Paul’s Portrait Of God For Timothy

Neal Pollard

Devoting himself to a theme of godliness in writing his spiritual son, Timothy, Paul writes to encourage him to teach godliness to people who enjoy financial prosperity (1 Tim. 6:3-10, 17-19). Part of his instruction is to point rich Christians (the case can easily be made that American Christians qualify as this in nearly all instances and many preachers in foreign lands on U.S. support do, too, among their fellow natives) to where the truest treasures lay. Along with encouraging righteous behavior, Paul points to God. He gives life to all things (13). Paul also points to Christ Jesus, who is faithful (14) and who is coming again (14) to give “life indeed” in “the future” (19). Certainly, as Christ is divine, this picture describes Him, though it is obvious this is a portrait of God. He depicts God as:

  • Privileged—“Blessed” (15)
  • Particular—“Only” (15); “Alone” (16)
  • Predominant—“Sovereign” (15)
  • Preeminent—“King of kings and Lord of lords” (15); “Whom no man has seen or can see” (16)
  • Possessor—“Possesses immortality” (16)
  • Phenomenal—“Dwells in unapproachable light” (16)
  • Praiseworthy—“To Him be honor and eternal dominion!” (16)

Why would Paul remind a preacher (or have a preacher remind Christians) about who God is? As we see in the second letter to this young man, motivation is vital! What keeps me serving God when life is difficult? When the world around me ignores Him, mocks Him, rebels against Him, blasphemes Him, and dismisses Him, I need to serve and glorify Him. What will help me do that? I need to see Him for what He truly is! So Paul pulls out a series of superlatives to drive home the point, “How great is our God!” 

In a world full of ungodliness, of “worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’” (20), we must be on “guard.” Nothing clarifies the task better than intently focusing on the nature of God. He provides (1:4), He is (1:17), He saves (2:4; 4:10), He is one (2:5), He lives and rules (3:15;4:10), He created (4:3-4), and He sees (5:21). What motivation!

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Communication Landmines

Neal Pollard

Paul writes two letters of instruction to Timothy, the preacher at Ephesus. As his father in the faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:18), Paul wanted the younger man endowed with the wisdom and courage to be God’s man.  Timothy would face pressures and temptations from many different directions. The apostle’s words also provide some common sense to help him do the sometimes difficult task of preaching and ministry.

In a letter full of the theme of godliness, 1 Timothy, Paul gives him some intriguing encouragement in the sixth chapter. He says, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (6:3-5). In this brief admonition, he gives Timothy several tips to help him be a useful communicator of God’s truth. He urges Timothy to avoid:

  • Compromise. Not only here, but throughout the letter, Paul urges Timothy to teach the pure doctrine of Christ, those sound words and that godly doctrine. If we bow to pressures and change the revealed word of Christ, we become deadly communicators.
  • Conceit. Ironically, the conceited often look down upon others. Yet, Paul ties the arrogance to ignorance (“understands nothing”). When we encounter one who condescendingly communicates, we are prone to tune them out even if they are telling the truth. It is incongruous to have a pompous preacher speak of the lowly Jesus. It’s a credibility killer.
  • Controversy. We live in the age of controversy. It is splashed all over the traditional media and social media. It is often manufactured, and it is the mark of a morbid (literally, “sick”) mind. The controversialist will be found at the heart of disputes, ever seeking to dig up something, hash and rehash it, and keep it going. We can be accused of that for simply trying to communicate God’s will, especially when unpopular, but some are never far from contention. It is characteristic of them.
  • Constant friction. This is listed last among several other results of controversy, along with envy, strife, abusive language, and evil suspicions. Have you ever been around someone who keeps up an atmosphere of tension? The chip is always on the shoulder. Their communication is always confrontational. It appeals to the depraved and deprived, according to Paul.

