DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

All of Life is Repentance (Ezra 9-10)

Today we're coming to a different kind of service. Our church has recently been through a consultation process. The report at the end of the process gave us a list of seven strengths, five obstacles we face, and five prescriptions for health growth. One of the obstacles in the report is "a primarily Inward Focus of Attention with no clear compelling Vision and Strategy for local church mission." They also mentioned a disabling focus on the past among some. So the first prescription we received is:

That Richview Baptist Church Cry out to God in repentance and prayer regarding a lack of obedience to the Great Commission by focusing with a renewed vision implementation plan to reach lost people in the community to become a church of 400 in the next five years.

Hold a Sacred Assembly to Repent and Cry Out to God for a renewed vision of Mission for the Church.

So today I'd like to look at a passage that I think is going to help us. It's found at the end of the book of Ezra. Ezra's a book about the completion of the second Temple and the return of God's people to Jerusalem after the exile, at the lowest point of their history. You can summarize the theme of Ezra in one word: restoration. It's a book that helps us think about our own restoration so that we become who God is calling us to be.

Today we come to the end. The end of a book is when we usually expect that the crisis has been resolved and things are looking up. In this case, the crisis of the exile and the destruction of the Temple has been resolved, but there's a fresh crisis.

The fact that Judah faces this crisis after all that God has done to restore them teaches us something. We never arrive, at least not in this life. The crisis they faced is a crisis that we continually face.

I don't want to preach this passage today so much as walk us through it in three stages. I'd first like to look at the problem, then I'd like to look at confession, and finally I'd like to look at the resolution to the problem. The problem, the confession, and the resolution. In between each of these sections, I'd like to give us some time to reflect and even to respond to what we're going to read.

The Problem

Ezra 9:1-2 says:

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, "The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness."

Here's the problem. "The people...have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices." They have intermarried with the neighboring peoples. The prophet Malachi, who lived at this time, even hints that people had broken their marriages to marry daughters of foreign gods.

Let's be clear about what the problem was not. The problem was not interracial marriage. That's a good thing for us since one of the things that makes Richview unique are the number of interracial marriages we have, which is a great thing. The concern with marrying outside of Judah was not racial; it was religious. Verse 1 mentions "detestable practices." Deuteronomy 7 says:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations...and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.

The problem wasn't racial; it was religious. The problem in this case is that they were not distinct from the practices of other nations, and their worship was compromised. They were expressing their devotion to pagan gods as well as to YHWH. A Jewish settlement at Egypt at this very same time went through the same problem, and was gradually assimilated and disappeared. When God's people lose their distinctiveness and compromise on the worship of YHWH, they eventually become assimilated and disappear. Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot" (Matthew 5:13). When we lose our distinctiveness, we lose our relationship with God and we lose our usefulness.

Notice the end of verse 2. "And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness." Not all of the leaders, of course - it was leaders who raised the concern in verse 1. But there is a danger that the very people who are supposed to be spiritual leaders are instead leading the way toward disobedience. That's one reason, by the way, that you need to pray for those in leadership. The Bible tells us that they're going to have to give account for your souls, and those who teach are especially going to be held to a higher standard. When they go off track, they can lead the way toward unfaithfulness.

So let me pause right here. The problem is unfaithfulness. The problem is that God's people don't always act as God's people. They aren't distinct from the ways of the world. What's our problem?

What is our problem? In what ways are we being unfaithful as the church at Richview? In a nutshell, I believe that we need to repent because we have not had God's heart for our local community. We have not been faithful to obey God's call to be salt and light. We've been primarily inward-focused. We're going to spend some time praying for some areas that we need to confess in just a few minutes.

What I'm talking about here is conviction. Now listen, there's a good and a bad way to go about this. I'm not asking you to wallow in guilt or to beat ourselves up this morning. Instead I'm asking for us to pray with the psalmist: "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

And we can do this without feeling insecure. Tim Keller says:

The gospel gives you psychological freedom to handle the wrong things that you will do. You won't have to deny, spin, or repress the truth about yourself. These things don't make it impossible to know who you are. Only with the support of hearing Jesus say, "You are capable of terrible things, but I am absolutely, unconditionally committed to you," will you be able to be honest with yourself.

I'm going to invite you to spend a few minutes praying, in a few minutes, especially in the context of our whole church but maybe also personally, the words of the psalmist. "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

Confession

When Ezra heard about the problem, his response was extreme. Ezra 9:3-4 says:

When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.

Then after hours of this, he prayed a prayer of confession. Some call Ezra's prayer the "theological high point of the book." It is a magnificent prayer.

