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Colossians: Pray and Keep on Praying

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Colossians 1:3-14

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant,[a] who is a faithful minister of Christ on our[b] behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[c] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[d] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

I did not write the lesson on this section in Colossians, but I would love to share some thoughts concerning this passage. I would encourage you to read through the passage above and record your own observations (noting key words, admonitions, tone of voice, connectives, and so on).

The first thing I noticed this time around is Paul’s very friendly and encouraging tone toward the Colossians. It reads quite differently from his letter to the Galatians for example. He also introduces us to a new name, Epaphras. New names immediately pique my interest and result in me following a rabbit trail that takes me hours to get back to my original path. In order not to take you on too many rabbit trails, I’ll simply choose a few ideas from the passage I found interesting (trust me when I say this is very hard to do for me. I’d like to pick apart every. single. verse.).

If we look at this section of the letter very broadly, we would note his common habit of giving thanks and praying for the recipients. It is a beautiful way to start a letter. I find that Paul teaches me about being thankful and how to pray for others simply by the way he writes his letters.

As I mentioned he’s very encouraging toward the Colossian believers, noting their faith and their love (v. 4, 7) which is a result of the hope (v. 5) they have in Christ {hmm…where have I seen those three qualities together before??}. He also comments on the gospel bearing fruit and increasing among them since the day they heard it and understood it (v. 5-6). I find the idea of an inanimate object being able to bear fruit very fascinating. The good news (gospel) which Epaphras spoke to the Colossians continues to produce good things among them.

I would like to look closely at the idea of faith. Webster’s 1828 defines it as “a full and affectionate confidence in the certainty of those things which God has declared and because He has declared them.” Another way to put it is an “affectionate, practical confidence in the testimony of God” or a “firm, cordial belief in the veracity of God, in all the declarations of His word.”

Perhaps it is best to point out that the power of faith depends not on the person who has the faith but on the One in whom the faith is placed. Christ is the object of our faith. Our faith has power because it is on Him, and He does not fail. C.F.D. Moule wrote this:

Regardless, the issue is not just the presence of faith, but a faith that resides in Christ. It gives the thought of reliance going forth to Christ, and reposing on Christ, so as to sink as it were into Him, and find fixture in Him; as the anchor sinks to the floor of the sea, and then into it, that it may be held in it.

To recap, Paul gave thanks for their faith and love because of hope (and this hope does not disappoint because it is also in the person of Christ who has secured glory/heaven for us). One of the ladies I teach with said this, “The validity of faith is not the fervency with which you believe, but the degree to which the object of your faith is true.”

It is in verse 9 when he switches to praying for these people he’s never even met. He asked that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. I couldn’t tell you how this happens, I only know that if he asks for it, it must be something that can happen to any believer. We can know God’s will for our lives. Isn’t that such a comforting thought? I also happen to love that he prays this for them as a father would pray for his own children to know God fully.

Hopefully you had a chance to read my post detailing the background of Colossians. You see, there was a threat of false teaching in Colossae, and those opponents were promising spiritual fullness with things that were not Christ. Paul tells the believers that true spiritual fullness can only be found in Christ alone. Just look at these verses in the letter about fullness or being filled:

1:19 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell

1:25 …to make the word of God fully known

2:2 …all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,

2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

2:9 For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

2:10 and you have been filled in Him…

4:12 …stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.

Christ is sufficient. (more on this later!)

Now on to verses 10-11. Paul had spoken of the gospel which was bearing fruit in the lives of the Colossians and now in verse 10 he tells them to walk in a worthy manner, being pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good work…. One of my favorite teachings of Jesus (and which Paul continues) is this idea of the Vine and branches. We abide in the Vine (which is Christ), and He produces fruit in us (fruit of the Spirit for example). I realize this can be a touchy subject since too many people believe they must work really hard to be “good” and accepted by God (or whoever it is they believe they need to work for). I would clarify that it’s not so much that we work for God but that God works in us. {I feel a blog post bubbling to the surface so I had better stop at that.}

In verse 11 Paul tells them their strength comes from God. The words for strengthened and power come from the same word in our English language for dynamiteDunamei means “to make strong, strengthen” and carries the idea of making something strong that is inherently weak. Paul says this power helps us to endure and have patience with joy. Again, this is his prayer for the Colossians and gives me such encouragement knowing this can happen for me as well.

Paul wraps up this section in verses 12-14: we give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in His inheritance, He has delivered us from darkness and transferred us to His Son’s kingdom, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Now those verses are truly packed with some dynamite!

What I learned from this passage is that the words used for delivered and transferred give the idea of military conquest. In Biblical times it was common to take a people who had been defeated, uproot them from their culture and environment, and re-root them somewhere else. That is exactly what God did for us! He broke the bonds of our past life (out of darkness) to assimilate us into a new life with Him (His kingdom of light – see also 1 Pet 2:9). It’s His grace to us, because we don’t deserve a single thing He did in those verses. We have been qualified, delivered, transferred, and redeemed.

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Colossae: Introducing Christ

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book-of-col-cover

Introducing Colossae.

Introducing Christ.

It seems appropriate to begin our study by starting with the background – to look at context, culture, and what was happening in the world.

We learned from Titus that right doctrine rightly applied produces right living. As we make our way through Colossians, we will encounter echoes of this same truth, but from a different angle. Knowledge of God is important. No it’s vital. Your view of God, your understanding of who God is, ultimately is the only thing that matters. Because what you know of Him shapes what you believe and then how you feel and finally how you act.

Fortunately God does not leave us in the dark concerning who He is! He, the eternal Creator, makes Himself known to us, the limited, finite created ones. He reveals Himself to us through His creation, but most presently and intimately through HIS SON.

Ahh, here’s where our letter speaks most loudly! Colossians is said to have a profoundly high view of Christ. Perhaps this is exactly the kind of letter we need to read today. Let us settle in and get reacquainted with Christ, the supreme and sufficient Savior!

Colossians 1:1-2 says,

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Please meet my new friends, the Colossians. Even though Paul is the first character mentioned, then Timothy, I’m actually going to discuss the Colossians first.

Colossae

You may be wondering what is so special about Colossae. To tell you the truth, nothing. It was said to be the least important church of the New Testament. In fact Lightfoot writes, “without doubt Colossae was the least important church to which any epistle of St. Paul is addressed.” (Word Comm p. 2) But don’t you just love that Paul wrote to them anyway? The church is still the Church no matter how small. Let us begin with a geography lesson!

Colossae was a city in Phrygia, a Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey). It is located about 100 miles east of Ephesus. Here are two maps to show you where it is:

Here is another view of Colossae:

Bird’s Eye View of Colossae

It was a thriving city in the 5th century B.C. (think Esther and the Persian King Xerxes) but had declined by the time Paul was on the scene because the major trade roads that once carved through Colossae began to bypass the town for the neighboring cities like Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Trade Route

Trade Route that ran between Laodicea and Hierapolis

Another view of the trade route by Hierapolis

It is believed that Colossae was initially made wealthy due to the textile industry, and the city was known for its wool and black and red dyes which came from the nearby chalk deposits (Strabo in Word; MacArthur).

The tri-cities were nestled in the Lycus River Valley, named after the Lycus River which ran through the towns. J.B. Lightfoot writes about the Lycus River and the impressive formations that formed as a result of the river:

Ancient monuments are buried; fertile land is overlaid; river beds choked up and streams diverted; fantastic grottoes and cascades and archways of stone are formed, by this strange, capricious power, at once destructive and creative, working silently throughout the ages. Fatal to vegetation, these encrustations spread like a stony shroud over the ground. Gleaming like glaciers on the hillside, they attract the eye of the traveller at a distance of twenty miles, and form a singularly striking feature in scenery of more than common beauty and impressiveness. (in Barclay NDSB)

Unfortunately we know only a tiny amount about the ancient city of Colossae due to the fact that it has never been excavated. Here are some images of the land as it stands currently.

Colossae view from the mound

Mount Cadmos

Colossian theater

Colossian theater (notice the “seats”)

Sometime after 61 A.D., a massive earthquake destroyed the tri-city area (according to Eusebius it was 64 A.D. and Tacitus claims it was 61 A.D.).

  • Eusebius is said to have chronicled an earthquake destroying Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (Chron. Olymp. 210.4) in the 10th year of Nero [AD 64]. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible: “That this city [Colossae] perished by an earthquake, a short time after the date of this epistle, we have the testimony of Eusebius…”
  • Tacitus records the quake in the 7th year of Nero (Nero was Emperor of Rome from AD 54-68, putting the earthquake around AD 61—Annals 14.27. Tacitus recorded that Laodicea was also destroyed in the quake, but was later rebuilt apparently without Roman assistance. Note that Jesus wrote to Laodicea, but Colossae was not mentioned among the letters of Revelation. By this time (AD 96), Colossae in large part no longer existed.  (http://religiouslyincorrect.com/Articles/TriCityAreaEarthquake.shtml)

An interesting fact concerning Colosse is that the Lycus River brought cold water to the city. Here is a view of the Lycus River:

A well-documented fact of Colossian history was that the Lycus river, beginning at Colossae, disappeared underground for about 1/2 mile. In the area where the underground course was believed to run is now a ~30′ deep canyon. It is believed this canyon was formed by collapsing of earth caused by the AD 60 earthquake [102]. This may help explain the existence of cold springs in the area; for if the Lycus flowed several hundred yards beneath the surface, it would have emerged cold. And although the 60 AD earthquake may have rendered the underground Lycus course extinct, it’s clear that underground water activity was not uncommon.

What is most interesting about this Colossian fact can only be realized if you see a map of the area and understand a little bit about the neighboring towns of Hierapolis and Laodicea.

The rivers naturally ran toward the sea which was off to the west. This means that the Lycus River at Colossae ran to Laodicea. Hierapolis, their neighbor to the north, remains famous even today for it’s hot springs.

Hierapolis hot spring

These hot springs would run south to Laodicea where they would mix with the cold water from the Lycus River. This helps explain Jesus’ “neither cold nor hot” remarks about Laodicea, which was sandwiched approximately between its two sister cities (Rev 3:16). Interestingly, the cold water of Colossae was extremely beneficial as a refreshing drink or to help soothe a fever. Likewise the hot water of Hierapolis was used to help relieve sore muscle aches as it had healing properties at such high temperatures. This is why Jesus wanted Laodicea to be either hot (therapeutic benefits) or cold (refreshing benefits) but not lukewarm.

