it says, “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” And in Matthew 8:18-22, Jesus tells us what it means to follow Him, “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.’” But I think John’s writing is the most clear when he wrote, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

A disciple Submits to At Least One Other Person Who Teaches Him How to Follow Jesus
Character develops in community, but in order for character to develop it requires something. It requires submission. You need to be willing to submit to someone and letting that person speak into your life, and this requires humility (“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (1 Peter 5:5). So, humility leads to submission leads to character development (which means transformation into Christ-likeness). Humility is a starting point, not an end goal (see my post “Good Works Versus Humility” for more insights). The Apostle Paul in particular points this out in several of his writings. He says to Timothy, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me” (2 Timothy 3:10-11), and “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). And Paul says to the Corinthians, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:15-16). And we read in Ephesians 5:21 to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Being a disciple means to be a servant, and in this case it is a servant/servant relationship towards each other.

A disciple Learns Jesus’ Words
On this point obviously much can be said. Like the old Jewish disciple had an oral tradition which required them to memorize everything their rabbi said (and often meant memorizing the whole Law (the Torah or the Pentateuch or the five books of Moses) and much of the Prophets), so we should learn Jesus’ words. This should not be taken lightly at all. We should know Scripture by heart. It should ooze out of us, ready to be used “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We should have Jesus’ words ready in our heart for all circumstances, which means next to the aforementioned verse also for defending and confirming the gospel (Philippians 1:7) and for fighting the devil (Ephesians 6:11-17), which includes the Word of God being a sword (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12). I like what Donald S. Whitney says in his book “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” when talking about Scripture memorization, where he explains the Word of God being a sword to be used. He says that if you need to defend yourself and you take out your sword, that knowing only Genesis 1:1 and John 3:16 will not be sufficient to defend yourself in most situations. (This obviously does not mean that we should turn the Word of God into a list of handy verses to be used for different situations!).

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32). We need to abide in His Word if we are truly are His disciples. Why? Because we will know the truth! But there are more reasons, and the Psalmist says it quite beautifully. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:7-8), and “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-3), and “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11). So, the Word of God is perfect, it revives the soul, it makes wise the simple, it rejoices the heart, it enlightens the eyes, and it keeps you from sinning. In other words, it is life-giving!

A Disciple Imitates Jesus’ life and Character
This could actually be the most important one, although this should flow naturally out of submitting yourself to Jesus. Yet, this is a thing that many times is skipped in the process of being a Christian. Imitating Jesus’ life and character means sanctification, means spiritual formation, and means transformation into the image of Christ. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). It means that we should “have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).

Imitating Jesus’ life and character leads to living a life of humility, for “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3). Imitating Jesus’ life and character leads to living a life of sacrifice, for “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1). Imitating Jesus’ life and character leads to living a life of submission, for “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Imitating Jesus’ life and character leads to living a life of obedience, for “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36) and “Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” (Acts 5:29). Imitating Jesus’ life and character leads to living a life of persecution, for “indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

A Disciple Finds and Teaches Other Disciples Who Also Follow Jesus
Jesus spent three years teaching and training the apostles, and when He left He told them in Matthew 28:19-20 to “go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The Great Commission is the normal job of a disciple: to raise up more disciples, and we could say that the Christian faith has done a pretty good job in ‘going’ and ‘baptizing,’ but that unfortunately the ‘making disciples’ and ‘teaching them’ could be described as the Great Omission. Something Dallas Willard wrote a whole book about. With the great commission transformation became mission. It reveals Jesus’ heart and priority. It launches a rescue mission. All followers receive orders to take action: “When he saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” (Matthew 9:36-38). When all who become disciples make disciples, the result is not reproduction (adding one disciple at a time), but multiplication (one become two, becomes four, etc)

These are the things that Jesus demands from His disciples.

The Pillar and Support of the Truth

I was asked to study 1 Timothy chapter three and give a 15-minute teaching on it. I figured it wouldn’t hurt putting my thoughts on my blog as well…

Chapter three of 1 Timothy is the familiar and famous chapter listing the qualifications of an elder and a deacon. Complete libraries have been written on this topic and so it seemed like a daunting task to actually do some exegesis on this text which was not done before, and at the same time making sure I don’t fall into the category of people discussed in 1 Timothy chapter 1 (if you get my point). I don’t know how often I read this chapter before, but for some reason I never really noticed the last couple of verses. Maybe because the focus of the chapter is so evidently on the qualifications that these go unnoticed. Yet Paul is never accidental in his writings and so I believe that the fact these verses directly follow the qualifications is deliberate and intentional.