I want to notice a few things. Ezra prays as if the problem is his. Ezra identifies with the people in their sin and sees the sin as a collective one, even though he personally wasn't guilty. I've noticed a huge difference in churches between the people who say, "They have a problem" as they point a finger, and those who say, "We have a problem." When we're part of a church, the community of God's people, we confess our corporate sins together, even though we personally may not be guilty ourselves. This is an important point. This morning we are not coming to God and pointing the finger at others. This morning we are coming to God in humility ourselves instead of pointing the finger at others.

Ezra begins his prayer with a general confession. "I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens" (Ezra 9:6). He then remembers the sins of previous times (verse 7), recites God's mercy and goodness (verses 8-9), further confesses Israel's sins (verses 10-12), and then appeals to God (verses 13-15). Listen to how he ends his prayer: "Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence" (Ezra 9:15). In a way there is no resolution, no solution. Ezra just throws himself on behalf of the people on God's mercy and confesses his sin before God.

A denominational leader recently talked about the churches that had turned around within his region. He said none of the churches turned around until the people got serious about prayer. He said:

In our churches, often the turnaround began when we said to the church, 'Call a day of prayer.' And here's how the day of prayer started. We had the pastor and board stand and lead in prayers of confession, asking God to forgive them for being a disobedient congregation and not taking seriously the great commission to make disciples.

A pastor friend of mine started a church in Portland. They only ever grew to about forty or fifty people for the first few years, all of them Christian. One day the pastor, Rick, realized that he only hung around people who were like him, who shared the same views, held the same belief. He read every how-to book on how to reach people, and began to realize that the problem wasn't really a how-to problem. It was a want-to problem. He didn't want to reach out to those who were unlike him. He really didn't care.

He decided to call for a weekly meeting, every Wednesday night, to repent - something, he says, that was pretty hard to market. They began to meet and to repent of the fact that they didn't care, that some of them hated their neighbors. They continued to pray this way for nine months. They confessed, just like Ezra confessed. And it eventually led them to change their hearts.

When God really begins to move in a group, it often begins with corporate confession. When we confess, we reach new levels of honesty. "For him who confesses, shams are over, and realities have begun" (William James). Confession prepares us for what God is going to do among us. Max Lucado writes:

Confession does for the soul what preparing the land does for the field. Before the farmer sows the seed, he works the acreage, removing the rocks and pulling the stumps. He knows that seed grows better if the land is prepared. Confession is the act of inviting God to walk the acreage of our hearts.

David wrote:

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.

For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord."
And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
(Psalm 32:3-5)

We've already asked God to reveal areas we need to deal with. We're going to spend some time in confession in just a few minutes.

Resolution

Ezra concludes with a chapter that can only be called disturbing. Someone has said that it's the most distasteful chapter in Ezra, and ranks among the most distasteful in the whole of Scripture.

At the end of chapter 9, Ezra has prayed, but there's really no solution offered. Everyone is still overwhelmed with guilt and there's no suggestion of what to do. It's looking hopeless.

Then somebody comes up with an idea. Ezra 10:3-4 says:

Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, "We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it."

And this is exactly what they did. We learn in this chapter that 110 had taken foreign wives, and some of them had children.

The problem is that this seems unusually harsh. It seems extreme to require these marriages to be dissolved. We have no idea what provisions, if any, were made for them. There are even debates about whether or not they chose to do the right thing.

If you want to see something ugly, the effects of sin are always ugly. Justice here looks incredibly harsh, and it conflicts with our sense of the loving thing to do to these foreign wives and children.

But then we see, in the middle of the ugliness, some hope. Verse 19 says of some of those who were guilty, "They all gave their hands in pledge to put away their wives, and for their guilt they each presented a ram from the flock as a guilt offering." They put away their wives, but then they availed themselves of the provision that God had made for sin in a sacrifice.

It was a sacrifice, of course, that anticipated the sacrifice that Jesus would one day make. Why could God forgive these people's sins? We know that sin has a cost. Somebody has to pay it. We know this instinctively. Whenever we do something wrong, it comes with a price - a price that's too steep for us to pay. Many of you have paid a part of the cost of the sins committed by others. It's why you have scars, why you've been hurt. Sin always has a cost, and someone has to pay it.

But the one who paid the ultimate cost was not the wives or children in Ezra's day. The one who paid the ultimate cost for their sins was Jesus. "God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood," Paul writes (Romans 3:25). "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses, his first thesis said, "All of life is repentance." If there's one thing Ezra teaches us, it's that the work of restoration is never done. Just when you think we're restored, another issue comes up that needs dealing with.

But when we see how accepted and loved we are because of Jesus, the more often we'll repent. And the more we see our own flaws and sins, the more electrifying and precious God's grace will appear to us. God's grace will drive us to confess our sins, and our sins will drive us back to the beauty of God's grace found in Jesus Christ.

Sin and its consequences are ugly, and the only cure for the depth of the ugliness of sin is the beauty of the cross. That's where I want to live. Let's pray.

