Lessons from the Life of Jude

What follows below is an attempt to piece together the life of Jude as told by the Bible, using what few references to him that we have.

Jude grew up with Jesus and his other siblings in the house of Joseph and Mary and thus enjoyed being from the line of David. Being last in the list of four brothers (Matt 13:55), he may have been the youngest of them all, with sisters (at least two) scattered somewhere in the lineup.

In the book that bears his name, assuming this Jude was indeed its author, we see that he identified himself as the “brother of James” (Jude 1), who, as this was a notable James, must have been the leader of the early Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18).

Both James and Jude (and Joses and Simon) were the biological half-brothers (or more simply, “brothers”) of Jesus, the most natural reading of the text (Matt 13:55). They were neither the cousins of Jesus as Roman Catholicism believes nor stepbrothers from Joseph’s supposed previous marriage as Eastern Orthodoxy believes, both theories stemming from the erroneous notion of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Jude likely learned to be a carpenter like his father Joseph. Maybe he was old enough to notice when Joseph and Mary were looking for the twelve-year-old Jesus (Luke 2:41–52). Maybe not. One way or the other, he would have eventually noticed something unique about Jesus as he grew up. His older Brother never sinned!

From how his hometown reacted to Jesus in Matthew 13:53–58 (cf. Mark 6:1–6; Luke 4:16–30), and thus not in the same way to Jude or any of his brothers, we could surmise that Jude did not have unusual wisdom or the ability to do mighty works, astonished no one with any teaching, and therefore offended no one. He was not a prophet and tried to afford what honor his hometown would give him.

In fact, there are multiple occasions which showed his unbelief toward Jesus. First, while Jesus was preaching in His home and unable to eat because of the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, trying to seize Him, claiming, “He is out of His mind!” (Mark 3:20–21; cf. Matt 12:46–; Luke 8:19–21). Second, not long thereafter, they were seeking Jesus again, and Jesus responded that His mother and brothers were present in the crowd before Him (Mark 3:31–35), that is, that those who were listening to Him and following His words were His spiritual family and took priority over His physical family, a rebuke in the ears of His physical family indeed. Third, His brothers misunderstood that He should suffer and urged Him to do miracles in Jerusalem in order to show Himself to the world, becoming the King right away (John 7:1–4). In spite of all the miracles of Jesus they had witnessed or heard about (cf. Matt 13:58; John 2:12), “not even His brothers believed in Him” (John 7:5).

This unbelief would not last, however. Perhaps Mary told her family that she had seen the risen Jesus (cf. Matt 28:1–10). Perhaps James told his family about when he saw the risen Jesus as well (1 Cor 15:7). Perhaps these testimonies sat heavily upon Jude along with the fact that so many others had already believed in Him and had been doing so for multiple years. Whenever Jude’s conversion was, it was probably sometime between the resurrection and Pentecost. He was not with his mother at the cross (cf. John 19:25), but we do find Him praying with Mary and his brothers in Acts 1:14.

In addition to being saved, we also see him serving. He may have been one Lord’s brothers who traveled with his wife for missionary work in 1 Cor 9:5, something Paul wrote in AD 55. One or two decades later, Jude wrote the letter that bears his name. Far from unbelief, he called himself a slave of his half-brother Jesus who he identified as Lord, Master, and Christ (Jude 1, 4). He had an eagerness to speak of salvation in Him (Jude 3) and readily warned the church about false teachers (Jude 4–16). He followed the apostles on this matter (Jude 17–19). He saw it necessary to keep one’s self in the love of God and that God would likewise keep him from stumbling until the day he was presented as perfect and blameless before Him—all through Jesus Christ (Jude 24–25). As a result, Jude could do no less than leave us with one of the greatest doxologies in Scripture in Jude 24–25, showing us not only evidence of his conversion, but of someone absolutely captivated by the glory of God, an example for us all today:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

 

 

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Semi-regular Attenders: How to Think about Those Who Only Partially Attend a Church’s Services

Most Christians are familiar with the command to stir one another up to love in good works in Hebrews 10:24. The negative counterpart to this is the related command in Hebrews 10:25, to not neglect the assembled church where this stirring primarily takes place. To forsake the assembly altogether may betray that one may not be a Christian at all.