Paul was so bold that he would die for preaching the truth (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1-8). Yet, he urged Timothy to be peaceable, kind, adept, patient, and gentle when communicating it (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Is it possible to courageously stand with the Christ but do so using the precise scalpel of Scripture (Heb. 4:12) rather than the reckless explosives of excess? Yes, and each of us must predetermine that we will do so no matter how others act and react.

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Discipline Yourself For The Purpose Of Godliness

Neal Pollard

Two weeks ago today, Wes Autrey and I decided to hold each other accountable for eating better and losing some pounds. The daily check in that accompanies this requires me to pay attention to how much and what I eat and pushes me to make sure I go work out. The single most difficult element of this challenge is the discipline.

It’s interesting that the word translated “discipline” in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 literally means “to train.” The Greek word is the one from which we get our English word “gymnasium.” The adjective form is translated “naked,” the figurative sense meaning “manifest” or “unconcealed” (Kittel-Bromiley 133). While the Greeks would exercise naked, the verb form came to mean “to concentrate” (ibid.). So when Paul says, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (4:7), he is calling for utmost concentration and conscious training in order to achieve godliness. Louw-Nida remind us that godliness refers to “appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers” (530). It is driven by a profound respect for God because of who He is and what He deserves.

The motivation Paul gives the Christian for exercising godliness is the unsurpassed value it gives us.  He contrasts the value of godliness with bodily exercise. I do not believe Paul is saying it’s a total waste of time to exercise. After all, it does do “a little good.” It helps us function and feel better for a good while in these bodies God gave us. But by comparison, godliness is far superlative. People can look at our lives and see the fruit of it while we live on this earth, but it also leads us to eternal life.

Godliness is the goal, the motivation. Discipline is the means to that end. In context, Paul calls for discipline to be built through proper diet (“being nourished on the words of faith and of…sound doctrine,” 4:6), proper exercise (“labor and strive,” 4:10), proper focus (“we have fixed our hope,” 4:10), and consistency (“show yourself an example,” 4:12; “give attention,” 4:13; etc.).

Wes and I hope that the results of our herculean efforts “will be evident to all” (cf. 4:15). It will require us to “take pains” and to “be absorbed” in our goal (cf. 4:15). Certainly, it means paying close attention to ourselves (4:16). Much more than that, you and I must direct our attention to the proper beliefs and practices that will get us to heaven and influence those who are around us (4:16). Remember that discipline is about training, a process that must be repeated, perfected, and continued. But, the payoffs cannot be matched! How’s your discipline?

A Warm And Welcoming Church

Neal Pollard

Once, I received a call from a woman who watched our TV program. She shared her religious background with me, including the fact that she was raised in a church of Christ. While she was baptized many years before, she committed fornication, became pregnant, and had a child out of wedlock. She said that she publicly repented, coming forward to ask forgiveness. While some forgave, one prominent member wouldn’t let her forget her past sins. Ultimately, she left that congregation and soon after left the Lord’s church altogether.

She joined a large denomination in the area in 1985. She gave some interesting reasons for joining them. Reflect upon them for a moment.

(1) She received personal visits from church members.

(2) She was warmly welcomed by many who greeted her when she attended the services.

(3) She was quickly put to use in the church’s works.

Very simple formula, wouldn’t you agree? Some fundamental needs were recognized by that religious group: Approach. Accept. Assimilate. While their doctrine was wrong in vital areas, their practical wisdom was on target! While she traded truth for error regarding their teaching, she sought but didn’t find among God’s people the very things many seek today. None of the things she sought were wrong.

In the church, the main emphasis should be serving rather than being served. But look at what she sought. She sought personal contact from concerned people. The denomination responded. She sought acceptance, not of sinful choices, but of herself—the sinner. She received that. She sought ways to be involved, ways to serve. She was given opportunities despite some physical handicaps that restricted her.

There is much to do, much more than is being done, though we are doing much. Some bare essentials that all of us can be doing is visiting our visitors, making visitors feel like honored guests, and finding ways to include those who become members in the work of the church.