We thank you this morning for the cross.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
Was all for sinners' gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
'Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
And grant to me Thy grace.

Thank you, Lord, for the cross. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.

Living Water (John 4:1-28)

Occasionally you have a conversation that changes your life. You can't plan these things. It's not like you wake up one morning and say, "Today I'm going to have a conversation, and it's going to change my life forever." They seem to come out of the blue when you least expect it.

Today we get to eavesdrop on such a conversation. It happened almost two thousand years ago, and it's so significant that, if the world is around a thousand years from now, they'll still be talking about it. It's a conversation that still has the power to change our lives today.

I'd like to look at four things in this passage: the surprise, the need that's uncovered, the solution to this need, and the resolution.

First, let's look at this story and see the surprise.

Because one of the most surprising things about this conversation is that it even took place.

In John 4:4-9 we read:

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

You need to know a little about the background of these times to understand how surprising this conversation was. This is a conversation that nobody would have expected.

We read, "Now he had to go through Samaria." Jesus was Jewish, and Jews and Samaritans did not get along at all. Samaritans were people with some Jewish background who had intermarried with other nations to become a mixed race. They had their own version of the Jewish Bible, their own temple. The orthodox Jews of that time hated Samaritans so intensely that they often traveled miles out of their way to avoid the Samaritan territory. Hostility between the two groups was widespread and very bitter.

On top of that, Jesus and this woman faced a gender divide that was very unusual in that day. Today we don't think twice about a man initiating a conversation with a woman like Jesus did here, but back then it was highly unusual.

On top of this, this was a woman with a sexual history. She's at the well in the middle of the day, at noon, and alone. We read those detail and it doesn't really strike us as unusual at all. But people back then did not go to the well at noon in the heat of the day. They would much rather go early in the morning or later in the day when it was cooler. And they wouldn't go alone. She had to carry back water for drinking, cooking, and washing. It's not a fun job, but it's a lot better if it's social and if you have help. Why is she there in the middle of the day and all alone? Probably because she's a bit of an outcast. We're going to read later that she's had serial marriages and is now living with a man who is not her husband, which was against both Jewish and Samaritan standards at that time.

On top of that, she wasn't looking for a conversation or an encounter with Jesus. It's not like she woke up that day and prayed that God would move in her life that day. She has all these strikes against her: racial barriers, gender barriers, moral barriers, and even spiritual barriers. And yet Jesus reaches past those barriers and strikes up a conversation that changed her world, and continues to change worlds today.

Listen: it's important to see this. In the last chapter, Jesus has just finished talking to a man who has none of these barriers. He's Jewish, he's male, he's upstanding, and he's spiritually minded. It's very easy to think that these are the people that Jesus likes. Jesus likes hanging out with good people who live good lives and who have good reputations. But John here shows us that Jesus does not just relate to people like that. Jesus has no problem taking the initiative with people who aren't that good, who may have all kinds of reasons for not being at a church. Jesus initiates with people who have pasts, people that other people have written off. In other places he says that these people enter his kingdom before the "good" people.

You may be here this morning thinking that you have to overcome all of these barriers before you can have a conversation with Jesus. You have to clean up your life and get ready to become a respectable, religious-type person. But the message of the Bible is that Jesus initiates with us right where we are in the most surprising way. Becoming a religious do-gooder can actually take you further away rather than closer. Jesus initiates with the most unlikely people. He may be initiating with some of you this morning.

That's the first thing we see in this story. Jesus initiates in a surprising way with unlikely people. We also see something else:

Second, that Jesus uncovers our deepest need.

Jesus and this woman are at a well. It's noon and both are probably very thirsty. These days we rarely feel thirst because we usually have water handy. Think of a time when you have really been thirsty. You finally get some water or some other drink, and when you get it, you've never tasted anything better.

Jesus touches on this need for water, because he's already asked for a drink. He takes it further when he says in verse 10: "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." What's living water? It's water that moves in a stream or a spring, as opposed to water that sits in a well. Now, if there was a stream or a spring around, there would have been no need for this well, which was at least a hundred feet deep. Where would Jesus have found this living water? We find out that Jesus is not actually talking about a literal spring or stream. He's using it as an image to get to her deep thirst, a thirst that goes far beyond physical thirst. In verses 13 and 14 he says:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

If you're ever in Philadelphia, there's a a beautiful drive that leads out of the city along the eastern bank of the Schuylkill River. Along the drive there is a section of the riverbank lined with boathouses, called Boathouse Row; and across from Boathouse Row there is a statue of a pilgrim with a Bible under his arm. If a person is on foot and is exploring the riverbank, he soon finds a stream that empties into the Schuylkill near the pilgrim, as well as a trail that winds along it. If he follows this trail up over Sedgley Hill toward Brewery Town, he comes upon the source of the spring. There, over the spring's source, there's an inscription once placed by the city government--"Whosoever drinks of this water shall thirst again."