Audience

The majority of the people at Colossae were most likely Gentiles. However Josephus describes a movement from Babylon of about 2,000 Jewish families into the area of Colossae during the days of Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C. – 1st century B.C.; Ant. XII 6.4).

The letter was most likely written to Gentile Christians rather than Jewish believers, and this is evidenced in four ways:

  1. How the author addresses the Jewish legalism that plagued the church (1:12, 21, 24, 27; 2:11-13; 3:5-7);
  2. The scarce allusions to the OT;
  3. A list of Gentile-specific vices; and
  4. A near lack of references to the issue of reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles in the congregation (noting 3:11, 4:11).

The congregation was said to be full of new believers (but honestly, most churches were new if you think about it!), and we might assume that they either were experiencing some uncertainty in their faith due to outside pressures OR were needing more instruction in the truth of the gospel in order to buffer the outside pressure. In other words, they either needed correction or encouragement (or perhaps both). We must not be quick to assume that they had gone astray though because Paul’s tone does not seem to be harsh (as in Galatians for example).

Rome

I mentioned that Colossae was in the region known as Phrygia, a Roman province. Here is a map showing the entirety of the Roman Empire.

With the exception of the orange and yellow, this is how widespread the empire was during Paul’s time. It stretched from England to India. And just to give you an idea of Rome’s dominance, they ruled over this area (give or take a few regions) for 1500 years! To give you an idea of how incredible this is, our country is a little over 240 years old.

The reason Rome is important to our study is that we can know some defining characteristics of the culture in Colossae and the surrounding regions. We will be talking about the Persians sometime in the near future, and like the Persians, the Romans had a lust for power. They had conquest ingrained in their bones. However, unlike the Persians, they did not rule with an iron fist per se. They allowed more freedom under the law, and this resulted in a fairly long lasting sense of peace throughout the empire.

The Romans had a definite philosophy on what made a country great. Naturally they would espouse their views as the “best” way of living. They essentially believed the Roman way was “the way.” Interestingly, there were several factors that made the spread of the gospel much easier during the Roman rule.

  1. Political unity produced economic and political stability as well as encouraging trade between cities and regions.
  2. Military and trade routes meant easy access to large numbers of people.
  3. Greek was the universal language and made communication easier between regions.
  4. The mixing of cultures allowed for easier cross-cultural evangelism.

However, as great as Rome was, there was also a blending of religions. It was very easy to hold 1) syncretistic beliefs during this time because the Romans had so many gods (just like the Greeks) and did not hold to a monotheistic framework. What was one more god going to hurt? I’ll just add Jesus to my repertoire. They were polytheistic and inclusive.

Just imagine what the culture was like for the Colossians. Grab a little of that faith, a little of this one, sprinkle some of that one, and viola, I think I’ve figured out the best concoction to be fully spiritual.

In addition to this, 2) Rome was seen as the great light that had come to be the great salvation. “A lot of people had put their hope in Rome’s ability to take care of them.” (Matt Chandler)

Author and Date

The letter specifically says, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus…and Timothy our brother…” It would make sense then that the author is Paul, right? Scholars note that just because the letter begins with Paul’s name does not necessarily indicate true authorship. There is evidence that people in the first century wrote letters using Paul’s name to lend credence to their words. I personally think that Paul wrote the letter, HOWEVER some scholars have questioned the Pauline authorship of Colossians. Yet a greater amount of evidence points to Paul as the author.

Let me give you some reasons for both arguments:

Those who question a Pauline authorship believe that the writer’s vocabulary/style and theology are different from that of Paul’s. Let’s talk about style first (from Berkhof):

  1. The style is said to be different from that of the apostle. They believe that some of the word choices are not typical of Paul and that the construction of the letter carries a certain heaviness that feels different from a genuine Pauline letter.
    1. To answer this objection, it is not uncommon for a person’s vocabulary to change over time, especially when dealing with the specific circumstances at Colossae. In addition his choice of “new” words (not used in other letters) is not proof that he did not write the letter. He also uses different words in the letter to the Romans, but no one questions the authenticity of that letter! The difference in his vocabulary is more likely due to his subject matter.
  2. It is believed that the Christology (theology) of this letter is un-Pauline and conflicts with the representation of Paul in his other writings.
    1. To address this objection: There is no reason to believe that Paul could not have more fully developed his view of Christ (Christology). Nothing in his Christology actually conflicts with other Pauline passages on this matter (Rom 8:19-22; 1 Cor 8:6; 2 Cor 4:4; Phil 2:5-11).

Interestingly, “there is no historical evidence that the Pauline authorship of Colossians was ever suspect in the early church” (bible.org). Louis Berkhof also explains that there is “no good reasons to doubt the Pauline authorship of this Epistle. {Marcion and the school of Valentinus recognized it as genuine. And the great witnesses of the end of the second century, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertulilian repeatedly quote it by name}.” He then lists several early church fathers who attest to Paul’s authorship of Colossians. (http://thirdmill.org/magazine/article.asp/link/http:%5E%5Ethirdmill.org%5Earticles%5Elou_berkhof%5Elou_berkhof.INT_%20026.pdf/at/Introduction%20to%20the%20New%20Testament)

Douglas Moo notes “there are simply too many specific personal claims woven throughout the letter” for this to have been written by anyone other than Paul. (Pillar)

In other words, when the beginning sentence claims it was written by “Paul, an apostle…” the people believed it was from Paul!

The other twist in this plot is that Timothy is also mentioned as if he were a co-author. Douglas Moo writes,

Timothy, enlisted among Paul’s co-workers at the beginning of the second missionary journey (Acts 16:1–3), became the most important of Paul’s ministry associates. Brother, therefore, is probably intended to suggest Timothy’s close association with Paul in ministry. What role does Timothy play in the composition of this letter? Schweizer and Dunn, among others, suggest that Timothy may have been the actual writer of the letter, with Paul perhaps reading and “signing off” on what Timothy had written. But this may give Timothy more credit than he deserves…. To be sure, Timothy’s inclusion in the prescripts of these other letters can readily be explained in terms of his involvement with those churches. (Pillar NTC)

I agree that we don’t need to make too much of this extra author because we honestly can’t know if he wrote any of the letter. He is mentioned in the greeting in three other letters – Philippians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. It’s possible that he was present with Paul and showed the same concern for this little church. I just love that it shows that cycle of missions at work – he’s like Paul’s apprentice.

This letter was written from prison so unfortunately the dating of this letter is also uncertain. To spare you all the details, Paul was either in Ephesus (100 miles away) or Rome (1,200 miles away). An Ephesian imprisonment would mean an earlier date around 52-55 A.D. and a Roman imprisonment would be later around 60-62 A.D. (Moo, Pillar)

There are equally good reasons for both dates. I would say that we can put the date of the letter before 60 A.D. for certain because of that earthquake (remember, it happened sometime after 61 A.D.). “Paul did not refer to this catastrophic event; thus, scholars believe Paul had either not yet heard the news, or that his letters to Colossians and Philemon predated the quake.” (TriCityAreaEarthquake)

And also because if it were much later, then Paul couldn’t have written it (because he was said to be in Rome after 60 A.D. and according to tradition, died in Rome). This line of thinking leans toward an Ephesian imprisonment but does not entirely rule out the Roman imprisonment.

There are four Prison Epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Most people group Colossians with Philemon because the greetings in each letter are sent from practically the same people (Phile 23; Col 1:7; 4:12-19). In fact the two letters have eight of the nine names in common. Philemon 12 tells us that Tychicus (who is mentioned in Col 4:7) had Onesimus as his companion on the journey to the Lycus Valley.

Interestingly, though Paul is the author of this letter, there is no evidence that he was ever in Colossae. Paul passed through the region of Phrygia twice, once at the start of his second journey and again at the beginning of his third journey (Acts 16:6, 18:23). However he did not even come close to the city of Colossae the first time, and if he did the second time, he certainly did not found the church there (since he says in Col 2:1 that they had never seen his face before).

It is most likely that his preaching in Ephesus (between 52-55 AD) allowed for others, namely Epaphras, to take the message to the city of Colossae (1:7; 4:12; Acts 19). Many believe that Epaphras was converted at Ephesus under Paul’s teaching and then was trained and prepared to go plant a church in his hometown of Colossae. (https://bible.org/seriespage/background-colossians)

Reason for Letter

As in every letter, it is best to look at the overall picture before plunging into the details. This is why I believe in reading the letter in its entirety when you first begin a bible study of any New Testament letter. One of the first questions I like to ask is: why was this letter written?

It seems that every letter Paul wrote was meant to correct some sort of error and also to offer encouragement for the believers to press on in their circumstances. The letter to the Colossians is no different. Paul addresses a threat of false teaching which sought to “undermine the person and work of Christ and the sufficiency of the salvation believers have in Him.” (bible.org bkgd)

You see how he speaks to the false teaching by expounding on sound teaching (theology) in Col 1 and 2, giving them the resources they would need to fend off these opponents.

He then offers his encouragement to the believers who might have been unsure of their salvation and their Savior. Paul also congratulates them at the beginning of chapter two for their “good order and the firmness of [their] faith.” (2:5)

The letter to the Colossians is best known for its major emphasis on Christology, or the summing up of all things in Christ. Many have questioned whether this high view even jives with the other books of the NT. Can they possibly be wondering if Paul declares too high of view of Christ? I just don’t see how this is a problem!

Perhaps this illustration about me and my sister will help me make my point more clear.

I have a sister who is over three years younger than me. She is taller, has darker, curlier hair, and darker skin. She has the most amazing dark eyes with the darkest eye lashes which everyone always envies about her! She is beautiful and funny and talented. One of my favorite things that everyone asks is, are you two twins? Ha! Yes, I’ll take that compliment. We look similar though I’ve just explained to you how different we are.

My mother, sister, and me

But as different as we are in appearance, we are worlds apart in our interests and preferences. She is a musician, I couldn’t tell you the difference between G and A. She went through a “goth” period with the dark, colorful hair and nails, I have never even dyed my hair (highlights yes..). She loves horror flicks and Halloween, I get scared watching Jurassic Park (The raptor scene!!! it’s terrifying people!).

If someone were to write a letter to her about how to handle a troubling situation, it would sound very different from how a letter to me might sound. The message will ultimately be the same, but you’ll find very distinct emphases because not only are we different people but what would be troubling to her might be different from what would trouble me. Yet at the end of the day, my sister and I aren’t so different. I still need Jesus just like she needs Jesus.

