1 Timothy 3

Chapter three continues Paul’s instructions for specific groups in the local church, continuing with the elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7). In the New Testament, the terms “overseer” and “shepherd” describe the main functions of the elders, i.e., they rule over the congregation and protect it (like fathers of a family, 1 Timothy 3:5). Contrary to what many Bible colleges and seminaries may teach, the eldership is not something that a man should wait to see if he is called to. The apostle said that eldership is something worth desiring. It is acceptable for a man to “aspire to the office of overseer.”

The following verses describing a local church elder can be taken too strongly or too lightly. On the one hand, these are often called “requirements” or “qualifications” to be an elder. If this were the case, no one is qualified, because no one meets these perfectly. On the other hand, if these are considered only “ideals” but nothing more, then they might as well have never been written, because, again, there is no ideal elder. Rather, it is best to see these as “character traits” that the elders live out as an example to the congregation. 1

Understanding that elders are not perfect, yet expecting them to be spiritually mature leaders finds that balance. As such, this list could be read as “characterized by being above reproach…characterized by being not contentious,” etc. This also helps gain a proper interpretation of the often-misunderstood “husband of one wife” item. When the Greek phrase is read literally and understood as a character quality, we discover that an elder should be “characterized by being a one-woman type of man,” whether he is married or not.

“Deacons” are the second group of church leaders and the only other official role mentioned in regard to local congregations (1 Timothy 3:8-13). In a list similar to the elders, Paul gave character traits for these godly servants. The specific mention of “not two-faced…holding to the mystery of the faith” seems to indicate some type of teaching/counseling ministry with people in the congregation. Deacons are also supposed to “be tested first” before being appointed to this role. Like elders, they should have godly marriages and families (if they are married and have children). 2

The mention of “women” or “wives” in verse 11 is widely debated. The two obvious options are either female deacons or the wives of deacons. That the Church has historically had women serving alongside deacons is not debated, but what their exact role was, has not always been clear. Some see Paul’s reference to Phoebe in Romans 16:1 to mean that she was a deaconess in Cenchrea, but this is a grammatical reach. Additionally, Constable observes that it would be odd for Paul to qualify deacons’ wives but not elders’ wives. (To say that he meant this to apply to wives of both elders and deacons does not explain why they are mentioned in the middle of his instructions about deacons.) Given their instructions, it is sufficient to say that these women did exert some influence in the congregation, so they were to do so faithfully and with dignity, keeping their tongues in check.

In the final three verses, closing the first half of the letter, Paul made clear the confession that Timothy should hold fast to (1 Timothy 1:18), letting it drive his ministry (1 Timothy 3:14-16). First, the church is “the household of God”; thus, believers are called to live to a higher standard. Second, the church is “the support and bulwark of the truth”; thus, our teaching and doctrine must be pure. Third, our message to the world is centered on the Eternal Son who became flesh and who will ultimately finish his work after the Church has completed ours.

Notes:

  1. It has been noted by several writers that, with the exception of “able to teach,” each of these character traits is found elsewhere in the New Testament for all believers. They are not exclusive to elders, but elders should lead the way as examples of what godliness looks like.
  2. The best writings I have ever seen on this topic are Alexander Strauch’s books Biblical Eldership and The New Testament Deacon. We use these in our church and highly recommend them.

1 Thessalonians 4

Chapters four and five each divide into two sections. As Paul began to wrap up his letter, he shifted from reminiscing and loving to instruction and commands. He addressed four areas in these final two chapters: practical Christian living, the Rapture of the Church, the Day of the Lord, and congregational living.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Paul focused on some very practical, in-your-face teaching about how to live a Christian life. He said he had told them that certain things were necessary to live in a way pleasing to God, urging them to follow through with what he had taught them even more than they were already doing. The first area was their sanctification 1, especially in reference to sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). He gave them both a negative and positive command to help them live properly: stay away from it and get control of their bodies. The second area was their brotherly love (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). He had already praised them for how well they were doing it, so he simply praised them again followed by an encouragement to keep it up and do even more.