We have opportunities every week that walk through our doors. Are we doing our part to make ourselves a warm and welcoming congregation? People will form lasting opinions about the Lord’s church by what we do to make them feel welcome. Each individual Christian is accountable for visiting (Mat. 25:34ff), accepting (Js. 2:1-13), and including (1 Th. 5:11).  Let us glow with the warmth of Christ! Who knows who we will turn onto the narrow path or who we will help stay on it?

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My Social Media Pledge

Neal Pollard

  • I will try to use social media to encourage and edify others (1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 14:26b).
  • I will avoid the shocking, inflammatory, and divisive tactics increasingly characteristic of S.M. (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10; Prov. 12:18; Prov. 15:2,4; etc.).
  • I will ask, “Would I say this in the way I am saying this?,” if face to face with this person or this group of people (Prov. 23:7).
  • I will not use Social Media to pick fights or put people on the defensive (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1ff).
  • I will not be Nellie Nitpicker and Contrary Charlie. About. Every. Single. Little. Thing.
  • I will respect that my connections have connections that are not Christians and I want to be sure to say what I say in accordance with Ephesians 4:15 and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
  • I will sever connections with individuals who consistently display a lack of self-control with their words and attitudes. Souls are too precious.
  • I will abhor the thought of doing what would put Christ to an open shame (cf. Heb. 10:29).
  • I will double-check myself to avoid bragging and self-promotion (1 Cor. 13:4-5).
  • I will conquer the desire to have the last word, pile on, or fight fire with fire (Mat. 5:39-42).
  • I will not let the false teaching, bad attitude, or meanness of another be my rationale for behaving in a way that brings Christ shame or jeopardizes my own soul (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27).
  • I will always be trying to set the table for productive evangelism or retrieving the wayward (Jas. 5:19-20; Col. 4:6).
  • I will always try to portray the doctrinal, moral, and ethical values of my Lord, thus avoiding reflecting and glorifying whatever values conflict with His (Mat. 5:14-16).
  • I will try to promote, not pummel, the bride of Jesus, appreciate, not attack, the elders, and unite, not untie, wherever possible.
  • I will shun passive aggression in myself first, but also in others.
  • I will deal with dirty laundry in its appropriate way, which is not on Social Media.
  • I will actively try to show grace to everyone, including cantankerous curmudgeons.
  • I will, foremost, realize my own imperfections and try every day I use Social Media to do so in the way Jesus would, if He had Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, a blog, LinkedIn, etc. In a way, through you and me, He does. I will let that sink in!

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The “Nothings”

Neal Pollard

What the child is always doing, despite evidence to the contrary (“nothing”). What is wrong with one’s spouse who sits nearby, quietly and tightlippedly fuming (“nothing”). What the interrupted person was going to say (“nothing”). The word which defines itself is “nothing.” The Bible teaches, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:4).

Those low in self-esteem think of themselves as nothing. Children and spouses who are constantly told so think of themselves as nothing. Those not as wealthy as their friends or neighbors often conclude themselves to be nothing. Those unrecognized for their accomplishments can feel like they are nothing. But the inspired apostle refers to some who think themselves to be something who are actually “nothing.” The Bible makes mention of that arrogant family, The “Nothings.” They are a haughty, proud, self-involved, earthly-minded crew.

Meet The Nothings.

There Are The “Good For Nothings.” Jeremiah introduces them. He says, “This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing” (Jer. 13:10). They were unaware of problems they had. They were evil, spiritually deaf, selfish, and idolatrous. He compares them to a good for nothing, straight from a hole in the ground, dirt-soiled belt!

No one is inherently worthless, but we can choose a lifestyle that is wicked, lukewarm, or indistinct (cf. Mat. 5:13). Christians, by our distinctive nature, are of great value to God (1 Pet. 2:9). Yet, by surrendering our Christian influence, we can become “good for nothing.”