Louis Berkhof writes “the Christology of this letter is in perfect harmony with that of previous Epistles, but there is a difference of emphasis.” Paul emphasizes the significant impact Christ makes not only on the Church but on the whole Cosmos or creation. “All things were created by Him and find the purpose of their existence in Him.” Word Commentary notes that the specific conditions at Colossae necessitated the need for this high view. I would go further to say that WE ALL need this high view of Christ.

Many have said that the letter to the Colossians is the twin letter of Ephesians. Berkhof notes that of the 155 verses in Ephesians, 78 find parallels in Colossians. As you read in the intro, Ephesians focuses on ecclesiology (study of the church) whereas Colossians focuses on Christology.

So now you may ask, what exactly was the Colossian heresy? What was the threat of false teaching? Who was it that was threatening this congregation?

All great questions! This issue is the topic of MUCH debate beginning in the 19th century (interestingly, there was no debate about it before this time). The writers of the Word Commentary note 44 different suggestions among 19th-20th century NT scholars. Just to relieve your angst, I will not be going over all 44 views. Just 20. Aww! I’m teasing…

My personal preference when dealing with unclear passages or issues in a passage is to take a look at how Scripture, and to be more specific, how Paul handles the truth in the letter in order to combat any external pressures. It also just so happens that knowing a little about the culture and history can inform our view as well. I will not go into great detail concerning the WHO because we will deal with the opponents as the passage progresses.

So how does Paul handle these opponents? Well he warns the Colossians to be on their guard (2:8) because these opponents would try to ensnare them “by philosophy and empty deceit” (2:8). But he also mentions “human traditions” that are set up against Christ (2:8). Finally there seems to be a Jewish edge to these opponents which you will find in 2:16-19.

In other words, the Colossians were dealing with a combination of philosophy and Jewish tradition. Arnold argues, “The Colossian ‘philosophy’ … represents a combination of Phrygian folk belief, local folk Judaism, and Christianity. The local folk belief has some distinctive Phrygian qualities, but it also has much in common with what we could also describe as magic or ritual power.”65 (Moo, Pillar)

{Remember the tolerance or inclusive nature of the Romans.}

This means that the opponents were not wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing, lurking in and among the church members, but rather were most likely outsiders pressing in on the Colossian church. To be clear, they were still wolves, but not those who had infiltrated the church as we saw in Titus.

In his letter, Paul also uses slogans or catch words of the opponents but turns them on their heads by using different definitions to more accurately reflect the truth. For example he uses the phrase “all the fullness” (2:9), which was likely a catchword used by the opponents (based on studies of word usage in the NT and early Greek writings). Moo notes, “Paul’s use of this ‘fullness’ suggests that the false teachers were claiming to offer a “fullness” of spiritual experience that could not be found through Christ alone.52” (Pillar) So as to highjack and therefore baptize the slogan, Paul applies this title to Jesus and not to whatever “fullness” the opponents were focusing on.

A major criticism Paul makes about the opponents was that they were puffed up with pride (v. 18 “their unspiritual minds puff them up with idle notions”). Apparently they were bragging about their ability to find ultimate spiritual “fulfillment” by means of their own spiritual program of visions and asceticism as well as observance of several Jewish traditions. (Moo, Pillar) Moo writes, “Paul … implies that the main deficiency … the false teachers found in Christ was his inability to provide ultimate spiritual ‘fulfillment.’” (Pillar)

This spiritual program they followed caused them to separate themselves from finding the true source of spiritual power which is Christ alone.

The essence of false teaching was that it was “not according to Christ” (2:8), or to use another phrase from Paul, they were trying to set up anything against Christ. {Christ + _______}

Thus the reason for our title, Christ – sufficient and supreme. Paul teaches the Colossians that they can find all they need in Him. Though the opponents would not teach according to Christ, he would continue to teach “according to Christ.” (I’m keeping this short and precise because you will get into this more as we dive into the particulars.)

Key Themes

Finally to give you some themes or key words to watch for:

  • Wisdom/knowledge/mystery (Christ is where it is found and He makes it available to all His people, not to an elite only)
  • Slavery v. Freedom (Christ has overthrown the powers; victory in Jesus!)
  • Old self v. new self (The Greek word for “old” does not refer to something old in years but to something that is worn out and useless. The old self died with Christ, and the life we now enjoy is a new, divinely given life that is the life of Christ Himself (Gal 2:20). (MacArthur))
  • Already, not-yet (we already have salvation but heaven is not yet) (Paul’s [often discusses] what God has “already” done in Christ [which] is balanced and kept in tension with what has “not yet” happened. Yet Colossians replaces the temporal scheme of “already” and “not yet” with the spatial scheme of “below” and “above” (3:1–4) and teaches a “realized” eschatology. We are already resurrected in Christ. We are already free in Christ. Douglas Moo Pillar Comm)

Final thoughts – Introducing Christ, the only one you need

As we ponder the bigger picture of this letter, I’d like us to consider God’s heart for His people. What kind of God hand picks the most zealous Jewish man to lead His missionary movement? A movement that will largely reach the Gentiles? Think about who Paul was before Christ interrupted his religious tirade against the followers of Christ. He called himself the Hebrew of Hebrews in Phil 3:4-6:

though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

If there was anyone who would be considered godly (to have spiritual fullness), it was Paul. One thing that I’ve read over and over again is that the Jews did not proselytize. They did not go out and make disciples of other nations. But Christ chose Saul, later to be known as Paul, to lead His church, becoming the apostle to the Gentiles!

And think about how incredibly suited or qualified he was to be able to preach to the Jews. He knew the Law backwards and front (Napoleon Dynamite reference! BAM!). He was able, from his vast training in the Hebrew culture and Scripture, to explain to the Gentiles (and Jews) how Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Scriptures.

He was also able to see that, as great as the Law was, it could not do what Christ did. (Rom 8:3 “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.”) How perfect then was it for God to choose Paul who would be able to refute any opponents to the gospel of Christ!

Think about how difficult it must have been for the Colossian believers to come to faith in Christ only to be told that they needed something else, in fact that they needed to become Jewish and/or mystical in their practices. That they needed some extra knowledge that only this philosophy would give them. Or worse, that they couldn’t possibly be God’s chosen people because they were not Jews. How could God choose Gentiles? (said with utter disdain/contempt)

Surely these opponents would have shaken them enough to cause them to question their salvation and their Savior. Are we really qualified to share in the “inheritance of the saints in light” (1:12)? Do we really have forgiveness of our sins (1:14; 2:13-14)? Are we really “holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (1:22)? Could these philosophies and human traditions really help us to attain to the Godward life? (1:22-23, 2:8) Can we really have “full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery” (2:2)? How can we, being dead in our sins, be made alive (2:13)?

More importantly, how did the opponents cause them to doubt Christ? Was He really God (1:15, 19; 2:9)? Is He really as important as we’ve been told (1:15-20)? Could Christ really cancel the record of debt against me (2:14)? Or would the law do this (2:8, 17, 23)? Was Christ’s death also for me, a Gentile (2:11-15; 3:11)? Is Christ really supreme? Is He really sufficient?

There is truly nothing new under the sun. Paul and the Colossians had to deal with opponents to the gospel, and we are no different today. What philosophies do we buy into which claim to have the answer to all our spiritual woes? What tried and true traditions are we told to follow in order to be truly godly?

So you’ve tried praying, and you aren’t getting the answers you hoped for… have you tried ______? You don’t like the direction your marriage is heading in…have you tried ______? You are unsure how to handle those unruly children…have you tried ______?

Is Christ not enough?

Scared about the future of the nation? Worried about your job? Anxious about family relationships? Struggling with sin?

Is Christ not enough?

Let Paul paint you a picture of your Savior. The Messiah. The Head of the Church. The risen One! The One who is our Peace. Our Hope of Glory. Our Victory over sin and death! The King on His throne. Christ, who is our Life.

Christ, not enough?!

No, Christ sufficient and supreme!

The only One you need.

Titus: Beware the Deceivers

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Titus 1:10-16

Below you will find the entirety of my talk as well as a link to watch/listen (if you aren’t interested in reading!).

Let’s talk about who these “deceivers” were and what they might have been doing. We are going to watch for 5 characteristics of false teachers:

  1. Their motivation is to promote themselves rather than Christ or the gospel.
  2. They will cause dissension and place stumbling blocks in the way rather than promoting unity and spiritual growth.
  3. Their message is to contradict core Biblical truth.
  4. Their master is their own appetite, not the Lord.
  5. Their methods are to use smooth and flattering speech to deceive the hearts and minds of the naïve.

Titus 1:10 reads:

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.

Paul does some serious trash-talking in these verses. We get a glimpse of the fire in his bones as he unloads on these people. I imagine him here as the redeemed yet angry version of the Saul of Tarsus that everyone feared!

Interestingly, Paul does not even refer to these individuals as teachers, which tells me this could have been anyone! For the purposes of this lesson, I’ll still refer to them as “false teachers” because Paul uses the same or similar language in his other letters when speaking of false teachers. And also because they were teaching” things they ought not to teach (v. 11). However, I do want you to keep your radar up when it comes to being on guard against these deceivers because they could be anyone.

When we read a text in Scripture, we tend to identify with the “good guys”. Do we not? For instance, we feel for the man who was beaten and left to die on the road and we LOVE the good Samaritan. We likely never see ourselves as the religious men who passed by unmoved by the plight of the broken man. Another example is that we see ourselves as one of the disciples but hardly ever identify ourselves as a Pharisee.

Though it might make you uncomfortable, I want us all to consider 2 things: first, in what ways have we been like the deceivers? And two, how should we be on our guard against such people?

To begin, we’ll break down each of those descriptions, first technically (speaking of the words themselves in the Greek language) and then we’ll expand on the meaning of the words.

Insubordinate/rebellious people

In the Greek Lexicon (BDAG) – Anupotaxtos meant “pertaining to refusing submission to authority, undisciplined, disobedient, rebellious”

  1. Here in v. 10 used of spoiled children
  2. Also used in 1 Tim 1:9 of flagrant law-breakers.

This one is not difficult to understand. But it does leave some room for imagination. How exactly were these men rebelling or being insubordinate? So were these rebellious men initially a part of the church that Paul started but later had trouble submitting to Titus’ authority? The Greek indicates that they were acting like spoiled children which begs the question, were they used to getting their way and then started acting up when Titus began to organize the church as it was intended to be?

Regardless of the details, Paul’s concern is for the unity of the church. So if you have any who are trying to disrupt it by refusing to follow the authority that is in place, you have a problem that needs to be handled quickly.