The third area had to do with their relation to the unbelieving world around them, and it had three parts to it (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). First, they were “to aspire to lead a quiet life.” Christians should not be the ones causing trouble, starting arguments, or making a public spectacle (Romans 12:18). Second, Paul told them to “attend to your own business.” The opposite of this would be a busybody. While leading a quiet life, we are to keep busy in Christian service. Third, Paul commanded them to “work with your hands.” Second Thessalonians 3:10-12 explains this further. Apparently, some had quit their jobs and were relying on personal charity and the congregation to support them, as they waited for Jesus’ soon return. Paul said, “Get a job and stop mooching!” Paul’s reason for these specific commands was that unbelievers are watching. Immoral, busybodies, moochers, and troublemakers hurt our cause. Unbelievers do not like them any more than other Christians do, and they especially do not like it when they are doing these things while talking about Jesus.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul addressed a serious concern from his friends. He had apparently taught them that Jesus would return before the day of the Lord (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). However, some of the congregation had died in the intervening months, and the survivors were genuinely concerned their loved ones would miss Jesus’ coming. Since the details about the Rapture were new to them, it is conceivable that they were the first ones to ever hear this revelation (1 Thessalonians 4:15). 2

Paul told them that they had no reason to grieve as if there were no hope, because Jesus’ return is the substance of our confident hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3; cf. Titus 2:13). In fact, rather than missing out on the event, Paul insisted that “those who are asleep through Jesus” (literally) will come back with him. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death itself has changed (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

The Rapture event actually includes five parts, only one of which is the actual “rapture.” 3 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 reveal that there will be an announcement, Jesus’ arrival into the clouds, the resurrection of dead saints, the rapture of living saints, and the eternal presence of the Savior. The last part was Paul’s emphasis. Rather than just “going to heaven,” whenever he thought of eternity, he could think of only one thing: being with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23). This is why he commanded his readers to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). 4

Notes:

  1. The key word of verses 3-8 is “holy.” It appears in some form four times in these six verses. In Paul’s letters, “sanctification” means “to set apart as holy.”
  2. Paul continued to receive new revelation from God throughout the course of his ministry. Some of this was probably for specific ministry but much of it was recorded in the Scriptures for our instruction and benefit as well as the original readers’.
  3. The word “rapture” means “to catch or seize” and comes from the Latin word behind “will be caught up” in verse seventeen. (The Greek word that Paul used, ἁρπάζω, harpazo, means the same as the Latin word.)
  4. The Rapture of the Church is such an important truth that some believe it should form the foundation for all Christian counseling.

Mark 15

Chapter fifteen begins “early in the morning” on Friday (Mark 15:1-5). The Jewish leaders had done all they could do. Rome allowed them to carry out any kind of punishment they wanted against their own people, except for the death penalty. Only the Roman governor could do that. Because of the Passover that day and the Sabbath the next, they had no time to lose. Right after daybreak, they took Jesus to Pilate to have him executed.

Pilate had made it a policy to release one prisoner at Passover (Mark 15:6-20), and he had in custody Barabbas, a revolutionary and murderer. He thought the people would certainly rather have Jesus released than Barabbas, so that was the choice he gave them. Pilate also had personal issues with the Jewish leaders, so he thought he could use this to take a jab at them (Mark 15:10). He did not expect that they would be able to incite the whole crowd to push against Jesus. Even though Pilate could find nothing wrong with him, he capitulated to their demands, released Barabbas, and handed Jesus over to the crucifixion guard. After a torturous flogging, the soldiers took Jesus inside where they continued to beat and mock him, placing a robe on his shredded back that they would later rip off again.

On the route to the crucifixion site, they pressed into service a traveler named Simon to carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21-32). Only Mark records the names of Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus, and Rufus is later addressed by name by Paul in Romans 16:13. Reaching Golgotha, they offered Jesus a numbing agent, which he refused, then nailed him to the cross and hoisted him up. In fulfillment of Psalm 22:18, they threw dice to divide his personal effects. Mark noted that “it was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him,” meaning that everything that happened with Pilate (and Herod; Luke 23:6-12) took place in a matter of only about three hours that morning. For three hours Jesus hung there, exposed and suffocating, while people walked by, shaking their heads and mocking, along with the mercenaries who were being crucified at the same time.

At noon, a supernatural darkness covered everything and lasted for three more hours (Mark 15:33-41). Mark recorded only one of Jesus’ famous last statements, the quote from Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Thinking he would hang there for a while longer yet, they offered him sour wine again, but it was time. He cried a final loud word and died. At that moment, the curtain in the temple hiding the Most Holy Place was torn from the top to the bottom, a feat humanly impossible. Having watched all the events of the day, the centurion in charge realized that Jesus was completely different from anyone he had crucified before. Mark noted that several women who followed Jesus were watching from a distance, but he did not mention any of the other disciples.