But what about Christians who come to church some of the time but not all the times that a church has said it would assemble? What if someone comes on Sunday mornings but not other regularly scheduled times, especially if it seems that he could have otherwise been there?

As a pastor, I have thought about this question many times. Whatever your schedule may be, my answer to these “semi-regular attenders” is to try to understand exactly why they are missing services and then go from there. What follows below are some questions I might explore in light of why some might be absent from the assembly on occasion.

  1. First, “Is this person a member?” 

My church has a covenant and bylaws to which all members must agree. In our covenant, among other things, members agree “with the aid of the Holy Spirit… to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines; to give it a sacred preeminence over all institutions of human origin.” In the section “Ecclesiology” in our Declaration of Faith, it states, “We believe the true mission of the church is to worship God in all of its services and activities.” Likewise, our Bylaws specifies the duties of members, one being this: “Each member shall seek diligently, by Divine help, to…  attend the services regularly.” Our Bylaws even specify when these services or meetings will take place: “The regular meetings of this church shall include the Sunday morning worship service, Sunday morning meeting, Sunday afternoon/evening meeting, a midweek service, fellowship around the Lord’s Table (normally the first Sunday of each month), and other meetings…”

So, if someone has been admitted into the membership of the church, that person has obligated himself to live up to what the church has agreed concerning its belief and practice of the faith. The church has likewise committed itself to holding each member accountable to this covenant, which means that all of its members should be checking up on one another to do as they have agreed to do, assembling with each other included. Thus, there has been a mutual agreement to simply do what everyone has said they would do. It would thus be natural to hold each accountable in the event of absence from the assembly.

  1. Second, “Why are you missing services?” 

My observation is that people miss services for two primary reasons—suffering or sin.

In a broken world, people suffer the loss of being with the assembly due to a job that schedules their presence during services, a sickness that keeps them at home, care for family members who are sick or aging, or health issues from aging themselves. Perhaps a long commute makes attendance difficult, especially if the weather is poor.

As to sin, sometimes people miss services because they are lazy, have misplace priorities (e.g., become too involved in youth sports leagues or vacation too often at their cabin), reject the church leadership, or want to avoid other people in their church due to some kind of conflict. Using the language above, sin is keeping them from assembling because they are forsaking the “Divine help” and “aid of the Spirit” that would otherwise move them to want to be with the people of God. This leads me to question #3.

  1. Third, “Should I confront this person? If so, when do I do so? After missing one service? Five? Fifty?” 

If someone attends some services but not others, I find it difficult to conclude that they are altogether violating Hebrews 10:24–25. If he has not made his excuses known and his absence is not a pattern, one should give the absentee the benefit of the doubt concerning his absence.

In reaching out, however, simply showing concern may stir the one absent in a far better way than confrontation. You might say, “Hey, I missed you last Sunday. Glad to see you back. I hope everything is going well.” Just the mere mention of noticing an absence and affirming the joy of his presence can strengthen his resolve to be faithful.

Or, it may be that the Lord gives the pastor and church an opportunity to address the matter through the regular preaching of the Word. I have a unique advantage for this kind of thing as a pastor. I might notice some not-so-faithful patterns in people’s lives that might be better corrected by simply addressing everyone on the matter instead of personally making a bigger deal of something than it needs to be. I just patiently wait to say the needed thing with an appropriate passage as it comes up in the preaching schedule. And hopefully the absentee is not absent on that day! If so, a personal conversation may need to take place sometime in the future.

One needs to be careful to address the congregation when preaching like this, however. Don’t illustrate an example of what not to do by describing someone’s aberrant behavior so exactly that he or she feels singled out in front of everyone else. There is a time to bring a member’s sin before the congregation, but that is the last step in church discipline (Matthew 18:17). It’s not like missing a service here and there is quite akin to outright immorality or the promotion of heresy (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 1 Timothy 1:19–20).

