A Higher Calling
1 Timothy 4:6–16
It’s easy to get self-absorbed when we’re criticized—or when we think others are criticizing us. Because of our real or imagined defects, we start to believe other people don’t take us seriously. It’s easy to get off course in an attempt to defend ourselves.
As a young leader, Timothy may have dealt with criticism in the Ephesian community because of his age. Paul gives him advice: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12).
Paul doesn’t offer defensive solutions. Rather, he calls Timothy to be a living example of his teaching. He reinforces Timothy’s calling by encouraging him to stay focused on his call, speech, and conduct. By being the contrast to the rumors about him, Timothy thwarts criticism.
But Paul isn’t simply giving leadership advice. By reaffirming Timothy’s purpose and calling, he is helping Timothy focus on God’s work instead of his own abilities (or a defense of them). Paul doesn’t want Timothy to be guided by fear of others; he wants him to think about God.
We don’t have to be in a leadership position to experience this type of criticism or to respond in the way that Paul suggests. When feeling defensive or concerned about other people’s opinions, we shouldn’t be concerned about defending ourselves. We’re not intended to reaffirm our own stellar traits or abilities. That flies in the face of the gospel. Instead, we should act in a way that points people to God’s work, shifting both our focus and their focus to the one whose opinion truly matters.
Are your attempts at earning the respect or favor of others making you self-absorbed? How can you shift your focus to God and the work He wants you to do?
A Higher Calling
“Who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”
— 1 Timothy 6:17
Our Lord Jesus is ever giving, and does not for a solitary instant withdraw his hand. As long as there is a vessel of grace not yet full to the brim, the oil shall not be stayed. He is a sun ever-shining; he is manna always falling round the camp; he is a rock in the desert, ever sending out streams of life from his smitten side; the rain of his grace is always dropping; the river of his bounty is ever-flowing, and the well-spring of his love is constantly overflowing. As the King can never die, so his grace can never fail. Daily we pluck his fruit, and daily his branches bend down to our hand with a fresh store of mercy. There are seven feast-days in his weeks, and as many as are the days, so many are the banquets in his years. Who has ever returned from his door unblessed? Who has ever risen from his table unsatisfied, or from his bosom un-emparadised? His mercies are new every morning and fresh every evening. Who can know the number of his benefits, or recount the list of his bounties? Every sand which drops from the glass of time is but the tardy follower of a myriad of mercies. The wings of our hours are covered with the silver of his kindness, and with the yellow gold of his affection. The river of time bears from the mountains of eternity the golden sands of his favour. The countless stars are but as the standard bearers of a more innumerable host of blessings. Who can count the dust of the benefits which he bestows on Jacob, or tell the number of the fourth part of his mercies towards Israel? How shall my soul extol him who daily loadeth us with benefits, and who crowneth us with loving-kindness? O that my praise could be as ceaseless as his bounty! O miserable tongue, how canst thou be silent? Wake up, I pray thee, lest I call thee no more my glory, but my shame. “Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake right early.”
When I locate a problem, I often fixate on it. I think that if I analyze it enough, I can solve it. This is a problem when I come to difficult issues that require someone else’s expertise. Stubbornly, I want to figure out the problem myself. I want to be self-sufficient. When God is the only one who can solve my problem, I’ve just created an impossible scenario.
When the psalmist hit troubling times and questioned the things that were accepted truths in his life, he didn’t seek his answer from anyone but God. When he felt far from God and questioned all he had taken for granted, the questions he asks are close to those in our own hearts: “Why God? Have you removed your favor?” (Psa 77:7). “Has your steadfast love ceased forever?” (Psa 77:8). “Do your promises end?” (Psa 77:8).
It would have been tempting to dwell on his personal experiences to answer these questions. But instead, the psalmist turns to study God’s redemptive work. This seems counter-intuitive to us, but we find this practice throughout the psalms. Why doesn’t the psalmist simply address the problem at hand? He knew that to understand God’s work in the present, he had to look to the past. He had to consider God’s work in humanity—His wonders of old, mighty deeds, holy ways, and power among the peoples. Ultimately, though, the psalmist looks to God’s work of redemption in the exodus from Egypt. He needed a backward glance—a look at God’s faithfulness to His people in the past.
We have an even greater redemptive story than the exodus. When things seem to go wrong, when we question God’s plan for our life, we can look back to Christ’s work on the cross. We’re not leaving our story for another one when we do this; instead, we’re acknowledging Christ’s ongoing work in our lives through the Holy Spirit. His work sets our entire life in perspective.