I wish that we could post this inscription over many things - over our careers, over our relationships, over achievements, over everything really. All of these quench our thirst at some level, but whoever drinks of these things will thirst again. They don't ultimately quench our thirst. We use money, sex, and power to try to quench our spiritual thirst. Ultimately these thirst quenchers leave us unsatisfied. When used as a substitute for the living water that Jesus talks about, they can be spiritual poison. They ultimately leave us thirsty.

Quarterback Tom Brady set the record for most touchdown passes in a regular season, paving the way for his winning the MVP award. At the age of 30, he has already won three Super Bowls--an accomplishment that sets him apart as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. He's now married to a supermodel. Yet listen to what he said in an interview:

Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, "Hey man, this is what [it's all about]." I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me? I think, "It's got to be more than this." I mean this isn't--this can't be--all it's cracked up to be.

What's the answer? I wish I knew... I love playing football, and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I'm trying to find.

Canadian author Doug Coupland put it this way in one of his novels:

Now, here is my secret. I tell you with an openness of heart I doubt I will ever have again. So I pray you're in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God. My secret is that I need God, that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I am no longer capable of giving. To help me be kind, because I no longer seem capable of kindness. I need God to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.

Jesus has an uncanny ability to put his finger on the greatest need of the person he is talking to. Here he puts his finger on this woman's deepest need. She's spiritually thirsty. She has a deep hunger for God that nothing else can fill.

So far we've seen that Jesus initiates with unlikely people, and that he puts his finger on their deepest needs.

The next thing we see in this passage is the solution to this thirst.

There are two things we learn about this in this passage. The first is what is not the solution. You'll notice in this passage that Jesus and this woman have an interesting conversation about a lot of things:

  • Her moral situation in verses 16-18 - Jesus surfaces the issue, which allows her to know that he is no ordinary person. Make no mistake: Jesus knows about all the things we'd like to hide, but they're not really the issue. Our sin is a big issue, but Jesus can give us living water no matter what our sins may be.
  • Religious arguments in verses 19-25 - Jesus and the woman get into all kind of issues - which temple is the right one, and so on. I don't think this was a diversionary tactic. Once the woman realized that he was at the very least a prophet, she brought up one of the live issues of that day. There are all kinds of issues that we can talk about today - science and the Bible, why there is so much evil in the world, what about other religions - but they are not the real issue. They're important, but they are not the core issue.

You'll notice that the core issue in this passage is actually a person. They get to it in verses 25-26:

The woman said, "I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."

Then Jesus declared, "I, the one speaking to you--I am he."

What is he saying here? He's saying that the key issue we must wrestle with is who Jesus is. He claims to be the source of living water. He claims, as one commentator puts it, "more than either Jew or Samaritan had comprehended in the word 'Christ'. He is the answer of God to the sin of the world" (Edwin Hoskyns). In which case Jesus is not just giving this woman information. He is giving her an invitation. It's a challenge to respond. It's another way of Jesus saying, "Come to me, and I will satisfy your deepest thirst."

This is very good news. Jesus claims to be sent from God. He goes out of his way to encounter people who have a past. And he reveals their deepest hunger, and then offers himself as the solution to their thirst. Later on in John, Jesus goes to the cross. The Bible teaches that Jesus takes our place. In John 19:28 Jesus says, "I am thirsty." This is more than just physical thirst. He would have been physically thirsty. He had been scourged. He was bleeding and hanging in the hot near-Eastern sun. But it would have been more. Tim Keller says, "When Jesus says I'm thirsty he says He is taking the spiritual cosmic thirst so that He can give you the Water of Eternal Life.."

Well, what to make of all of this?

I hope that you will see this morning that Jesus surprises us by initiating with surprising people. He also identifies our hunger. He then presents himself as the real solution, the one who assumes our deepest thirst, and offers us satisfaction for our deep longing for God. He claims to be the one who has come to save us and satisfy us, and he invites us to come to him.

What do we do about this? C.S. Lewis wrote a scene in his book The Silver Chair. Jill is in the land of Narnia, and she's thirsty. At once she sees a magnificent stream . . . and a fearsome lion (Aslan, who represents the Jesus):

"If I run away, it'll be after me in a moment," thought Jill. "And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth." Anyway, she couldn't have moved if she had tried, and she couldn't take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the Lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first. . . .

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.

"I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.

"Then drink," said the Lion.

"May - could - would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

"Will you promise not to do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.

"I make no promise," said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. "Do you eat girls?" she said.

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion. It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion - no one who had seen his stern face could do that - and her mind suddenly made itself up.

It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went straight to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn't need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once. Before she tasted it she had been intending to make a dash away from the Lion the moment she had finished. Now, she realized that this would be on the whole the most dangerous thing of all.