At the same time, churches should not let members be absent forever. Otherwise the church is danger of neglecting the command of not neglecting the assembly in Hebrews 10:24–25. It may do well for churches to specify in their bylaws how long one may be intentionally absent from the assembly and still maintain one’s membership. For example, my church only allows for 12 weeks of absence along these lines, but in between that time should be many attempts by the pastors and the membership to bring the wayward sheep back into the fold. And maybe 12 weeks sometimes turns into more while working with the individual. Voting someone out of the membership for sustained, intentional absence should be a tearful matter. Such a member would have been cautioned concerning this matter when he joined the church. Now that he has chosen to be perpetually absent, he can only expect to be put of the church membership as he was warned, an act of discipline by the church.

  1. Fourth, “But what if the person is not a member?”

For anyone who has not committed himself to the church, and therefore the church has not formally committed itself to him, I’m simply happy for however often the person attends, assuming the individual is teachable and cooperative with the church concerning whatever keeps him from joining. But, as I remind people from time to time, the longer someone attends, the more our relationships will build, and the more we will at least hold the individual accountable for living a godly life (assuming the person is a Christian).

I’m sure more questions and suggestions could be given. I’ve already said a mouthful, and my suggestions obviously assume congregationalism, church membership, and the helpfulness of a church covenant. Hopefully the above is helpful for anyone thinking through how to handle “semi-regular attenders.”

The Church’s Internal Rescue Mission: Jude 22–23

Jude 22–23 states, “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (ESV).

In these two verses, Jude identifies three groups within the church that need special attention. Jude has admonished his readers to contend for the faith against false teachers who have crept in the church (Jude 3–4). He then went on to give a scathing sketch of what kind of people these false teachers were (Jude 5–16). Turning his attention back to his readers in Jude 17–25 (“beloved”), Jude deals with those in the church who have been affected by the false teachers.

In the headings that follow below, we will see how we are to minister to each of these three groups, and who exactly makes up each group according to Jude’s description of them. 

In rescuing those who have been influenced by the false teachers, we must… 

1. Show Mercy to Those on the Fence (Jude 22) 

Jude commands us to “have mercy on those who doubt,” standing on the fence, so to speak, not sure of who to follow. To have mercy in this context is to have compassion and pity for those in the church who are vacillating in their faith. Smooth-talking false teachers have captured their convictions for a moment, but our gentle and loving approach may bring them back to sound thinking, carefully articulating truth in the face of error that they are considering. It is not merely a matter of winning their heads. A merciful approach will win their hearts.

2. Be Firm with Those in the Fire (Jude 23a) 

Jude commands us to “save others by snatching them out of the fire.” Of its 106 uses in the NT, the verb “save” is typically used to directly or implicitly describe how God saves men through Christ (e.g., Rom 10:9). Only rarely is it used to described how one can spiritually save another (Rom 11:14; 1 Cor 7:16; 9:22; 1 Tim 4:16; cf. Acts 2:40). It is obviously not in the power of man to spiritually save the soul of another, but we could say that God sometimes uses the means of Christians to provoke their brothers and sisters in Christ to forsake false teaching and persevere.

Jude’s means of salvation is “by snatching them out of the fire.” These people are not just doubting whether or not the faith is true—they are now pictured as beginning to be burnt by the fire of judgment, implying eternal fire to come. Given the danger, the provocation to persevere in Jude 23 is not a half-hearted attempt to win back a brother. “Snatching” comes from the same word that refers to taking something by force (e.g., Matt 11:12; John 6:15; Acts 23:10). “Fire” speaks of the eternal fire for the one betrays a false profession by turning away from the faith (cf. Matt 3:10, 12; Heb 10:27; Rev 20:14–15). Just as Joshua the high priest was plucked as a brand from the fire and forgiven by God for his sins (Zech 3:2–4), so also God can use us to snatch others from false teaching and the eternal fire that would be theirs.   

3. Show Mercy with Fear to Those Stained by the Flesh (Jude 23b)

Jude’s final command is “to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” We have considered showing mercy above, and now we see that this mercy is coupled “with fear.” Implied is a fear for God, but the context points to fearing the sinner’s sin—“hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” This group is not just doubting or even being barely burnt by playing with fire. This group is immersed in false teaching, stained for all to see.