I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
Keeping in mind that Paul did not write this letter with chapters in mind, we could still say that Paul gives the outline for the qualifications without tell why these qualifications are important. Yet he does so at the end. In verse 14-15 Paul he tells us that these instructions for qualifying elders are so that we will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God. In other words, how you should behave in church. What I think is interesting is that Paul then gives a description of the household of God nowhere else mentioned in Scripture, and in a way that emphasizes his previous point. He says that the household of God is the church of the living God is the pillar and support of the truth. Paul is making a direct relation between the qualifications of an elders and deacons (church leadership) and the fact that the church is the pillar and support of the truth. I think this is interesting. And so it seems worthwhile to further explore the theme of the church being a pillar.

The pillar and the foundation of the church is truth. It isn’t that the church is the foundation of the truth, but that the church holds up the truth so that the world can see it. In ancient days pillars where often used to fasten upon edicts or declarations for all the public to see. In the Bible pillars are mentioned on a couple of times.

The Pillars of Solomon’s Temple
In 1 Kings 7:15-21 we read about the two pillars on the porch of Solomon’s temple. These enormous pillars (8.3 meters tall, 5.5 meters in circumference, with a 2.3 meters high bronze capitals) were named Jachin, which means “he establishes,” and Boaz, which means “in him is strength.” Some believe that these pillars were to remind Israel of the twin pillars from the Exodus, the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Constant reminders and God’s presence. You could also say that the house of God itself was Jachin and Boaz. The temple was established by God and built by the strength of God, or “In strength shall My House be established.” You could also say that in the temple, the house of God, people experienced what the pillars were all about: people were established in their relationship with God, and people were given strength from God.

Jeremiah was made like a pillar by God
In Jeremiah 1:17-19 we read that God says to Jeremiah to prepare for action, to go out and proclaim the truth. In order to do that God makes Jeremiah strong like a fortified city and like an iron pillar. “‘Get up and prepare for action. Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say. Do not be afraid of them, or I will make you look foolish in front of them. For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall. You will stand against the whole land – the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah. They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken!'” (Jeremiah 1:17-19). In order for Jeremiah to hold up the truth, God made him like an iron pillar.

Peter, James and John were known as the pillars of the church
In Galatians 2:9 we read that the inner circle of Jesus, Peter, James and John, were known as the pillars of the church, meaning not only that they were the pillars on which the church was built, but also that they held up the truth for all the world to see. They were, in a way, like Jeremiah, made like a pillar by God.

Here is where the qualifications of an elder come in, because in order to be a pillar, to be like a fortified city that cannot be captured, to hold up the truth, you have to be above reproach. Being above reproach (blameless, well-thought-of, give no grounds for accusations, to be without any character defect) is in a sense the only qualification of an elder. Paul does the same thing here as he does in Galatians 5:22-23 when discussing the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, and an elder must be above reproach. In both cases Paul is so kind to give us some more insight into what this means practically, and he does so in four ways: First, his relation to God (he has to be a man, he has to be able to teach, he cannot be a recent convert); second, his relation to his family (he has to be faithful to his wife, he has to have respectful and obeying children, he has to be a good steward of his household); third, his relation to himself (he has to be self-controlled, he has to live wisely, he cannot have additions, he has to be able to handle money well); and fourth, his relation to others (he has to be gentle, he has to be not quarrelsome, he has to have a good reputation outside church, he has to be hospitable, he cannot be violent)

All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of God
The last reference to pillars can be found in Revelation 3:12, where Jesus says: “‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.’” I think this is very interesting. Revelation 3:12 is part of Jesus’ letter to the church of Philadelphia. Historically this ancient city suffered often from earthquakes as it was situated in a highly volcanic region. When a building collapsed in an earthquake often all that remained were the huge pillars. Jesus offers us this same strength, to remain standing in Him when everything around us crumbles. Of all of the churches in Revelation that Jesus sent a letter to, the church of Philadelphia together with the church of Smyrna are the only ones for which Jesus has no concerns. Interestingly enough, the church of Philadelphia is the only church out of the seven which is promised to be kept out of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 3:10) and with the church of Smyrna the only two churches still alive today! It is said to represent the missional church model and era. In any case, it is interesting that it is this church in particular (the missional church with no concerns that is still alive today) that is promised to become pillars in the temple of God.

Application
Pillars are what hold up the building. The only thing supporting the pillar is the foundation. Elders are to be pillars in the church, who support the church, and they should look to Jesus as their support foundation. And so it is of the utmost importance that the church appoints elders (identified by the Holy Spirit) who are above reproach, in order for the church to hold up the truth so the world can see it. The question then remains is how does one become above reproach? And my answer would be to keep Psalm 86:11 close to heart and mind, which says: “Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.” A proper fear of the LORD will unite your heart with His, because it will convict you of sin you didn’t realize you had, because it will create a desire to see the full glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:4-6) which will keep you on a straight and humble path of desiring to be above reproach. Yet if you think you’re there you are not above reproach anymore.