Let's pray.

Jesus initiates with us. It's surprising. He identifies our deepest need, our deepest thirst. He offers himself as the solution to that thirst. He is the one who, when he died, assumed our deepest thirst so that he could offer us the water of eternal life.

Come and drink. There is no other stream.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;

listen, that you may live.
(Isaiah 55:1-3)

The Goodness of Motherhood (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

This morning we come to a very difficult passage of Scripture. It's one of the most difficult verses in all of Paul's writings to understand. And understanding it is only half the problem. It's also one of the most difficult writings to accept. It seems wildly out of date and possibly even offensive to the modern reader. If you bristled as you read this passage, you're not alone.

Why would we look at this passage on Mother's Day? Believe me, it's not to offend anyone. It's actually because I believe this passage provides a very needed encouragement to us today, and one that applies to everyone here.

This morning I want to look ask three questions of this passage. One: why should we look at passages we don't like? Two: what does Paul mean? Three: what does this mean for us today?

One: Why should we look at passages we don't like?

Before we look at this passage in particular, we probably need to deal with the elephant in the room. All of us - and I include me - have passages of Scripture that we love. But other passages, including these ones, are not to our liking as much. We still may affirm them as God's Word, but we struggle with their meaning. If we're honest, we can relate to what Mark Twain said: "It's not the parts of the Bible I don't understand that I have the most trouble with. It's the parts I do understand."

We need to ask ourselves why we would even bother with a passage like this. Many people in fact dismiss it because it doesn't fit with their understanding. They say that Paul was wrong our outdated or tied to his culture. But there are problems with this view.

Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:16 of Paul's writings:

He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Aren't you glad that Peter says that Paul's letters contain some things that are hard to understand? Every time you are wrestling with what Paul wrote, take comfort in the fact that even Peter had a hard time understanding them.

But Peter says two other things. One: that Paul's writings are Scripture. This means that they although they are on one hand letters written by Paul, they are also more than that. They are God's Word. Scriptures were written, Peter teaches, "spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). We are not reading Paul's thoughts as we read this passage. We are reading God's Word, which means we can't afford to ignore it.

This leads to the danger that Peter mentions: "...which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." One of the greatest dangers we face as we approach a passage like this one is to distort it so that it says what we want it to say. Once we start doing this, we put ourselves in the position of being able to pick and choose what we like and don't like. What we're doing is essentially elevating ourselves over the Word of God. Rather than listening to what God has to say to us, we put ourselves in the position of choosing what we'll listen to, and what we'll discard. Rather than sitting under God's Word, we elevate ourselves above God's Word. We also elevate ourselves above other cultures who have no problem accepting what the Bible says in this area, but who struggle with different areas. It's actually a very arrogant assumption to make.

But there's something else that happens. If you are in a close relationship with someone - a marriage or a close friendship - one of the marks of how genuine a relationship you have is whether or not you are willing to be contradicted by the other person. If I agree with Charlene only when she agrees with me, and then discard everything she says that contradicts my beliefs, then I don't have a genuine relationship with her. It's the same with our relationship with God. If you have a God who never contradicts you, then you don't have a genuine relationship with God. If you have a God who always agrees with your opinions, you've made God in your own image. Tim Keller puts it this way:

Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination. So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it.

So we shouldn't avoid passages like this. We should actually welcome them as part of what it means to be in a real relationship with God. Passages like this are good for us, because they remind us that we are not in relationship with someone who always agrees with us. We are actually in submission to God who knows about, well, everything much better than we do, and who wants to be in relationship with us. That doesn't mean that we won't find it hard sometimes. But finding it hard shouldn't make us shy away from wrestling with, and submitting to, the passages that trouble us.

With that in mind, let's look at the passage before us and ask:

Two: What does Paul mean in this passage?

Entire books have been written on the passage of Scripture we have before us. I'm going to cheat and tell you what I think he's saying without giving you all the complexities. Keep in mind that I'm giving you my interpretation. I think it's a good one, but my interpretation has considerably less weight than the text itself. But let me tell you what I think Paul is saying here.

I believe what Paul is addressing is the eldership of the church in verse 12. The role of teaching and exercising authority is combined in the church under the position of elder. The issue I believe he's addressing is in general who can serve as an elder within the church.

The problem he seems to be addressing is that some seemed to be teaching that gospel obliterates the differences between men and women. You can see why people believed this. They lived in a very patriarchal culture, and Paul came along and said:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

It's clear that the gospel revolutionizes the relationships between men and women. After all, both were created in the image of God. Both men and women are equal in value. The gospel is revolutionary in its understanding of women, and its affirmation of their value and role. It elevates them in ways that would have been unthinkable when Paul read this letter.