“The garment” in Jude’s picture for sin is the inner garment that sits immediately on the skin. Being “stained by the flesh” details the picture further of a garment soiled by use. What remains of sin in us (“the flesh”) stains us from time to time (cf. Gal 5:16–17). If Jude has Zechariah 3:1–5 on the mind again, to describe Joshua’s garments as “filthy” as a picture of sin was to use a word typically used for excrement in the OT (Deut 23:13; 2 Kgs 18:7; Prov 30:12; Isa 36:12; Ezek 4:12). Just as Peter graphically described returning to sin as a dog eating its vomit and a pig wallowing in mire (2 Pet 2:22), Jude likewise shows us the ugliness of sin as excremental filth on our inner clothing. When showing mercy to those affected by false teaching, or even to the false teachers themselves, we must be cautious in our interactions so that we neither join or condone their sin.

False teaching abounds in our day. Sometimes it creeps into the church through false teachers. Should our brothers and sisters and Christ become influenced by it to one degree or another, may we deal mercifully with the doubters, snatch those in the fire, and show mercy with fear to those stained by sin.

Should Christians Get Tattoos?

These are my notes from teaching some teens on this topic in my church. This is a debated issue, but I believe Scripture is sufficient to answer whether or not Christians should get tattoos. Here is what I believe Scripture says about the matter:

  1. At the very least, tattoos or any other modification of our anatomy should not be identified with paganism or worldliness (Leviticus 19:28; cf. Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1–2). Sometimes physical alterations were allowable but had a distinctly God-given purpose (Genesis 4:15; Exodus 21:1–6). Even shaving one’s hair was temporary, as would be the mourning with which it was associated (Job 1:20; Isaiah 22:12).
  2. Though speaking to women concerning clothing and hair, 1 Peter 3:3–4 and 1 Timothy 2:9–10 give a principle for all Christians—God is more concerned with our hearts and actions than our outward, physical appearance. Good works and words are what best adorn the temple of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:20). Bringing the eyes of others to look at something else is simply a distraction.
  3. The Bible speaks against worldliness (1 John 2:15–17). Historically, it is not Christians who have originated and advocated for tattoos. This is a worldly enterprise. Unbelievers typically get tattoos to show what means most to them. Why would we take a pagan practice and attempt to Christianize it (by, say, tattooing a verse to your arm), especially when the Bible commends what matters most to us (Christ, God, the Bible, etc.) to simply be visible as a way of life (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:11–12)?
  4. Referring again to 1 John 2:15–17, the body itself is passing away (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16). This makes much of our body, something to be bettered at our glorification. However eternal the message of a tattoo may be (even if it is a Bible verse, a cross, etc.), it will eventually be marred by fading or be disfigured by aging skin. Do we want to represent what is most important to us with faded ink on wrinkles?
  5. What do you your parents say? Do you even want to do something as an adult that would permanently disappoint your parents? What about a spouse? See Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Proverbs 1:8; Ephesians 6:1–3.
  6. Tattoos are not a wise use of money. It costs a bit to get tattoos and even more to remove them. The bigger and inkier the tattoo, the more expensive, time-consuming, and painful it will be to have it removed.
  7. Because of their permanent appearance, tattoos imply an absolute commitment to whatever the tattoo says or symbolizes. Your tattoo thus boasts of something. But the Bible commends us to boast in the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23–24). And, if there is anything worth nothing about ourselves, it should be from another person, unprompted by us (Proverbs 27:2). Our words and actions should be commitment enough to whatever the matter of commitment may be (James 5:12).
  8. The only physical symbol that the Bible commands of us is baptism. And even this is not something that permanently attaches itself to our physical bodies everywhere we go.
  9. At the very least, getting a tattoo brings attention to something debatable among Christians, permanently marking yourself as controversial in this regard. Not only does the tattoo boast of whatever its message may be, but the tattoo in and of itself boasts of a willingness to do what many Christians have chosen not to do, something the Bible discourages (cf. Romans 14:6b, 22).
  10. Some people have been taught and believe differently, being Christians who get tattoos. Some people have tattoos and then become Christians, later regretting their tattoos. Either way it happens, we should not judge someone by their immediate appearance but come to understand why they received their tattoos and evaluate their faith by their words and works as a whole (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).

A couple of blog posts on the matter helped me to collect my thoughts (click here and here), and then I added some of my own thoughts as well.