Idle or “empty” talkers

  1. In the Greek Lexicon (BDAG) – Mataiologos means “an idle talker, windbag
  2. In interlinear bible – meant “one who utters empty senseless things”
  3. You may have heard the word Logos before. “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (Logos) was God.” John 1:1
  4. This word is only used in Titus 1:10
  5. Similar word (mataiologia) (same root) found in 1 Tim 1:6 “empty, fruitless talk; turn to fruitless discussion”

This description struck me the most as I read this passage. I really love how both the Hebrew and Greek often paint word pictures for us. As you read those words, you imagine what an empty talker is like. It’s rather like an oxymoron. Full of words but the words are empty.

A funny (or rather cute) example of this would be how a one-year-old speaks to his family. I’ll never forget my youngest son rambling on and on as if he were carrying on a complete conversation, but to us, he said absolutely nothing that made sense. His words were empty, senseless.

A more serious example would be the person who talks for five straight minutes but never actually says anything. You have heard the statement, “he’s just full of hot air.”

They are senseless, fruitless windbags. The imagery of a windbag is both sobering and comical. What is the point of catching the wind? What good would a windbag do you?

Just as these deceivers were speaking empty words, Isaiah 41:29 speaks of the emptiness of worshiping idols. He says

Behold, they are all a delusion; /   their works are nothing; /   their metal images are empty wind.

So if idols were delusions which produced nothing, what does that say about those who worshiped them? The false teachers were no better than an idol worshipper. JESUS plus anything equals nothing. Vanity. Emptiness. Windbags.

In contrast I think of a person whose words are filled with meaning. Colossians 4:6 tells us

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

And also Ephesians 4:29,

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

I wonder if we’ve ever considered the source of our words. Those words which are gracious and full of meaning likely originate from the Holy One! Think about what the Scriptures say about God’s words. Isaiah 55:10-11 says,

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Can you picture that?! God’s word goes out and does return to Him void. Talk about words that are FULL of meaning. They accomplish exactly what He sent them out to do. They are never empty, senseless, fruitless. No windbags here.

In contrast, when our words are empty, when they tear down their hearers, consider the source of those words. Perhaps they come from the evil one. This is the case that both Jesus and Paul make on several occasions. We will come back to this briefly later on.

To wrap up this section on empty talkers, I want us all to consider the importance of our words. Jesus speaking to the scribes and Pharisees in Matt 12:36-37 said,

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

Will our words be empty? Or will they give life and grace to those who hear? Will they build up or tear down? Will they be a fruit-bearing product of the Vine? Or a windbag that has its source in the deceiver?

That brings me to my next point on the false teachers! They are…

Deceivers

  1. Phrenapates In the Greek Lexicon (BDAG) “deceiver, misleader”; also “seducer”
  2. Again this word is only used in Titus 1:10
  3. A similar word phrenapatao is found in Gal 6:3 and meant to “mislead concerning the truth, deceive (oneself).”
  4. Webster’s Dictionary 1828 defines the word deceive this way: “To mislead the mind; to cause to err; to cause to believe what is false, or disbelieve what is true; to impose on; to delude.”

There’s something very sinister about a person who purposefully and knowingly leads someone away from truth and toward destruction. However there’s also something terribly tragic about the person who deceives even himself.

I already began the discussion about the evil one being involved in the words we speak. We all know how the evil one deceived Eve in the garden (Gen 3:4-5; 2 Cor 11:3). Revelation 12:9 tells us that Satan deceives the whole world. There are over 40 passages that refer to Satan as a deceiver or to his deceitful work. (https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/dictionary-of-bible-themes/4123-Satan-as-deceiver)

Jesus had a heated discussion with the Pharisees in John 8 concerning their origins with Abraham and His origin with God the Father. They make several accusations about Him, but He responds with this in v. 44:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a LIAR and the father of lies.

You want to know where the false teachers get their insubordination? Their empty words? Their deception? They got it from their father, the devil, the father of lies.

We read the passage in 2 Cor 11:13-14 which refers to the false teachers as

deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ [who get this from Satan who disguises himself as an angel of light]

Jesus spoke of false prophets as those who would come in sheep’s clothing though they are actually hungry wolves (Matt 7:15).

The Pharisees are rather like those insubordinate, spoiled children Paul speaks of to Titus. Jesus disrupted the way of life they were used to living and that life involved deceiving people and weighing them down with empty and useless words/rules. Perhaps these false teachers in Crete were some of the old faction of Pharisees who just wouldn’t let go of their idols.

On that note, let’s talk about…

The Circumcision party

The term “circumcision party” is mentioned three times in the NT – Acts 11:2 (against Peter), Gal 2:12 (with James), and here in Titus 1:10. This was a legitimate religious faction.

Thinking back to Pentecost, we know that there were Jewish brothers from Crete who were present and had heard the message of the resurrection. But there were also Jews on the island who held to their man-made traditions. These are the “circumcision party” or the Judaizers.

John MacArthur (Bible Handbook) writes,

The younger elder [Titus] was already familiar with Judaizers, false teachers in the church, who among other things insisted that all Christians, Gentile as well as Jew, were bound by the Mosaic law. Titus had accompanied Paul and Barnabas years earlier to the Council of Jerusalem where that heresy was the subject (Acts 15; Gal. 2:1-5). (p. 451)

If you aren’t quite familiar with what happened at this council, let’s turn there to clarify. Acts 15:1, 13, 19 says,

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” [much debate v. 2-12] 13 After they finished speaking, James replied,…

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,…”

After this the council sent Paul and Barnabas as well as Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas to all the Gentile churches with the full details. Later in Gal 2:1-5 we learn that Paul had taken Titus with him on his missionary journey where they were pressured by “false brothers” to have Titus, a Greek man, circumcised.

 For Paul this [circumcision party and their message] was an alarming development because it undercut the core message of the gospel; if salvation could not be attained without embracing Judaism, then the death of Christ was insufficient. (Archeological Bible footnote)

Once again I’ll repeat the equation. JESUS plus ANYTHING equals NOTHING. Thus the reason Paul takes no time to correct these deceivers as they crop up.

Moving on to the next verse, Paul writes,

11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 

You can imagine why Paul tells Titus that they must be silenced! This word is epistomizo and meant to “bridle or stop up the mouth” (interlinear). Not only were they teaching for their own personal gain, but they were teaching things which were not truth and in so doing were upsetting entire families within the church.

The word for upsetting is

  1. Anatrepo and can be translated as “to overthrow, overturn, destroy, and subvert” (interlinear).
  2. The Greek Lexicon says it meant “to jeopardize someone’s inner well-being, upset, ruin”.

This meaning is even more ominous than to simply upset someone. The goal is their destruction or ruin. Paul’s concern, therefore, was for the truth to win out and for the church not to be harmed or divided.

The text does not specify exactly what these false teachers were teaching, but they were teaching things which they “ought not to teach”. We might assume that this is at least part of the reason for Paul writing about certain doctrinal truths to Titus. We can also assume the false teachers had fallen away from these truths.

Not only were these deceivers teaching false doctrine but they were also doing it for some sort of “shameful gain”. {Remember the Cretans had no problem with greed or shameful gain.}

The emphasis is their motivation. They taught from selfish motives. It was not for the benefit of those who hear. Or even because they loved God and wanted others to know about Him.

In stark contrast to these false teachers, Paul is very intentional about pointing out how he preached the gospel to people. In 2 Cor 2:17a he writes,

17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

In 1 Cor 9:18 Paul tells the people that he presented the gospel “free of charge”. In all of his teaching on the Body of Christ, Paul encourages believers to do nothing from selfish ambition but to consider others above ourselves and for us to use our gifts for the edification of the Church, the Body (Phil 2:3; Eph 4; 1 Cor 12:7, 14:3; 1 Thess 5:11).

These guys were bad news! In fact, one of their own people, Epimenides of Crete (according to tradition), said this about the Cretans:

Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons… (v.12b)

Epimenides was a poet and philosopher in the 6th century B.C. who was native to Crete. He was held in high esteem by the Cretans and was credited with several predictions that were in fact later fulfilled. (Arch. Bible footnote).

Cretans were known for their immoral living. Liars. Evil beasts. Lazy gluttons. They are believed to come from the ancient Minoan civilization which undoubtedly involved worship of multiple deities. (from Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology by Ilse Schoep  “The Minoan ‘Palace-Temple’ Reconsidered: A Critical Assessment of the Spatial Concentration of Political, Religious and Economic Power in Bronze Age Crete”)

LIARs

During the Roman times the Cretans likely worshiped the common Greek gods, including Zeus and Hera. (from Wieland, 346) Zeus was known for his ability to deceive and apparently Cretans followed after their idol because they too were known for their ability to

deceive but also [had a] proclivity to be deceived. Josephus tells of Crete’s Jewish community being hoodwinked by a pretender to Herod’s throne.

In fact the nations surrounding Crete began using the Greek term kretizo (“Crete-ise”) because of the island’s reputation for deceit and cunning. (Wieland in “Grace manifest: missional church in the letter to Titus” in The New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought & Practice).

Dishonesty in public life continued under Roman rule. In fact, Mark Antony attempted to wrest Crete from Rome with a forged document and between the time of 20-70 A.D. no less than five governors were recalled to Rome to face corruption charges. (Wieland, 345-46)

The term “evil beasts” was rather ironic for this people group who enjoyed the reputation of being “free of wild animals.” (Wieland, 347 quoting 1st century Pliny and Plutarch) The irony was that the beastly characteristics were exhibited not by animals but by the people, including their practice of herding the young men into groups like cattle.

Finally the term “lazy gluttons” is rather telling as Paul exposes the false teachers’ motivation for deceiving others was their own appetites. Lazy gluttons engorge themselves on food and have no self-control to reign in their appetite.

Paul continues,

13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 

Rebuke sharply

Paul instructs Titus to rebuke these men SHARPLY. This word is apotomos and meant to be “severe, rigorous.” Even abrupt and curt. The word rebuke is elegcho and meant to “reprehend severely, to chide, admonish, reprove, to call to account, show one his fault, demand an explanation” with the idea of bringing conviction.

This word for rebuke is the same word used in John 16:8 of the Holy Spirit’s work,

And when he comes, he will convict (elegchō) the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.

Paul has in mind that Titus’ rebuke would convince them of their sin in order that they might repent and be sound in the faith.

To be sound in the faith

The word sound carries with it the idea of being well and in good health. Those who are sound in the faith, who speak sound words, sound teaching, sound doctrine will be speaking healthy words. They would be speaking Truth to their hearers because those words will be grounded in the Word of God.