But there's a danger. It's a danger they faced then, and it's a danger we face today. The danger is to think that because men and women are equal, that they are the same. Anybody who thinks about this for a minute knows how ridiculous this is. Men and women are gloriously different. We're obviously differently physically. But we're also very different in the way we think. Our emotional wiring is different. A psychology professor from the University of California says that there are essentially two types of brains. The activity centers of the brains are very different, as well as the neurological pathways. I think we would all agree that men and women are equal, and yet at the same time they are wonderfully and gloriously different.

Paul says two things in verses 13 and 14. One: that the differences between men and women were hardwired at creation. Paul goes right back to creation to get this. He goes from the order of creation. It's hard for us to understand this now, but birth order really did make a difference back then. It's called primogeniture. The firstborn in a family was given a different role. Paul argues from the order of creation that men have a different role. He's saying that men and women are equal, but that they have different roles that go right back to creation. They're equal but different.

He also says that ignoring or subverting these roles causes all kinds of problems. He mentions the Fall. If you think he's being hard in Eve here, you need to understand that Paul is even harder on Adam in Romans. Paul says that sin and death entered the world through one man. He's not pegging all the blame on Eve. Both are responsible. The Fall reminds us that God created us to be different.

This is hard teaching. Paul knows it's hard. Virtually everyone understands that Paul wrote verse 15 to cushion the impact of what he's said. Let's review what he's said: men and women are equal but different, and disaster comes when we forget this. Men and women are vastly different, and men should serve as elders. Then verse 15:

But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

You may be thinking, "What? That's supposed to cushion the blow?" It doesn't seem much better. It seems like Paul is digging the hole even deeper!

Before the Fall, God told Adam and Eve: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). This is God's first command. God says in three different ways that we are to reproduce, to fill the earth. God wants humans, and lots of them. He's created this world and wants us to fill it and, as someone put it, procreate so that we can co-create with Him.

In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve sinned, and the Fall took place, God could have written us off then. He could have said, "You know what, that's enough. That command to have children? Forget about it. I don't want any more." But right there, right after we wrecked the world, God said to the serpent that the offspring of Eve was going to crush the serpent's head.

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.
(Genesis 3:15)

And then there's another note of hope. At the end of all of this, we read, "Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living." Eve's name literally means life-giver. God's not done with us yet. Eve and generations of women ever since have brought life into the world. Every new life is a fulfillment of the command that God gave us, and a sign that he is not done with the human race yet.

By the time Paul is writing this letter, some are disparaging the role of mothers. Some of the false teachers in that congregation seemed to be disparaging sex. Some later Gnostics even taught that "marriage and the begetting of children are of Satan." Just like today we face the pressure to downplay the role of mothers. Paul says: don't you dare! Don't ever minimize the fact that every child born is evidence that God is not done with us yet. Every child born is a continuation of the life that God gives. Every child is a continuation of the mandate that God gave us to co-create with him. Don't ever let anyone put this down. It's through this very giving of life that our Savior Jesus Christ came to this earth. And as women continue to do this, they continue to work out their salvation. Don't let anyone ever put motherhood down.

This isn't to say that every woman has to be a mother. He's definitely saying that motherhood is to be esteemed.

Culture may obliterate many of the differences between men and women. But it can't do one thing: make men give birth. But it can cause us to devalue labor and delivery. Paul says we must never do this. As John Stott puts it:

Even if certain roles are not open to women, and even if they are tempted to resent their position, they and we must never forget what we owe to a woman. If Mary had not given birth to the Christ-child, there would have been no salvation for anybody. No greater honor has ever been given to a woman than in the calling of Mary to be the mother of the Savior of the world.

That's good, but I would also add that we owe a debt of gratitude for women who continue to bring new life in the world.

What does this mean for us today?

Let me tell you four things I think this means for us today.

One: we need to let the Bible speak to us even when it's uncomfortable, and even when it says what we don't want to hear. Some passages are hard. This is actually a good sign. It's a sign that we are in relationship with God who, after all, does have the right to contradict us. So let's not be afraid of passages like this.

Two: let's celebrate the differences between men and women. Let's never think that men and women are the same. We're equal, but we're very different. We need to work at this a lot, because there is so much pressure to resist being put in a box. Some boxes need to be broken, but we need to remember that God did make us different. As the French say, vive la difference!

Three: let's value motherhood. We aren't all mothers, and that's okay. But all of us can hold motherhood in high esteem. This goes against the culture which tends to put other things first: career, advancement, vacations. One of the reasons I wanted to tackle this hard text is because I think it makes a very necessary point. Don't ever let anyone put down motherhood. It's great to do that on Mother's Day, but it really needs to go much farther than that.