Cessationism in a Nutshell

The term cessationism is typically used in theology with reference to the belief that the practice of miraculous spiritual gifts ceased at the end of the time of the apostles. In contrast, the term continuationism is used with reference to the belief that the practice of miraculous spiritual gifts continue to be practiced today.

Some gifts are miraculous because they involve the reception of God’s direct revelation—prophecy (receiving and giving this revelation), discerning of spirits (confirming that the Spirit gave revelation to another), wisdom (revelation giving wisdom), knowledge (revelation giving knowledge), tongues (revelation involving a known human language previously unknown to the speaker), and their interpretation (supernaturally interpreting a known human language previously unknown to the interpreter). See 1 Corinthians 12:8–10.

Other gifts are miraculous because, like the gifts above, they only take place by the supernatural work of God. These gifts include faith (the kind of faith granted for miracles; something beyond faith for salvation, it seems; cf. Matthew 17:20), miracles in general, and healings in particular. Again, see 1 Corinthians 12:8–10.

This second set of gifts— miracles, healings, and their necessary faith complement the first set of gifts, those that involve the reception and communication of divine revelation. Miracles confirmed that the speaker and his revelation from God were authentic and true. The message of “such a great salvation” was spoken by Jesus and the apostles, and “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:3–4; see also Acts 14:3).

Though miracles were occasionally practiced by someone outside of the apostles (e.g., Stephen in Acts 6:8; Stephen in Acts 8:6; Ananias in Acts 9:17–18), miracles were primarily the practice of the apostles themselves, so much so that Paul identified “signs and wonders and mighty works” as “the signs of a true apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12). Apostles were those who had followed Jesus since the time of John the Baptist, could be a witness for having personally seen Him after His resurrection, and were personally appointed by Him to their apostleship (Luke 6:12–16; Acts 1:21–26). While Paul did not meet the first of these three requirements, Jesus Himself appointed Paul to his apostleship, and he was thus an apostle “untimely born” (1 Corinthians 15:8).

These requirements for being an apostle are historically conditioned. No one today (or for the last 1,900 years) fits these requirements. The apostles have ceased to be. And if signs, miracles, and wonders are primarily the signs of an apostle, then the practice of these miraculous gifts has also ceased to be. And if the primary purpose of these gifts was to attest to new revelation, then the reception of new revelation has ceased as well.

I realize that one can believe in the gospel and be either a cessationist or a continuationist. I also believe that God can do miracles today apart from the hands of men. But, as seen above, I also believe that new revelation and the miracles that validated this revelation and its speaker ceased with the apostles.

The importance of this whole matter lies in what claims as one’s authority for Christian belief and practice today—does God speak to us through Scripture alone, or does He continue to speak through men? If He continues to speak through men, the authority for Christian belief and practice lies in the Bible and also in men. But if God ceased to speak in this age when the apostles died and when He closed the Canon of Scripture, then Scripture alone is sufficient for our Christian belief and practice.

While the above is only the briefest of explanations for the cessation of apostles, miraculous gifts, and revelation, I believe that all we need for every good work and all the knowledge necessary for life and godliness is found in Scripture alone. May God help us all to mine the riches of His Word to do these good works and live a godly life for Him.

 

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A Conference for Pastors and All on Monday, May 18: “Ministry in 2020: The Pastor, the Church, and Challenges Today.”

Click here to see the conference website.

Dear Pastors, Deacons, and Fellow Believers in Christ,

Please mark your calendars for this year’s Conference on the Church for God’s Glory on Monday, May 18, 2020, from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

Our theme for the day will be Ministry in 2020: The Pastor, the Church, and Challenges Today.” As we see less of God’s common and saving grace in our society today, I believe that you will find this conference a help to you with the sessions that are offered: 

David Huffstutler will open the day with an expository sermon with the same title as the theme for the day, “Ministry in 2020: The Pastor, the Church, and Challenges Today.”

Kevin Bauder will guide us through Scripture’s thoughts on creation, sex, and gender, and relate these topics to some of the issues of the sexual revolution of our day.

Glen Currie will give us a Scriptural look at the senior pastor’s “last five years,” encouraging us towards how to plan and lead a church for when its senior pastor steps down.