Jesus said this of His words in John 6:63:

The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

Healthy words are words that speak truth but in love. They are words that encourage and don’t condemn. Healthy words do not ask something of you that would be unhealthy for your spirit or your body. Sound words are healthy words.

We could probably all think of “false teachers” in our culture today who have spoken lies to thousands of people and have committed all kinds of spiritual abuses. They are unhealthy people acting in unhealthy ways and feeding off of already broken lives. A SHARP rebuke is what’s in order for these people. Not soft, marshmallow, indulgent comments of agreement or even apathetic leniency.

Here is another great way to think of this: J. C. Ryle was a champion for the truth in the Church of England during the 19th century. In Warnings to the Churches (p. 110, ch. 5 “Controversy in Religion”), he wrote about how difficult yet necessary controversy in the church is. Then he added,

But there is one thing which is even worse than controversy, and that is false doctrine tolerated, allowed, and permitted without protest or molestation.

After acknowledging that many would view what he writes as exceedingly distasteful, he states (p. 111),

Three things there are which men never ought to trifle with—a little poison, a little false doctrine, and a little sin. (from Steven Cole at bible.org)

The key is being sound in the faith, with both feet firmly planted in the Word of God. You can bet that every false teacher out there has stepped one or both feet out of the Word and into something else. Be on your guard.

Hopefully we have expressed our passion to you for the Word of God in such a way that you also see the necessity for it in your lives. We are not aiming to stuff you with a bunch of knowledge from God’s Word as if you were the next Thanksgiving turkey. What good is knowledge for knowledge’s sake? The knowledge of His Word means a knowledge of who God is and who we are in relation to Him. We believe that the Bible is God’s holy Word and has the power to change our lives, making us look and act more like our Savior.

How can we have Christ without His doctrines? We must LOVE the doctrine of God our Savior! (Spurgeon “Adorning the Gospel”) Sound doctrine rightly applied produces holy living.

Paul continues that he wants Titus to rebuke them so that they would be sound in the faith…

14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.

Before discussing myths and commands of men, let’s first address what we should be devoted to. To be sound in the faith requires one to be firmly planted in the truth (Psalm 1:1-3). Jesus told His disciples in John 8:31,

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.

And later in John 17:17 he prayed to the Father,

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Paul tells us in Col. 3:16,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly

Paul also warns in 2 Tim 2:15,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

These men were doing anything but handling the truth correctly. They were TURNING AWAY from the truth. Now let us look at what Paul meant by…

Jewish myths

Paul also uses the phrase in 1 Tim 1:3-4 saying,

…stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. (NIV)

Paul states that the problem with these myths is that they promote controversial speculations and don’t actually advance God’s work at all. I think of that image of EMPTY windbags. Myths and speculations are empty and senseless, of little value.

The footnote in my Arch Bible for this verse 1 Tim 1:4 says:

’Myths’ may refer to mythical stories built upon OT history (‘genealogies’) that later developed into intricate Gnostic philosophical systems.

One of the most popular groups of false teachers in Paul’s day were those who called themselves the Gnostics.

From Arch Bible article “The Gnostics and Their Scriptures”:

From the Greek word gnosis, meaning “knowledge”, Gnosticism was a movement that claimed to provide secret knowledge about God. Its adherents considered the Biblical God, the Creator of the world, to be an inferior god. In Gnostic teaching the material world was innately evil and thus its Creator a lesser deity. The Gnositc Savior, rather than providing atonement for sin, brought the knowledge of humanity’s ‘true’ divine origins, thus freeing people from their ignorance and enslavement to the material world.

You can see how this myth about God would promote all kinds of controversial conversations among the church!

So let me translate this for you in today’s terms. Stay away from the person who wants to argue and debate about the latest hot topic of religion. They’ll give you all sorts of opinions and rants but nothing will be grounded in the Word and the motive will be to either stir you up in anger or tear you down in your beliefs. Most importantly it does nothing to advance the gospel. It’s just a bunch of empty speculation resulting in ZERO fruit/good works.

The Commands of People

Jesus speaks to the problem of following human tradition in Mark 7:6-9, 13 (NIV):

[v. 1-5 disciples eating with unwashed hands and Pharisees question Jesus] He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! [Jesus’ example of their lack of obedience to God’s original intent v. 10-12] 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

The Jewish teachers of the law had added so many “commands” to the actual Law that they became more important than the Law itself. They would often set aside the true intent of the Law just to abide by their own traditions.

Originally their motives were simply to be extra careful to observe all that was written in the book of the Law. Remember when the serpent asked Eve what God had told her about the trees of the garden in Gen 3? She told it that God had said not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden AND not to touch it. We know God didn’t add that extra command, not to touch. But this is an example of what the rabbis did to the Law. They called it building a “fence around the Torah”. They added extra measures to the Law in order to keep themselves and others from disobeying it. If they couldn’t even touch the fruit, then they certainly couldn’t eat it. (Michael Heiss)

Because these men wanted to understand the Scripture and know how it applied to their lives, the rabbi’s came up with a way to interpret the Scripture known as midrash. Midrash is an exegetical process or technique the rabbis used to creatively explain the meaning of the Scripture which made use of certain interpretive tools such as etymology (word origin), wordplay (prophets using puns), catchwords (words that grab your attention), analogy, and so on. They sought knowledge of the Scripture by using logical inferences, combinations of different passages (cross references), and the like.  (Sound familiar? We do this too!) The

“main purpose of Jewish scriptural interpretation was to make Scripture comprehensible and applicable to particular communities.” (p. 99 Joel Green in The World of the New Testament)

However, the rabbinic interpretation was often raised to the same level as Scripture, and you can see how this kind of elevation of the “commands of men” resulted in all sorts of doctrinal issues. You can also imagine the kind of religious atmosphere Paul and Titus were dealing with. Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 23:2-4,

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

Please note that Jesus does not fault these religious leaders for having too much knowledge but rather that all the knowledge never made an impact on their hearts. Those facts didn’t travel from the head to the heart to become actions. Thus they became hypocrites, whose knowledge of the Word made no difference in their lives.

Be wary of the person who completely discards the pursuit of the knowledge of God’s Word. Os Guiness writes in Dining with the Devil,

Today theology is rarely more than marginal in the church-growth movement at the popular level. Discussion of the traditional marks of the church is virtually nonexistent. Instead, methodology is at the center and in control. The result is a methodology only occasionally in search of a theology.” (p. 26)

He continues on to explain that worship and discipleship are often subordinate to evangelism, and all three to that of entertainment which he calls “the Achilles’ heel of evangelicalism.” (p. 27) Guiness further describes the trouble of offering milk and never meat to a growing congregation:

‘all things to all people’ means it is perfectly legitimate to convey the gospel in cartoons to a non-literary generation incapable of rising above MTV and USA Today. But five years later, if the new disciples are truly won to Christ, they will be reading and understanding Paul’s letter to the Romans and not simply the Gospel According to Peanuts.” (p. 28-29)

Keep in mind that one of the spiritual gifts God gives to His Church is knowledge which often goes along with discernment. (1 Cor 12:8) If it were a bad thing, why would He give it for the benefit of His Church? Like any gift, it can be misused or abused, but it is not in and of itself a bad thing.

How can a believer live a holy life apart from knowing what the Holy God prescribes for His children? His Word is meant to be studied for it contains direction for our lives.

Neither let us make knowledge the end point nor forsake the study of God’s Word.

Too many people are afraid of knowledge and claim “we don’t want to fall into legalism.” However, this kind of thinking is just another form of legalism (excessive adherence to law or formula). Rather than adhering to a strict following of the law of God, these people follow a strict law of correct practice (orthopraxy) divorced from orthodoxy (correct belief). It leads to a faith devoid of doctrine which is ultimately ignorant and misinformed.

The Cretan deceivers had strayed from God’s Word and had been following Jewish myths and the commands of men, elevating their knowledge above the Scripture. Not only that, but as Jesus said, they likely required the people to follow these myths and commands as well, though they themselves were unwilling to live what they preached.

Do we ever place burdens on other people that we ourselves do not even require of ourselves? Or taking this a step further, do we project our perfectionism onto another, expecting an impossible standard that we ourselves cannot even attain to?

Now for our last verses: v. 15-16. 

15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

DEFILED

  1. Interlinear – miaino (me-ah’-ee-no) meaning “to dye with another colour, to stain; to defile, pollute, sully, contaminate, soil; to defile with sins
  2. Greek lexicon – to cause the purity of something to be violated by immoral behavior; refers to the mind of the faithless in v. 15

Note in Lexicon:

The primary sense ‘to stain’ (as of dye) prepares the way for the transforming sense of causing defilement through socially or cultically unacceptable behavior. It is well to keep in mind…that in the Greco-Roman world [to have a harmonious relationship with the gods and nature, all people were expected to observe certain moral and ritual laws]. Individuals were subordinate to interests of the community and violations of standard moral and ceremonial expectations could jeopardize the delicate balance between an entire populace and its deities.

In other words, you were obligated to maintain moral or ritual purity for the sake of the community so as not to “offend the gods”!

In light of this cultural custom, one way to think of verse 15 is in the context of food laws and ritual purity.

Purity in the NT

Footnote from ESV:

To the pure, all things are pure echoes Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11:39-41 (39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.) and Paul’s earlier writing in Rom 14:20 (20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.).”

Another way to think of this verse is in the context of morality and holy living in general.

Both mind and conscience are defiled. A great example of this can be found in John’s gospel. John 18:28 tells us,

Then they [chief priests and Pharisees] led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.

Did you catch the irony? They didn’t want to “defile” themselves by going into the Gentile man’s headquarters because they wouldn’t be qualified to eat the Passover according to their man made traditions. Yet they were already defiled by their sin and blind to their crime of handing over Jesus, an innocent man.

Both their mind and conscience were completed stained or tainted by their own appetites and agendas, and they would view their own behavior as pure and religiously motivated and justified as a result of their completely twisted concept of morality.

Profess to know God

Verse 16 tells us the false teachers professed to know God. I want to recall a passage from 1 John 2:3-6 which referred to knowing God:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandmentsWhoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

The one who knows God will do what He says. The one who keeps God’s Word walks the same way Jesus walked. So how did these men of Crete measure up?