When life seems complicated, don’t try to be self-sufficient. When your emotions dictate otherwise, take a backward glance at the cross and reckon in your mind and heart what is already true of God’s love for you. There has never been such a testament of His love. Then take a faithful step forward, trusting in Him.
How are you trying to be self-sufficient? How are you taking a backward glance at the cross and stepping forward in faith?
“Joint heirs with Christ.”
— Romans 8:17
The boundless realms of his Father’s universe are Christ’s by prescriptive right. As “heir of all things,” he is the sole proprietor of the vast creation of God, and he has admitted us to claim the whole as ours, by virtue of that deed of joint-heir-ship which the Lord hath ratified with his chosen people. The golden streets of paradise, the pearly gates, the river of life, the transcendent bliss, and the unutterable glory, are, by our blessed Lord, made over to us for our everlasting possession. All that he has he shares with his people. The crown royal he has placed upon the head of his Church, appointing her a kingdom, and calling her sons a royal priesthood, a generation of priests and kings. He uncrowned himself that we might have a coronation of glory; he would not sit upon his own throne until he had procured a place upon it for all who overcome by his blood. Crown the head and the whole body shares the honour. Behold here the reward of every Christian conqueror! Christ’s throne, crown, sceptre, palace, treasure, robes, heritage, are yours. Far superior to the jealousy, selfishness, and greed, which admit of no participation of their advantages, Christ deems his happiness completed by his people sharing it. “The glory which thou gavest me have I given them.” “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” The smiles of his Father are all the sweeter to him, because his people share them. The honours of his kingdom are more pleasing, because his people appear with him in glory. More valuable to him are his conquests, since they have taught his people to overcome. He delights in his throne, because on it there is a place for them. He rejoices in his royal robes, since over them his skirts are spread. He delights the more in his joy, because he calls them to enter into it.
A Sense of History
1 Chronicles 1:1–54
When I was in sixth grade, my teacher assigned our class a family genealogy and history project. At first it was frustrating. It seemed like unnecessary work. But eventually I became obsessive over it as I discovered our family stories. Many of us share this same experience; we’ve uncovered ancestors who have done great things. Through this process, we can begin to understand not just these people of history, but also ourselves.
Although we may be especially interested in our own family history, who doesn’t skip (or at least think about skipping) the genealogies of the Bible? Even if we’re serious about reading biblical books front to back, we prefer to skip over the long lists of names. But that would be a mistake in the case of 1 Chr 1:1–54. This genealogy is about human history leading up to a monumental person: King David. The lineage also makes the book of Ruth incredibly relevant: Boaz, Ruth’s husband, shows up in the line (1 Chr 2:11–12), which indicates that God had a plan to enfold non-Israelites into His people long before Christ’s work brought about that result (e.g., Acts 2).
Just as our family history teaches us about the way we are, reading the Bible allows us to learn why David was the way he was. Through genealogies, we can learn about the heart and character of God and His intricate plan to save the world.
How does the sense of history conveyed in the Bible connect to your sense of history? How does it connect to the work Christ is doing in and through you today?
John D. Barry
Her Children Arise and Call Her Blessed
By David Mathis | May 11, 2013 12:00 am
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day — a sweet opportunity for Christians to celebrate one of God’s most significant means of his common and redeeming grace.
For most, there’s some bitter flavor somewhere. We live in a fallen world. All mothers are sinful — even Jesus’s own mother knew well her need for a Savior (Luke 1:47) and for God’s mercy (Luke 1:50). Whether your own mother monumentally failed you, or you’re a mother who’s all too aware of how you’ve failed your children, there is goodness and grace to acknowledge and appreciate in almost every situation, even when deeply tarnished by sin.
But for many of us, our hearts soar in thanksgiving when God brings to mind our mothers and grandmothers, or our wife and mother of our children. Among those of us raised in believing homes — in which our parents were faithful in teaching and modeling the faith — we may enjoy, all the more, the priceless privilege of fulfilling Proverbs 31:28 on Mother’s Day: “Her children rise up and call her blessed.”
Such Influence over the Heart
The great English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) had such a privilege. When he writes about his “Early Religious Impressions”, he not only says, “Fathers and mothers are the most natural agents for God to use in the salvation of their children,” but in particular he celebrates his mother.
I am sure that, in my early youth, no teaching ever made such an impression upon my mind as the instruction of my mother; neither can I conceive that, to any child, there can be one who will have such influence over the heart as the mother who has so tenderly cared for her offspring. . . .