David Doran will tackle the topic of missions and planting churches, a challenge throughout the history of the church.

Mike Harding will evaluate the social justice movement taking hold in many churches today.

Matt Morrell will wrap up the day by encouraging us all with an expository sermon from 2 Timothy 4:1–5.

To read more about our speakers, click here.

To see the schedule for the day, click here. 

Each of the men above either pastor, regularly work with pastors at a seminary, or do both. Speaking apart from myself, I believe these speakers represent a wealth of integrity, giftedness, experience, and wisdom that will help you face the challenges that they address. The fellowship with the other conference attendees will be worth your time as well.

I hope you can make it. We look forward to ministering to those who are able to come.

Trusting in Him,

Pastor David Huffstutler
First Baptist Church
Rockford, IL

PS As always, wives are free to attend (but please still register), and there is a discount for students in college or seminary. We do not have staffed nurseries for the day, but our nursery rooms will be available to any mothers who wish to use them.

Motivation for Making Disciples: Jesus’ Words to Paul in Corinth in Acts 18:9–10

Jesus encouraged Paul in Corinth, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9–10). These words are encouraging to us today as well, giving us multiple motivations to give the gospel to the lost.

We are motivated to make disciples by the presence of the Lord.

Paul could be fearless and vocal for the gospel because Jesus promised him, “I am with you.” As seen in the Great Commission (Matt 28:18), this promise is to us today and for exactly the same reason—making disciples. The presence of the Lord is that of the Lord Jesus who possesses universal authority and accompanies us until He comes again (Matt 28:18, 20). With His help, who can be against us to thwart His purposes?

We are motivated to make disciples by the protection of the Lord.

Paul was uniquely promised, “no one will attack you to harm you,” and Paul therefore suffered no injury in Corinth (cf. Acts 18:11–17). Already in the book of Acts, however, the apostles had been arrested and beaten, Stephen and James had been martyred, and the church experienced other persecutions as well. While we wish we could claim physical protection at all times when we go out for the sake of the gospel, sometimes God allows His servants to fall to an unholy sword. Even then, however, our soul is eternally safe. We should therefore “not fear those who kill body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28), even if it means suffering physical death. Being willing to uphold the name of Christ shows one’s faith to the end, and Christ Himself will acknowledge such a one before His Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32).

We are motivated to make disciples by the people of the Lord.

Paul was told in advance that some of the Corinthians yet to be evangelized were part of the “many” that were “my people,” that is, people who belonged to God (Acts 18:10). God knows the beginning from the end and who would respond to the gospel in faith. Their faith was patently certain and could be promised as such to Paul. Paul simply needed to give the gospel in order for them to believe. While we may wish that Christ would identify the cities where disciples will be made, we already have His promise to go to the nations of the world wherein He will build His church (Matt 16:18; 28:19). We simply need to give the gospel and make disciples of those who believe.

Churches Helping Churches to Keep Pastors in the Word

Acts 18:5 records, “When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”

It might seem that Luke is merely telling us that Paul was evangelizing the Jews when Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth from Macedonia. A closer look at Acts 18, however, shows us how generosity from others can free ministers to further the work of the Lord.

When first in Corinth, Paul financially supported himself by making tents with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2–3). Paul later told the Corinthians that though he had the right to receive compensation for his spiritual labors (1 Cor 9:3–12a), he did not make “use of this right” in order to keep from putting “an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:12). Paul had them keep their money so they would not suspect him of serving for money alone.

As time went on, however, Paul apparently stopped his secular labors and engaged in spiritual labor alone. Paul went from making tents to being “occupied with the word” (Acts 18:5). The Greek word for “occupied” is used elsewhere by Luke to describe how crowds would “surround” someone (Luke 8:45), enemies that would “hem… in” their victims (Luke 19:43), and “holding” someone “in custody” (Luke 22:63). Whereas Paul previously split his time between a secular vocation and spending his Saturdays in the synagogue (cf. Acts 18:2–4), we might say that he was now able to be surrounded by, hemmed in, and held in custody by the Word. The ministry of the Word now dominated his attention.