Finally: I love how even this leads us back to Jesus. Every child that's born is a sign that God is not done with us yet. In fact, the very salvation of the world came through the birth of a child. Every baby that's born is a sign that history is still unfolding, that God is still extending his grace, that he is still welcoming sinners to return to relationship with him through the grace that's offered in Jesus Christ.

Let's pray.

Entrust the Good Deposit (2 Timothy 1:8-2:7)

When you have something that's worth guarding, then you find a safe place to put it. You can buy a safe, but there are problems with safes. If you know what you're doing you can break into a safe. If it's not a heavy one, somebody can walk out with the safe and break into it at their leisure.

You can rent a safety deposit box. They are more secure, but nothing's perfect. Safety deposit boxes can be destroyed or flooded. If you don't pay the fees, the bank can seize the box and the contents. If you've watched movies you know that there are ways to pull off bank heists that nobody would think possible. One of the most enjoyable novels I've read is The Great Train Robbery, which is about a train heist that took place in Victorian England against impossible odds.

I'm not going to tell you about where the church's valuables are stored, although I should mention that we had someone break into the church and try to get into the safe in my office a few years ago. I think they would have been very disappointed with what they would have found if they'd gotten into the safe!

One thing is clear, though. We have something worth protecting. Scripture is clear about this. This morning I'd like to look at this and ask three questions. One: what is it that we have to protect? Two: how do we protect it? Three: what steps do we at Richview need to take to make sure that we're doing this?

One: What is it that we have to protect?

The letter we have before us was written near the end of Paul's life. Paul was in prison in Rome awaiting death. Within a few short years after writing this letter, Paul would be martyred under Nero's reign. And so Paul writes this letter to his young associate, Timothy, encouraging him to continue the fight of faith even as Paul approaches the end of his life.

At the end of the previous letter that Paul had written to Timothy, a few years earlier, Paul had written, "O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you" (1 Timothy 6:20). What deposit? What is Paul talking about? Well, here in Paul's second letter to Timothy, Paul again writes:

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you--guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Timothy 1:13-14)

What Paul is saying here is that Timothy has been given something that is valuable and that needs to be protected. It's a deposit - something that one person has placed in trust to another person's safekeeping. And Timothy, Paul says, is to protect it, keep watch over it, and with God's help ensure that it's kept safe. In other words, it's something that's in danger of being lost if it's not protected.

What exactly is he talking about? Paul tells us. In 1:13 he calls it "the pattern of sound teaching." In 2:2 he calls it "the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses." Paul is talking about the message that he's entrusted to Timothy. He's talking about the apostolic gospel itself. It's exactly what Paul mentioned in chapter 1:8-10:

So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

This is the good deposit we've received, and Paul says: protect it. Guard it. It's too valuable to lose. The message is that God has saved us and called us to a holy life. He has done this not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace. It's not because we merit it or deserve it. It's simply because of God's grace. God's purpose and grace were given before the beginning of time, but have been revealed through Jesus who destroyed death by his death and has brought life and immortality to light through the good news of what he has accomplished at the cross. This is the good news for which Paul was willing to die.

This is the good news that has been entrusted to Timothy that must be protected. By implication, this is what we are always in danger of losing. The danger we face is gospel erosion. As one person puts it:

You don't need much more than a cursory scan of history to see that solid Christian organizations can easily lose the gospel if they are not attentive. Losing the gospel doesn't happen all at once; it's more like a four-generation process.

  • The gospel is accepted
  • The gospel is assumed
  • The gospel is confused
  • The gospel is lost

It is tragic for any generation to lose the gospel. But, as Philip Jensen says, the generation that assumes the gospel is the generation most responsible for the loss of the gospel.

So this is one of the most important things we must do as a church: guard the gospel. On one had, it's not an attractive thing to do. It's the very thing that landed Paul in prison. It's not the most exciting thing to do. Guarding what is already in our possession is not as exciting as some other things we could do. But there is nothing that is more important than guarding the gospel.

I stayed at a hotel in the States a couple of years ago. When I arrived I hid my passport in the room. I hid it so well that when I was packing a few days later I couldn't find it. It made for a tense couple of hours. In a sense I guess I meant to guard it, but what actually happened is that I lost it. We can't afford to do this with the gospel. We must treasure it, make sure it's in sight, protect it, pay attention to it. "Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you--guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us."

Second question: How do we protect it?

I'm sure we could come up with all kinds of ways to answer this question. As elders we've spent time discussing how we can keep the gospel central. That's my job as I preach weekly. Everything I teach must be grounded in the gospel. I need to make gospel connections, showing the doctrinal and behavioral implications of the gospel. Every ministry of the church must maintain the gospel at its core. Martin Luther put it well:

I must hearken to the gospel, which teaches me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel wills me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consists. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.

This is a great way of putting it. We've got to be swinging the gospel hammer continually. I think this is exactly what Paul is saying we need to do.