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes about this false knowledge (1 Timothy 6:20-21)

20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble (godless chatter NIV) and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

Remember what I said about the Gnostic heresy? They claimed to have a “special knowledge” about God. These false teachers professed to KNOW God, perhaps claiming this special knowledge of the Gnostics OR claiming their heritage as Jews meant that they automatically knew God. They professed to know God, but their hearts were far from Him (From Jesus’ words in Mark 7: *Isaiah 29:13 “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…”).

DENY Him by their works

While their words appeared to express a love or knowledge for God, Paul says their works tell another (TRUER) story. Matt 7:15-19

15Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Jesus also addresses the fruit concept in Matt 12:33-37 (the tree is known by its fruit.” v. 33). In both passages He connects words with works/fruit. Those who love Him obey Him and walk like Him because as they ABIDE in the Vine, they begin to look and act more like the Vinedresser who faithfully produces fruit (good works) in the lives of His image-bearers.

James writes at length on the importance of faith and works working together. In fact he makes the bold statement that faith without works is DEAD (James 2:26).

The false teachers said “yes we know God” with their words but in all that they did, Paul says they denied God.

Peter also speaking about false teachers says this: 2 Pet 2:1

But false prophets also arose among the people… who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

Similar to Paul’s theme of denying God by living immorally, Jude writes this v. 4,

For certain people have crept in unnoticed … ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

John puts it way more harshly in 1 John 2:22,

Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichristdenying the Father and the Son.

As we think about this term to deny, I want to take you to Isaiah 59:12-15:

12 For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
    and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
    and we know our iniquities:
13 transgressing, and denying the Lord,
    and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
    conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.

14 Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

Isaiah was speaking to the Israelites in that day, but you can see how his words applied very much to those false teachers at Crete, and even to those walking among us today.

I can’t help but think of these sobering (serious?) words from Jesus (paraphrase), “if you acknowledge Me, I’ll acknowledge you before the Father. If you deny Me, I’ll deny you.” Matthew 10:32-33

Without sound doctrine, we are just another deceiver – defiled, detestable, disobedient. Unfit for good works.

Unfit for good works

  1. Greek lexicon – word is adokimos (ad-ok’-ee-mos) and meant “not standing the test, unqualified, worthless
  2. Interlinear bible – “not approved (properly used of metals and coins); unfit for, unproved, spurious, reprobate”

Let me put it this way : 2 Tim 2:15 tells us we must be diligent to present ourselves as workmen APPROVED to God who accurately handle the Word. And remember what Job said after all of his horrific trials, “when He has tried me, I shall come forth as pure gold“ (Job 23:10).

The refining process for silver involved the metal worker heating the silver to its melting point, skimming off the dross/impurities, and ending his labor once he saw his reflection in the pure silver. When we, like the precious metal, have gone through the affliction, we come forth qualified, approved, as those who have stood the test. They are fit for good works.

To tie this all together, remember God has created us for good works (Eph 2:10) but these works are a privilege and a gift for those who have stood the test and have been approved.

This is exactly opposite of the false teachers. They are unfit. Not approved. Unproved. Did not stand the test. Not ready for good works.

Characteristics of False Teachers 

In closing let me take just a moment to summarize some characteristics of false teachers. (From bible.org Steven J. Cole – https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-107-final-warning-beware-false-teachers-romans-1617-20)

  1. Their motivation is to promote themselves rather than Christ or the gospel.
  2. They will cause dissension and place stumbling blocks in the way rather than promoting unity and spiritual growth.
  3. Their message is to contradict core Biblical truth.
  4. Their master is their own appetite, not the Lord.
  5. Their methods are to use smooth and flattering speech to deceive the hearts and minds of the naïve.

To expound on this last characteristic, I wanted to read to you from Steven Cole’s article on false teachers. He writes:

Arius (d. 336), was a heretic who denied the deity of Christ and was the forerunner of the modern Jehovah’s Witnesses. He gained a huge following. But the courageous Athanasius battled against him. Parker Williamson describes Arius:

‘Here was a bright, energetic, attractive fellow, the kind of citizen whom any Rotary Club would welcome. Singing sea chanties in dockside pubs and teaching Bible stories to the Wednesday night faithful, this was an immensely popular man. His story reminds us that heresy does not bludgeon us into belief. We are seduced.’ (Standing Firm: Reclaiming the Chastain Faith in Times of Controversy [Lenoir, North Carolina: PLC Publications, 1996], p. 31, cited by John Piper, “Watch Out for Those Who Lead You Away from the Truth,” on DesiringGod.org)

So to recognize false teachers, watch their motives, their message, their master, and their methods.

What does this mean for us? Know your Truth people! The Truth sets you free from all the false doctrine the world contains. (John 8:32) This is no war against flesh and blood. Those deceivers/false teachers are not the enemy. The evil one is our enemy. {KATNISS! “Remember who the real enemy is”}

Therefore put on the whole armor of God so you can stand against the devil’s schemes! (Eph 6:11) Fasten the belt of truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, put on the shoes of the gospel, take up the shield of faith, wear the helmet of salvation, and finally keep that sword sharp. Then just pray pray pray. (Eph 6:14-18)

As for what we must do to guard against false teachers, Paul tells us, “Keep your eye on them and turn away from them.” (Rom 16:17) The noun related to the verb “keep your eye on” is used in Ezekiel 3:17 (LXX) to refer to the watchman on the wall. His job was to keep his eye peeled for the enemy and to sound the alarm when he saw them coming so that they could prepare for battle. Since these false teachers often disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15) or as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15), you have to be discerning to spot them.

Paul also says, “I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” Or, in Jesus words (Matt. 10:16, ESV), “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Our focus should be on being wise in the Scriptures. Knowing the truth will equip you to refute the errors of false teachers.” (From bible.org – https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-107-final-warning-beware-false-teachers-romans-1617-20)

Finally, watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Tim 4:16 (NIV)

titus-bkgd

Click on the picture for the link or see the link below:

http://subsplash.com/northwestbiblechurch/v/c45ad67

Titus: More Than the “Titus 2 Woman”

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titus-bkgd

I sat down to lunch with my two mentors (and fellow teachers) at my favorite Greek bakery. We came together to discuss what we’d be teaching the women for the Fall semester at our church. I had no idea when I arrived that I would leave with the Book of Titus as our assignment.

I can think of MANY books of the Bible that I would love to study and teach. Titus was not my first choice. I was thinking more along the lines of Hebrews or even one of the prophets (Isaiah). All I really knew about Titus was what I had heard about the Titus 2 Woman and also that Paul addressed matters related to the Church. My view on Titus, to say the least, was narrow.

However, I am always up for a challenge and typically find that I learn the MOST when I am the one who has to do the teaching. Consequently, I could stand to learn a LOT about Titus. In my previous post, I detail the process that happens when we choose a topic or book of the Bible to study. In this post I am going to describe the insights I have learned from my fellow teachers about Titus. I will also publish my lecture notes in a separate post.

The very first thing I learned about Titus is that it is more than the “Titus 2 Woman.” This book is rich in theology and full of application. It is the perfect harmonizing of orthodoxy (correct belief) and orthopraxy (correct practice). You cannot have one without the other. Take out orthodoxy, and you have no foundation for why to live a godly life. Take out orthopraxy, and you have a religion devoid of heart or relationship. One leaves you feeling ignorant and misdirected while the other leaves you feeling puffed up and hypocritical. Our motto for Titus has become: Sound doctrine rightly applied produces sound living.

Let’s take a look at the passage now:

Titus 1:1-9 (ESV – taken from Biblegateway.com)

Paul, a servant[a] of God and (A)an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and(B)their knowledge of the truth, (C)which accords with godliness, (D)in hope of eternal life, which God,(E)who never lies, (F)promised (G)before the ages began[b] and (H)at the proper time manifested in his word[c] (I)through the preaching (J)with which I have been entrusted (K)by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, (L)my true child in (M)a common faith:

(N)Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

{You noticed that I left every cross reference and footnote. I promise I wasn’t being lazy. I left them in case you wanted to check them out for yourself!}

The first four verses are Paul’s greeting. Typically we breeze right past the greetings (and likewise with the final greetings or closing) and yet there is so much in there that can enlighten us concerning the culture, author, audience, purpose of the letter and so on. Laura (our leader who taught this lesson) broke down these verses into five sections: His position, office, mission, motivation, and method.

First, Paul lists his position as a bondservant. This is quite a humble statement to make of oneself due to the nature of this service. A bondservant was a slave who had sold himself voluntarily to a Master. Exodus 21:5-6 describes what a servant would do in order to remain a slave of his master. The master would bore his ear through with an awl, leaving a mark to show he belonged to his master. Paul was indicating that he belonged to God! He was not his own. His Master was the Lord, and he would serve Him out of surrendered humility.

Next Paul gives his office as an apostle which meant “one who is called and sent out as a messenger.” This title indicates authority as well. He was able to call himself an apostle along with the Twelve (disciples/apostles), and this title is one that no one else can claim. Baker’s Dictionary explains the qualifications for apostleship:

…the essential qualification of an apostle is being called and sent by Christ. In the case of Matthias, additional qualifications come to light. In addition to the divine call, the person must have been a disciple of Jesus from John’s baptism to the ascension, and specifically a witness of the resurrection (Ac 1:21-22)…. Paul’s own claim to apostleship is likewise based on the divine call of Christ (Rom 1:1 ; 1 Col 1:1 ; Galatians 1:1Galatians 1:15 ; cf. 2 Col 1:1 ; Eph 1:1 ; Col 1:1 ; 1 Tim 1:1 ; 2 Tim 1:1 ; Titus 1:1). He is an apostle, “not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal 1:1). His encounter with the resurrected Jesus served as the basis for his unique claim to be an “apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom 11:13)…. The primary function of the apostles was to witness to Christ. The Twelve had intimate knowledge of his life, and a wider group had been witnesses to his resurrection…. Paul viewed apostleship as a gift of the Spirit (1 Co 12:28), which was often accompanied by miraculous signs and mighty works (2 Co 12:12). Such signs and wonders, however, were clearly secondary to the apostolic functions of preaching and teaching. (emphasis mine)

There is a distinction to be made between those who are disciples and the thirteen men who were called apostles. Though the apostles can also be called disciples, not all disciples of Christ can be called apostles.

Thirdly Paul describes his mission to preach the knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness. Knowledge is the apprehension of understanding and this has a target: godliness. It is not a knowledge for knowledge’s sake. It is a knowledge that is proven by your actions.