There Are The “Brought To Nothings.” After referring to the danger of making decisions based solely on human reasoning, Jeremiah prays that God will not bring him to nothing (Jer. 10:23-24). God will rename some the Brought to Nothings, those who believe man’s ideas over God’s facts. Paul warns that God will “destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (1 Cor. 1:19; Isa. 29:14). The wisest and most scholarly man who discounts God’s Word will be a regretful member of the Brought To Nothings someday.

There Are The “Need Of Nothings.” These are the overly comfortable, spiritually out of shape members of the Nothings clan. They live their lives saying, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and they do not know that they “are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). They aren’t really bad people, but they aren’t all that good either. They’re just quite satisfied with what they have done for Christ, which isn’t all that great and not too bad. They merely yawn through their spiritually lives, only occasionally stirring from spiritual sleep (cf. Eph. 5:14). They half-heartedly do just enough to deceive themselves into thinking they’re pleasing the Lord.

Unrelated to these Nothings are some good folks, like the Ashamed In Nothings (Phil. 1:20), Terrified By Nothings (Phil. 1:28), Anxious For Nothings (Phil. 4:6), and the Wavering In Nothings (Jas. 1:6, KJV). But the Nothings family mentioned above are black sheep in God’s family. No one should want to “take after” them.

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What It Means To Be A Man

Neal Pollard

Recently, there have been several experiences that have been instructive to me concerning true manhood. I participated in a wonderful retreat, the theme of which was “Act Like Men.” Great lessons inspired us to be real men, as God defines it. One man from Utah, who was searching for truth, attended and after studying with James Pfiffner become a son of God through baptism for the remission of his sins! He was seeking to become a better man, and I’d say he made the biggest step in that direction.

Yesterday, Kathy and I watched the last inning of 89-year-old Vin Scully’s 67-year career as a broadcaster for the Dodgers. I first remember him as one half of the duo that brought America NBC’s game of the week, with Joe Garagiola. Among his historic calls was Don Larsen’s lone perfect game of the World Series in 1956, Hank Aaron’s 715th home run in 1974, breaking Babe Ruth’s record, Bill Buckner’s famous error at first base in the 1986 World Series, and Kirk Gibson’s infamous walk-off home run during game one of the 1988 World Series. He called some of baseball’s biggest moments, but what most remember is how classy and dignified he was. He did not resort to perverse, unwholesome speech, but he symbolized achievement in his field.

Scully is cut out of the same cloth as Bear Valley’s senior statesman, Johnson Kell. Kathy and I sat in his living room late last week, and the 97-year-old, World War II veteran, demonstrated so many qualities we have long come to appreciate about this beloved man of God.  He is a perfect gentleman, genuinely concerned about all others, tender-hearted, unabashedly devoted to Christ, well-informed, upbeat, and ever-ready with a smile. Despite recent physical setbacks, his physical condition—still a trim 162 pounds—and sharp mind belie his actual age. Yet, it is who Johnson is on the inside that makes him a real man.

The world sends out destructive messages about what it means to be a man:

  • Sexual prowess
  • Physical formidability
  • Financial acumen
  • Personal charisma
  • Societal clout
  • Sharp wit
  • Professional achievement

None of those qualities are inherently wrong, kept within their bounds. Yet, this is where the world begins and ends its definition. These very standards, absent the most important qualities for a man, have led to the downfall and ruin of every civilization and nation to have toppled. It will undo any that currently stand which do not make course corrections.

As men who are trying to live in that kind of world, we have a prime opportunity to stand out in the very best way. What will it take? Find the perfect example of a man and follow him. Where will you find him?  Let’s let Paul have the last word: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). The Son of man is the standard of manhood.

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Vin Scully recent headshot.
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Johnson in 2010 at his 91st birthday party.