Never could it be possible for any man to estimate what he owes to a godly mother. Certainly I have not the powers of speech with which to set forth my valuation of the choice blessing which the Lord bestowed on me in making me the son of one who prayed for me, and prayed with me.
If anyone would have had the powers of speech to set forth the blessing of a godly mother, it would have been Spurgeon. And yet he knew how invaluable and ultimately indescribable is the good a godly mother for her children. It was his mother, more than any other mere human, who was God’s means in making Spurgeon great.
A Mother’s Unforgettable Sway
How can I ever forget her tearful eye when she warned me to escape from the wrath to come? I thought her lips right eloquent; others might not think so, but they certainly were eloquent to me.
How can I ever forget when she bowed her knee, and with her arms about my neck, prayed, “Oh, that my son might live before Thee!” Nor can her frown be effaced from my memory — that solemn, loving frown, when she rebuked my budding iniquities; and her smiles have never faded from my recollection — the beaming of her countenance when she rejoiced to see some good thing in me towards the Lord God of Israel.
And it was not just her example and beaming countenance, but her words, communicated with manifest grace and gravity.
I cannot tell how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother. It was the custom, on Sunday evenings, while we were yet little children, for her to stay at home with us, and then we sat round the table, and read verse by verse, and she explained the Scripture to us. After that was done, then came the time of pleading; there was a little piece of Alleine’s Alarm, or of Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted, and this was read with pointed observations made to each of us as we sat round the table; and the question was asked, how long it would be before we would think about our state, how long before we would seek the Lord.
Then came a mother’s prayer, and some of the words of that prayer we shall never forget, even when our hair is grey. I remember, on one occasion, her praying thus: “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance that they perish, and my soul must bear a swift witness against them at the day of judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.” That thought of a mother’s bearing swift witness against me, pierced my conscience, and stirred my heart.
Mothers Who Gave Us God’s Word
Countless characteristics of a godly mother could be celebrated this weekend, but for the Christian it may be captured best in 2 Timothy 3:14–15, where Paul writes to Timothy his protégé, and notes the eternal influence of Timothy’s mother.
Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
What Paul has in mind with Timothy being acquainted with the Scriptures from childhood is made plain earlier in the letter: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5).
According to Acts 16:1, Timothy’s father was Greek, but his mother was “a Jewish woman who was a believer.” It was Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois who gave to him God’s priceless self-revelation in the Scriptures and, under God, made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” John Piper comments,
The apostle of Jesus Christ in this text bestows on motherhood and grandmotherhood a great honor. You have a calling that can become the long-remembered ground of faith, not just for your children — mark this — but for the untold numbers who will be affected by your children. And that’s in addition to all the other thousands of ripple effects of faith in your life. (“Honoring the Biblical Call of Motherhood”)
Whether Mother’s Day for you is bittersweet, or just plain sweet, here is perhaps the single most significant thing to celebrate in a Christian mother, and aspire to be with what life we have left to live: bringing the Scriptures near to our children.
In this way, the charge of Hebrews 13:7 to recall our leaders may have this special application to us in those we celebrate today: Remember your mothers, especially those who spoke to you the word of God.
Being Good at What Matters
Judges 20:1–21:25; Philippians 4:21–23
Though prayer is important, it’s an area of our faith lives that we often neglect. But people of great faith in the Bible relied on prayer—and not just for difficult situations. From general direction to specific details, they turned everything over to prayer. God spoke to them directly, they listen, and then they act.
Maybe you don’t believe God speaks directly to you. If that’s the case, consider why you think this way. Why wouldn’t He want to speak to you? He chose you by sending His own son to die for you. Jesus, that son, said that God would come and speak to you (John 17). You’re important to God, and He wants to talk to you—to know you.
In Judges, we find a situation where people relied on God not just for direction, but for details. The Israelites rose up against the tribe of Benjamin because they refused to address the wickedness among them (Judg 20:12–14). But before entering battle, they inquired of God. They actually asked for the details of the plan: “ ‘Who will go up first for the battle against the descendants of Benjamin?’ And Yahweh said, ‘Judah will go first.’ ”
We often forget how important it is to ask God about the details—to seek His guidance in all things. Neglecting prayer is a huge mistake. We need God’s grace, the grace of Christ, to be with us always: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Phil 4:23). Having the grace dwell upon us, and in us, in all things, requires a constant pursuit of Him. Rather than laboring over the details of your life alone, ask God.
What details in your life need to be worked out? Have you presented them to God and sought His voice?
John D. Barry