Fourth Paul’s motivation is his hope of eternal life. The phrase “in hope of” meant “resting on, with a view to.” You might say Paul was at peace with a view of the hope that has been promised by God. He was resting in the promises of God. 🙂 Interestingly this would be directly contrasted with the Cretans experience of their gods (the Greek god, Zeus, in particular). Zeus was known for his ability to deceive. But Paul tells his audience that we have a God who never lies. Because of this, the Cretans could know for certain that the promise they’d been given by God would stand true. We too can trust in this God who is free from falsehood.

Finally we learn about Paul’s method which was to preach (by command of Jesus). He speaks of being “entrusted” with the Word of God, and this has the idea of guarding carefully. Those who teach and preach the Word must correctly handle it (2 Tim 2:15). Guard it! Treat it with respect because it comes from the Ultimate Authority.

{Stay tuned for Titus 1:5-9}

How We Prepare a Bible Study: The Process of LOVING God’s Word

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I want to let you in on a process that happens when writing a bible study (and sometimes even a blog post).

First, you determine your text. In my case I teach with two other ladies, so our women’s minister suggests the direction she wants to go, including some passages that would fit into that category, and then we prayerfully choose where we sense God is leading the bible study. This semester we are studying Titus, and I was not immediately excited like I would have been if we had chosen Hebrews. This is important. I was not as excited as I could have been.

Second, we break down the text according to natural breaks in the text (I know that sentence is ridiculous, but it’s what we do! seriously!). In our case we also divvy out the sections for each of us to teach, and it just so happened to work that each of us would teach three times (making a total of nine lessons for those less math savvy). We also pair a main idea with each section of the text to keep us focused. Because we are studying a smaller book, each section is obviously smaller with only a few verses to elaborate on at times. When this happens, I always think that it will be next to impossible to fill up an entire week of study (after all, you may only have four verses to work with). I am always pleasantly surprised (and somewhat stressed) that I find more than enough to fill up a 45 minute teaching time slot (let it be noted that my last talk was over 7,000 words!).

Third, I go home and POUR over the text. {Notice my picture above? This is an Orthodox Jew copying the Scripture. Do you see how close he is to the paper?! This is how carefully I want to handle the Scriptures.} I read the whole book several times (since it is short, it’s an easier task than if it were a longer book), and then I begin to look at my own sections through a microscope. I look up cross references, the original Greek words, other helpful Scripture references that God brings to mind that might relate to my text. I jump on Ebscohost, and I find articles and books about my passage. If I’m lucky, I’ll even go to the library (Lanier Theological Library here in Houston is a teacher’s heaven) and find commentaries for the book I’m studying. As I’m studying, I’m also praying. In one moment, I’m erasing and in the next I’m rewriting. I’m crying and laughing. I’m staring at the screen blankly, and I’m typing furiously when a deluge of inspiration hits me. I’m nervous about what I’m finding and second guessing myself, and then I’m fully confident and about to explode because I want to share everything I’m learning with SOMEONE. Just anyone!

Then all of the sudden, Titus has become the most exciting book I’ve ever studied. My thoughts are consumed with the ideas from Titus that God has sent bouncing around in my head. Everything that happens every day somehow relates to Titus. All answers lead back to Titus. Everything I read has a tinge of Titus, or some connection to Titus. I’m wearing Titus-colored glasses. And this doesn’t just happen with Titus – oh no, it happens with everything I study. What is more, I want EVERYONE to know what I know, because I want them to be excited just like I’m excited! Because every word that is brought to illumination by the working of the Holy Spirit becomes my water and my food. They become my direct line to my Father who continually desires to reveal more of Himself to you and to me.

THIS is why I hunger and thirst for more of His Word. THIS is why I have a love and passion for teaching what I’ve learned. The knowledge of His Word means a knowledge of who God is and who I am in relation to Him. His Word quickens my heart and spirit for a deeper love for Him. The knowledge of His Word breaks down ignorance and excuse so that when I’m confronted with how to respond to sin or to a person who has hurt me or whatever, I am equipped with the right answer and through His Spirit that can be rightly applied in my life. His Word divides me up, carves away at those things that don’t belong in this child of the King, and it transforms this new creation to conform to the image of His Son.

Don’t be afraid of knowledge. Neither let it be your goal. Knowledge can be the vehicle that drives you straight to the Father.

One final word on the process. I spend all summer prepping for the fall bible study. That means I’m completely stoked about the study, fairly bursting at the seams all summer, and then have to WAIT to talk about it with the bible study group. This is quite possibly the hardest part for me in the bible study process. I don’t ever want the fervor I have felt during the studying process to melt away when I’m giving my talk to the group. I also don’t want it to become too familiar and lose its flavor. I spend hours rehearsing what I’m going to say for each talk. No joke. My husband makes fun of me because of how anal I can be about it! Almost every time God reveals multiple, important points that need to be added or else nudges me to take something out that isn’t going in the right direction. Inevitably I get crazy nervous about sharing my work even though I have diligently prepared for every moment. But in the end, I walk up to the podium to pour myself out like a drink offering, and all the nerves calm down, and God speaks. Somehow I get to be His mouthpiece, and there’s nothing more humbling and yet terrifying at the same time.

At the end of my talk, I’m a zombie. The walking dead. The offering has been licked up by the fire. I have left everything up there with no regrets. And all I want to do is go home and sleep so that I can reset for the next time I get to open up His Word and speak His truth to His Church. And thus the cycle continues…

Samson’s Wife & Delilah – Part 3

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Judges 16:1-3

Before we meet Delilah, Samson took a HUGE detour. This chapter begins with the story of Samson, going all the way to Gaza, a Philistine town 45 miles from his home base (Word Commentary). This is the same town in which Samson ends up as a prisoner, making the reader wonder if this was a foreshadowing of events to come. Samson visiting a prostitute “casts him in the role of a fool destined for destruction. Wisdom literature teaches that prostitutes reside in the gateway of death (Prov 6:26, 7:10, 23:27).” (Chisholm in Word Commentary)

[He has] neither knowledge nor understanding,
    [he walks] about in darkness….” To spend the NIGHT with a prostitute.

Because he is public enemy number one in Philistia, a group of men wait at the city gate to ambush him. However, it seems that they disappear or give up at some point, and Samson leaves, taking the gate of Gaza with him!

Samson city gate Ashkelon

Here is a picture of the city gate of Ashkelon, the Philistine city where Samson killed the 30 men. It is the oldest arched city gate still standing. Perhaps the gate at Gaza was similar to this one. Block writes that these elaborate gates were often 2-3 stories high with guard rooms flanking the tunnel-like opening….Samson would have had to get past 4-6 groups of guards before taking the gate (loudly) off of its hinges (p. 450 NAC).

What is amazing about this feat of strength is that the text says he took the gate all the way to Hebron, a 40 mile journey, climbing over 3,000 feet in elevation to get there. What I love about this passage is that this prepares the way for the one, David, who WOULD complete the deliverance of Israel from Philistia, because Hebron is David’s first headquarters (2 Sam 2:1-4)!

Now to our text:

Because Delilah was also in the Valley of Sorek (v. 4), like Samson’s Philistine wife, we assume she was a Philistine. However, scholars note that she has a Hebrew name, meaning feeble or weakened and lived on the boundary of Israel and Philistia. Interestingly she is not referred to as a daughter of the Philistines like Samson’s wife.

Beth Shemesh, Sorek Valley Area

Remember this picture of the Sorek Valley? With the Sorek River running east to west? Israel was on one side and Philistia was on the other. But don’t forget that the Philistines at this time had pushed their way further into the region of Dan, into Israelite territory. So Delilah could have been either Hebrew or Philistine. [Some scholars note that just because she had a Hebrew name does not mean she was a Hebrew woman. Sometimes they gave people Hebrew names, particularly ones with meaning as they related to the narrative. In this case, Delilah, meaning “weakened”, was the one who “weakened” Samson.]

If she were a Hebrew, it would make her betrayal all the more reprehensible. (From Samson and Delilah: A Parable of Power by Carol Smith in the Journal for the Study of the OT)

Regardless of these views, how do we characterize our girl?

She was a woman interested in money and with a high tolerance for violence. If a Philistine she’s patriotic, shows initiative, is independent, & self-sufficient. Her actions are very business-like, not tied to emotions. She’s whiny, wheedling, pestering, and uses her sexual allure to entice a man. She has prostitute-like behavior, using her sexuality and a man’s desire for her in order to ensure her own well-being. She’s the sort of dangerous, treacherous woman about whom proverbial wisdom warns and which underscores the impossibility of alliances with godless foreigners. (Word Commentary p. 348-49)

Did you catch how much silver Delilah was promised by the 5 Philistine lords?? (v. 5) 1,100 pieces EACH! So 5,500 pieces of silver! This much silver probably weighed about 700 pounds. (Word Commentary p. 349)

Because the value of a unit of silver fluctuated in biblical times, the significance of this figure can only be appreciated when this reward is compared with other transactions in Scripture:

  • Judges 8:26 This is more than three times the weight of the gold retained by Gideon after the victory over the Midianite kings.
  • Genesis 24:15, 19 We may also compare the 400 shekels of silver paid by Abraham to purchase a burial plot for his wife.
  • 2 Samuel 24:24 Or the 50 shekels David paid Araunah for his oxen and threshing floor.
  • Jeremiah 32:9 The 17 shekels Jeremiah paid to purchase a field.
  • Exodus 21:32 And the 30 shekels set as a price for a slave.

(Block p. 455 in NAC)

The IVP Bible Background Commentary states, “Eleven hundred shekels of silver is an exorbitant sum – a king’s ransom (see 2 Samuel 18:12). The 5500 shekels would equal 550 times the average annual wage. If we took $25,000 as an average annual wage today, that kind of offer would be [just short of $14 million].” [In other words, the sum she received would seem to her like $14 million seems to us today. The amount she received was not equal to $14 million.]

Interestingly, the Philistine lords wanted not only to know where Samson got his strength but also how to overpower him in order to HUMBLE him (v. 5). Many translations use the word “afflict” instead of humble, but the actual Hebrew word (‘anah – aw-naw) holds both meanings [to afflict, oppress, humble, be afflicted, be bowed down].

It’s almost like this whole affair with Samson has become personal for these Philistine lords. We don’t simply want to subdue him; we want to humiliate him. We want to oppress him so he’ll feel utterly shamed. After all he’s killed 30 of our men at Ashkelon, burned our fields and killed several of our men at Timnah, and killed 1,000 of our men at Lehi. Why don’t we use this woman against him! That kind of blow would do just the right amount of damage to his ego.