But what did Timothy and Silas do to change Paul’s situation? The answer lies in what Paul told the Corinthians later: “I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way” (2 Corinthians 11:8–9). In Macedonia was Philippi, and Paul told the Philippians this: “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (Philippians 4:15). Paul was in Philippi before he came to Corinth (cf. Acts 16:11–34).

So, matching Acts 18:5 with 2 Corinthians 11:8–9 and Philippians 4:15, we could conclude that, when Timothy and Silas came from Macedonia, they brought a financial gift from the Philippians that freed Paul from making tents in order to make disciples alone.

From this example, we learn in principle that, whereas a church may not be able to fully financially support a pastor, sometimes God provides that financial support through others. And if those finances are provided, the church can rejoice and use them for his support.

 

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Ezra, an Excellent Example of Resolution for the New Year

“On the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia” (Ezra 7:9).1

When Ezra set out on this journey, he was resolved to see it through: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10 ESV). He had been tasked by God and even a pagan king to lead thousands of people to Jerusalem, deliver gifts from Babylon, and set the worship of the temple in order (see all of Ezra 7–8). In doing so, he had to be ready to teach after finishing what would be a four-month journey (cf. Ezra 7:9). From Ezra 7–8, here are a small handful of resolutions that all of us should make.

Be prepared, be in the Word, and do what the Word commands.

Ezra was “scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given” (Ezra 7:6). He was “learned in matters of the commandments of the Lord and his statutes for Israel” (Ezra 7:11). He was known as “Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven” (Ezra 7:12, 21). There is no way Ezra could have asked for what Israel needed for the nation’s temple worship if he had not studied it and known it in advance (cf. Ezra 7:6). Having studied the Law of the Lord (cf. Ezra 7:10), Ezra was prepared to ask for what was necessary, deliver it, and even lead thousands of people along the way. The more we ready ourselves for God’s service through being in the Word and in prayer, so also can we be used in a mighty way, whatever the task may be.

Teach the Word to others.

Ezra was uniquely born into the priesthood and commissioned to teach others to obey the Law. While not all of us might be skilled to teach in front of others, we are all responsible for the Great Commission to one degree or another, making disciples as we are able, teaching  them to observe the commandments of Christ (Matt 28:18–20). This may be indeed like Ezra, formally teaching the Word, or it may be by example or personal conversation, naturally as relationships are formed in the church (cf. Titus 2:1–8). In knowing and living the Word, we will be able to example and teach it to others.

Be courageous.

Ezra “took courage,” knowing the favorable “hand of the Lord God” was on him (Ezra 7:28; cf. 7:9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31). He asked bold questions (Ezra 7:6), led God’s people through difficulty (Ezra 8:21–23), and took full advantage of the faithfulness of God. Likewise, as we see God clearly laying good works before us in the year ahead, may we be courageous to do what God has given us to do.

What will your new year hold for you? How will you be in the Word? What will you do for God? As you are resolved to serve the Lord, be courageous to do His will!

  1. All quotes ESV. []

Special Times Without Special People: Hope for the Holidays When You Grieve for Those Who Have Passed Away

Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and other special days to remember—these days and their memories bring grief to those who have shared them with loved ones who have passed away, especially if their passing is around or on one of these days.

The grief is all the greater if the one now passed never knew the Lord. In such a situation, we know that, as biting as the grief may be, the Son of God came from heaven, suffered for our sins on the cross, and was raised so that we by faith in Him might be with Him forever. After His coming, God Himself “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 ESV). For those of us who know the Lord, there is at least the hope that our suffering will one day end.

When we grieve for believers who have gone to be with the Lord, we are encouraged that their absence “from the body” means that they are “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8 ESV). We are also encouraged that we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14 ESV). When Christ comes again, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 ESV). We are to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18 ESV).

Suffering will be no more. We will be reunited with the dead in Christ who are now more alive than they have ever been before. Right now, these believers are in the presence of Christ, anticipating with us when He will call us all to Himself, reuniting us to be with Him forever.

These are words of hope for any time when you grieve for those who have passed away, and especially during those special times that you once shared with these special people. If you have lost a spouse, parent, child, relative, or friend, may the Lord give you comfort today from these encouraging truths.