But Paul says we need to do something else if we are to guard the gospel. Read the first couple of verses in chapter 2:

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

If you were going to protect a valuable item, you would lock it away where people couldn't get it. You would remove it so that it couldn't be touched or accessed by anyone who wanted to put their hands on it. But if you are to protect valuable news, to ensure that it's not lost, you don't want to hide that news away. You want it broadcast. You want it passed on so that as many people as possible have it. If you have news that needs to be safeguarded, you get it into the hands of people who can be relied upon to get the word out.

Paul says that's exactly what Timothy is to do. He's already had this information passed on to him by Paul in the presence of other witnesses. He's supposed to find reliable men so he can entrust the gospel to them. But they're not supposed to just hold on to the gospel themselves. They will be entrusted with the gospel so that they, in turn, can pass it on to others. You already have four generations in this verse: Paul, Timothy, reliable men, others. The gospel is protected as it is transmitted from generation to generation. We become part of a living chain of truth that extends through the centuries.

I'll give you one historical example. In 1630 Dr. Richard Sibbes wrote a little book about Christ called The Bruised Reed. Ancient history, right? A copy of that book fell into the hands of a tin peddler, who gave it to a boy named Richard Baxter, who became the greatest of Puritan pastors. Baxter wrote a book which Philip Doddridge read in the early eighteenth century. He in turn wrote a book that William Wilberforce read. It changed his life so much that Wilberforce led the fight for the abolition of slavery. Wilberforce's example continues to inspire us, and has been an inspiration for Charles Colson and the organization he founded, Prison Ministries. I've just given you four centuries of one chain. The story of Christianity is one of countless chains, countless generations who have entrusted the gospel to others who can, in turn, entrust the gospel again to the next generation.

This isn't just for pastors and authors. In 1:5 Paul writes, "I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." Paul also applies this to the ministry of the church, specifically to women, in Titus 2: "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live...Then they can urge the younger women..." (Titus 2:3-4). This is to be part of how we function as a church. One of the best ways to guard the deposit of the gospel is to pass it on so that others can hold to it as well. This applies to elders. It also applies to parents, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, everyone. Every believer has a responsibility to teach God's truth to other believers, to entrust the deposit of the gospel to others.

This means, by the way, that all of us have a job to do. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne write:

If the real work of God is people work - the prayerful speaking of his word by one person to another - then the jobs are never all taken. The opportunities for Christians to minister personally to others are limitless. (The Trellis and the Vine)

Paul is saying we need to protect, to guard, the gospel. He's saying that one of the best ways we have to guard it is to entrust it to others, who in turn will be able to trust it to others. There's one more question we need to ask.

Three: what steps do we at Richview need to take to make sure that we're doing this?

I said there was one more question. I lied. Let me ask you a few questions as we think of what Paul said.

First, do you get the gospel? Remember what we saw in chapter 1:

So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:8-10)

It's so important that we get it. Each phrase in this text contradicts some common misunderstandings of the gospel. One of the most important things we need to realize is that God has saved us by sheer grace. It's not anything we have done. God took the initiative by sending Jesus Christ. Jesus has revealed God's grace. By his death he destroyed death. By his resurrection he has brought life and immortality to light. I hope you have this, that it's real to you, that you have believed the good news of the gospel. Before you guard it, you have to have it.

Second, do you treasure it? There are certain things in my possession that I treasure. If I lost some things, I wouldn't care. In fact, I would be grateful. But I treasure other things. I look at them. I keep them safe. I protect them. Do you treasure the gospel? Is it something that you don't assume, or do you value it? Does it move you? Do you try to gain greater clarity on the gospel and all of its implications?

When we interviewed Barth as a potential elder, we asked him to explain the gospel in his own words. He did a very good job. At the end of it, I honestly wanted to stop the interview and hold a worship service. It never fails to move me. We need to check our souls to make sure that it still thrills us, that we're still amazed by it. We don't need to just get the gospel, we need to treasure it. This applies to us individually and as a church.

Final question: are you entrusting the gospel to others? I'm not talking specifically about evangelism here, although we need to do lots of that as well. Remember the quote I read you a few minutes ago:

If the real work of God is people work - the prayerful speaking of his word by one person to another - then the jobs are never all taken. The opportunities for Christians to minister personally to others are limitless.

This really is a job for all of us. The past three sermons we've been talking about this from Deuteronomy, from Psalm 78, and now 2 Timothy. It's not just a task for pastors. We want to be gripped by the gospel, and then to allow others to get clear on it as well, to pass on to coming generations the good news of what Jesus has done.

Let's get clear on it ourselves. Let's major on what Jesus has done. Then let's treasure it. Let's guard it so that we'll never lose it. And then let's entrust it to others, so that we become part of a living chain of truth that extends through the centuries. Let's pray.