An interesting view is that since his strength was not apparent, he likely had the stature of an ordinary man, not with giant muscles or incredibly large in size like a Goliath-like behemoth. His strength then was NOT obvious because it came from God. (Word Commentary)

Are you as irritated as I am at how these men used these women for their own advantage? Made to be weapons of revenge? Their bodies used to achieve the purposes of men? And how ironic that these men couldn’t weaken the Great Samson, but the women were able to afflict him in ways no man could.

Nevertheless, there is an inkling that perhaps Samson knew exactly what he was walking into the minute Delilah opened her mouth. How could he not know her angle for she says:

Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound that one could subdue [afflict/NASB] you. (Judges 16:6)

She really couldn’t get any more BLUNT than that!

And if that doesn’t convince you, he gives her an answer (knowing it won’t harm him) and she performs the binding with the bowstrings, calling for the Philistines. But the text is silent on his response to the Philistines. It appears as though he does nothing.

Does that sound like Samson to you? Normally when someone or something came at him, he ripped it apart! Not only that, but he stayed with Delilah! He didn’t storm off in “hot anger”, leaving her to sort out her life, but he stayed for more questions, more pressing.

Next he tells her to try new ropes, but that doesn’t work either. The Philistines come and go and still he stays with Delilah. Then he says to weave his hair into a web, fastened with a pin. This clue is close to the real answer, but again the Philistines come and go and still he stays with Delilah, unharmed.

Ah, but then, Delilah calls on the name of love to manipulate him. What is sweeter than honey? Stronger than a lion? Love. If you love me, you’ll…

The queen of manipulation. She doesn’t need to harm him to weaken him. She simply appeals to love. The thing that first drew him to her when he saw her in the Valley of Sorek.

Verse 16 says she pressed him daily, until “his soul was vexed to death.” (also RSV). Other translations say “annoyed” (NASB), “tired to death” (NIV), “sick to death” (NET, NLT).

Have you ever been that kind of woman? Manipulative? Vexing? A drippy faucet?

“Warnings for the Wives”

  • Proverbs 19:13 (NIV) “…a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.”
  • Proverbs 27:15 (NLT) “A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day.”
  • Proverbs 21:9 “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.” (also REPEATED WORD FOR WORD in Prov. 25:24)
  • Proverbs 12:4 “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.”

I know Delilah was not Samson’s wife, but you get the idea. Heaven forbid we act more like the pagan Delilah than the woman of virtue.

It makes me think back to what Laura (in her talk on Eve) said about the enemy being the best psychologist, prowling around, watching, studying, dealing his low blows. Spewing his lies. If we know the truth, it is easier to recognize the lies.

“God didn’t really say, you shall surely be under your husband…” “You will not surely die…” “Don’t you think you deserve to be in control?” “You’re better off without him…”

Do we, like Delilah, buy into the lies?

Clink clink clink. The 5,500 silver pieces fall into her hands.

However, the woman of virtue: does him good and not harm all the days of her life. (Psalm 31:12)

Clink clink clink. But Delilah? She sold Samson’s safety for money.

She began to torment him and his strength left him. “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”

Clink. clink. clink.

And she washes her hands of him, having filled them with enough wages to last a lifetime (and beyond). [550 times a year’s wages. Because she likely didn’t live to be 550 years old, you can see how the sum would have been extravagant, lasting into the afterlife!]

Can you think of anyone else who was betrayed for mere pieces of silver? 30 to be exact. The price for a slave. Not nearly the handsome price that Samson was wanted for, making the betrayal of Judas that much more callous.

Samson reveals his secret to her, also showing us, the reader, for the first time that he is even aware of his Nazirite calling. This man with the high calling had the knowledge of his Nazirite vow, but what good did that knowledge produce in his life?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

One thing that is vitally important for us as we study the Bible is never to become so wrapped up in knowing things about God and gaining knowledge that we lose sight of our calling. He doesn’t give us knowledge, wisdom, and understanding so that our brains become full of delicious facts or so that we can talk circles around people. We can have all the knowledge of the world, but if the Word of God makes no difference in our lives, the pursuit of knowledge is worthless.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  1 Corinthians 13:2, 8

Let His truth sink in deep, being careful to abide in the Vine, working in concert with the Spirit of God who produces in us the character of Christ (John 15:4-5).

 

we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

Let the knowledge of who God is stir the affection in your heart for Him rather than allowing it to be a stumbling block of pride. Don’t be “puffed up”.

Do not simply be hearers of the Word, but rather be doers as well (James 1:22).

 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:23-25

(Too many times instead of picking up the mirror, we pick up a magnifying glass. With the one we are to look at ourselves, with the other we try to draw attention to others’ faults.)

Continuing in the text:

Delilah’s betrayal seems even more cruel when you read verse 19:

19 She made him sleep on her knees. And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. 

  • Delilah’s tightening (tāqa‘) of Samson’s hair with a pin (ê) in 16:14 recalls Jael’s striking (tāqa‘) the tent peg (ê) into Sisera’s temple in 4:21
  • Both scenes take place in a woman’s private quarters
  • The sleeping Samson of 16:19 recalls the sleeping Sisera of 4:21

(NIVAC p. 319)

Then we read the saddest verse in our text:

Samson did not know that the LORD had left him. (v. 20)

Let’s make one thing clear, it’s not that his hair had supernatural power or magic, but rather that the Nazirite vow was broken, just like the covenant with Adam and Eve was broken. And the consequences were immediate. No more strength. No more presence of God.

Did Samson realize this is what his actions would cost him? Did he realize that perhaps his captivity was better than his freedom because it would place him in the den of Lions? That perhaps his captivity meant one more opportunity against the enemy of God?

The Philistines had their enemy after all. They gouged out his eyes and took him to Gaza, bound him in chains, and threw him in prison to have him grind at the mill (a task for slaves and women). (Tyndale; NIVAC) Perhaps this is also ironic justice since he burned up their grain fields earlier. (NIVAC)

Here he is humbled by his enemies, losing that source of strength, which never really belonged to him anyway. And this enemy, puffed up in their pride, believes their grain god, Dagon, has triumphed over the “ravager of their country” (v. 24).

Samson’s imprisonment at Gaza, the furthest Philistine city from his home, is very telling for the nation of Israel. Just like Samson, Israel “fritters away her high calling, lives by what is right in her own eyes, and provokes Yahweh to abandon her. According to the covenant of curses in Lev 26 and Deut 28, this is precisely the fate the nation should expect for persistent rebellion against the covenant Lord. Like Samson, the nation will be seized, blinded, exiled, imprisoned, and humiliated with forced labor. (The book of Judges may have been written against the backdrop of the Northern Kingdom’s fall to Assyria in 734-722 B.C.) (Block p. 462 in NAC)

But then we read verse 22, giving hope to the end of the story

But the hair of his head began to grow again… (v. 22)

Judges 16:23-24 says,

23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to rejoice, and they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” 24 And when the people saw him, they praised their god.

As if the story wasn’t dripping with enough irony, this last section of the passage stands as the bookend to Samson’s final showdown. The Philistines are seen here worshipping their false god, praising him for giving their enemy into their hands.

But that roaring Lion, Philistia, didn’t stand a chance against the God of Israel. Not even their god, Dagon, stood a chance against YHWH. Dagon wasn’t even powerful enough to keep his people from dying as they worshipped him in his temple. Samson stretched out his arms, pushing over the columns and as Gunn writes, “[Their] praise died coldly on [their] lips. The [writer of Judges] underlines the power of Yahweh and the irrelevance of Dagon. The victory is unquestionably Yahweh’s…” (Word Commentary p. 354)

And so it began…the destruction of Israel’s enemy.

Delilah was devoted to Samson’s destruction when she struck a hefty deal with those Philistine lords. But did she meet her destruction in the Philistine temple that day? Many scholars believe she would have been at this feast. A Heart Devoted to destruction only to be devoted for destruction.

The Lion, Philistia was no match for the Lion of Israel. God is depicted as a Lion…

In Hosea 5:14, He is frightening:

14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
    and like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear and go away;
    I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.

And again in Hosea 13:7-8:

So I am to them like a lion;
    like a leopard I will lurk beside the way.
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs;
    I will tear open their breast,
and there I will devour them like a lion,
    as a wild beast would rip them open.

And yet we have this picture of hope: (Hosea 11:10-11)

10 They shall go after the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord.

But do you hear the pounding of the paw prints? Because the Lion of Judah approaches in Rev. 5:2-5, 7, 9-10:

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.  And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

This is OUR God!

Just like the Philistines, the enemy, Satan, thought he had conquered Jesus. He entered Judas who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. But God used the betrayer as an OPPORTUNITY against the enemy.

Jesus was stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, utterly humiliated. But it was by His stripes that we are HEALED.

And the enemy scoffed and leered as they hung Jesus on the cross, thinking Jesus had been given into his hands. Jesus wasn’t humbled by ANY person, but He humbled HIMSELF by becoming obedient to death on a cross.

He stretched out His arms for His final showdown. It was because He hung on that tree that we are REDEEMED from the curse of the law.

Even as the enemy gloated over the death of Jesus, we received redemption for by His blood He ransomed us.

Unlike Samson who lost his strength and perished with the enemy, when Jesus died, He added to His strength, having conquered our enemies – sin and death.

He is both the Lamb who was slain AND the Lion of Judah. The Sacrifice and the Mighty King.

And Satan’s praise of himself died coldly on his lips because God overcame the evil one once and for all by sending the Ultimate Deliverer.

How does the knowledge of all THIS change your life? We cannot simply know it, we must live it.

How are you encouraged to live differently, knowing that His death and resurrection means certain blessings, gifts, fruit, and responsibilities for the believer? You are being transformed into the image of His Son, what does that look like for you today?

THIS is a love that does not let go. This is the divine love. Even when the loved one repeatedly betrays that love and loyalty, still God pursues her. We see God’s amazingly patient and relentless love for Israel throughout the book of Judges! (Word Commentary p. 355)

In case the people of Israel had forgotten that they HAD a King, God reminds them that He is still on His throne and would not share His glory with another.

These women were among the people without knowledge of God. They were idolatrous, sinful pagans. Contrast them with, Samson, who had the knowledge of his high calling but accomplishes less on behalf of his people than any of his predecessors. It is this narrative that shows the utter despair of spiritual growth and political maturity in Israel. And yet God uses Samson just as he is, flaws and all. (Word Commentary 356, 360)

Let that encourage you today.

God pursues you with the same patient, relentless love. His is the relentless pursuit of the human heart for His divine glory!

 

My talk on Samson’s Wife & Delilah