Misguided Malice

Neal Pollard

I served the Livingston Police Department in Sumter County, Alabama, as a reserve officer for two years. I had a uniform and a badge, though the service I rendered was as chaplain.  The relationship between law enforcement and citizens there was very positive, but I remember talking with officers about the media bias and agenda of liberal politicians they witnessed locally and nationally. This was nearly a quarter century ago, long before the advent of social media and nearly omnipresent camera phones and videos which can be deceptive both for what they show and what they do not. In light of baffling events in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the last few weeks, as well as the inane calls to defund police, it is hard not to think that huge numbers of people have been duped by political rhetoric and a thoughtless mob mentality. While no profession can be completely free of corrupt individuals (who should be found out and prosecuted with full vigor), the existence of law enforcement and peace officers is a vital cog in the wheel of civilization and order in society. Eliminating these agencies is tantamount to removing a fence keeping a pack of bloodthirsty pit bulls from a neighboring playground full of children.

It is a characteristic of worldliness to disdain authority.  The Christian’s attitude and response is to be different. To Christians living in a world with not a fraction of the liberties we enjoy in society today, Paul instructed, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake” (Rom. 13:1-5). There are sobering, inescapable truths here which should be revered by those who are servants of God. God is mentioned five times in these verses, and He is intrinsically tied to earthly authorities. They are from God (1), established by God (1), an ordinance of God (2), and ministers of God (4).

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul tells us the earmarks of difficult times. So many of these traits are evidenced in the growing anarchy of the present day—revilers, unloving, irreconcilable, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, and reckless (1-4).  In addition to such attitudes and actions being sinful, they are too often misguided. Police are symbols of law and order, and they are easy targets for those who commit or are effected by lawlessness. It seems that more of our passion and animus should be directed toward criminals and less toward our crime stoppers.

Let us take to heart Peter’s counsel to persecuted Christians and “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right [we] may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:13-15). If we can rationalize and argue away this Bible truth, why can we not do the same with any other timeless principle of Scripture? May God help us all to hold tightly to the Light of the Bible, that the world may see how it should respond in this troublesome world.

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The Worst Way For Total Blindness To Occur

Neal Pollard

While visiting Ray and Lupida Lewis yesterday, I got to hear the story behind her current situation. This upbeat, sweet-spirited Christian woman was minutes from undergoing the first of at least three extensive back and neck surgeries necessitated by injuries suffered as she was walking and was struck by a driver going 35 miles per hour.

Lupida has had a degenerative eye condition since childhood. It had gotten to the point that she could barely see more than shapes, but, given her educational background, she had been recruited to serve as a teacher in the Colorado School for the Blind. By last year, despite corrective eye surgery, Lupida could only see light and nothing more. That fateful September day last year, she was struck in the crosswalk by the inattentive driver and suffered brain, neck and back injuries. Some of that may be remedied, and other issues will never be resolved. One that appears permanent is that her head injuries caused her to wake up without even the ability to see light. She says, “I see only darkness now. The light has gone away.” She observed that one cannot really imagine the huge difference between being able to see light and being in total darkness.

We did not discuss it together, but I believe Lupida would agree with me that, as tragic as her circumstances are, there is a blindness worse than her own.  Lupida lives with a faith and hope which assures her that her situation is, at worst, temporary. The song says, “Faith will be lost in heavenly sight.” She embraces that promise.

Today, you will constantly encounter people who may have the eyesight of an eagle when they submit to a physical test but who suffer a far greater blindness. Scripture often makes reference to wickedness as “walking in darkness” (Ps. 82:5; Prov. 2:13; Ecc. 2:14; Isa. 9:2; John 12:35; Eph. 5:8; 1 Jn. 1:6; 2:11). Tragically, it’s not the result of an accident–though it could be ignorance. Millions reject the light and pursue the darkness. They have every opportunity to see, but they don’t want to see. Ultimately, their voluntary journey through darkness leads to the outer darkness of condemnation (Mat. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Fortunately, their condition is reversible thanks to the Great Physician, but time is growing shorter by the moment. Ask God to lead you to those who are spiritually blind, and may we all endeavor to avoid such a condition ourselves (cf. Mat. 15:14; Rev. 3:17)!

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Would Jesus Scrub Grape Juice Stains?

Neal Pollard

Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).

Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!

The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).

This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!

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