With the beginning of Sabbath only hours away (Mark 15:42-47), there was not much time to take care of the body. Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the council who had just condemned Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body in order to bury it. With permission, they took down the body, wrapped it quickly, and put it in Joseph’s own tomb, closing it with a large stone.

Mark 1

Introduction

The shortest of the four gospels by far, Mark has gained prominence in recent days, especially from modern higher critics. Beginning in the early 1800s, liberal scholars started to insist that Mark was written first (the Church historically acknowledged that Matthew held that distinction), around 60 A.D., and that Matthew and Luke both borrowed from Mark and other sources for their accounts. This position is so popular that it is generally assumed and unquestioned in many works. Part of the reason for this preference is Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’ actions rather than his theology – something liberal scholarship very much tends to stress and avoid, respectively.

It is true that Jesus’ actions are the highlight of Mark. Much less time is given to his background and his teachings compared to the other gospels. Mark presents Jesus as a man of action, constantly on the move from one event to the next. Mark’s use of εὐθύς (euthus, “immediately”) is regularly noted in commentaries, as Jesus went “immediately” to his next place or miracle. (Mark contains 41 of the New Testament’s 51 occurrences of the word, and it appears in all but three of his 16 chapters.)

Several of the Early Church Fathers (including Papias, Ignatius, and Eusebius) linked Mark with Peter, noting that Mark had become Peter’s disciple and that he had recorded many of Peter’s teachings and memories, albeit not necessarily in chronological order. This would certainly account for the personal influences found throughout the book, yet the sporadic nature of the selection of events. It also may explain why Mark alone would include the angel’s command that the women should “tell his disciples, even Peter” (Mark 16:7) that Jesus had been raised.

It seems that Mark was writing to a Roman audience, who did not understand certain Jewish terms and traditions, so he had to explain them (see Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:3, 11, 19, 34; 15:22, 42). Additionally, Mark pointed out that Simon, who carried Jesus’ cross, “was the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21). Later, in Romans 16:13, Paul greeted a Rufus in Rome. These are the only two occurrences of the name.

Chapter one completely skips Jesus’ early life. Instead, Mark introduced John the Baptizer as the promised messenger who would “prepare the way for the Lord” (Mark 1:3) and moved directly to the account of Jesus’ baptism.

Mark’s introductory note is interesting. He intended to not let Jesus’ background overshadow his mission. This was common in Roman culture. The families and background of servants was unimportant; they just needed to do their jobs. By not including Jesus’ family history, Mark put the emphasis on his identity as tied to his mission: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Notice the lack of detail in Mark’s account of Jesus baptism and temptation (Mark 1:9-12; four verses) compared to Matthew’s (16 verses) and Luke’s (15 verses). Mark’s point was clear: John announced him, Satan tested him, then he went to work.

The rest of chapter one covers the same amount of time as Matthew 4-8. In these 32 verses, Jesus began his preaching ministry, began to call his disciples, and performed three individual miracles (casting out a demon, curing a fever, curing leprosy) and many others (Mark 1:34). Yet, in doing all of that, Mark recorded only about seven sentences of Jesus’ actual speech. Again, for Mark and his readers, Jesus’ actions really did speak louder than his words. Mark’s presentation also pointed out that, even early on, Jesus did not necessarily seek publicity and notoriety. Though that certainly came, he silenced the demons (Mark 1:25, 34), spent time alone (Mark 1:35), and preferred the rural villages (Mark 1:38, 45).

Isaiah 28

Chapter twenty-eight contains a new judgment prophecy against Ephraim, representing all of northern Israel. In the first section, Ephraim is compared to drunks and babies (Isaiah 28:1-13). Although Ephraim may have seen themselves as the “splendid crown” of the nation, God saw them stumbling around like drunks, slipping and falling in their own vomit. He saw them as babies, babbling “meaningless gibberish” instead of coherent words. Both drunks and babies have difficulty walking straight without falling over. The point is that God himself is the “beautiful crown” of Israel, but they did not understand anything he said. Because of this, God declared that they would have to learn by foreign languages, rather than their own. Paul quoted this to explain the purpose of speaking in tongues in the New Testament. He said that “tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers,” especially Jews (1 Corinthians 14:21-22).

In the section half of the chapter it seems that the Jews had somehow “made a treaty with death,” so that they were not afraid of being destroyed (vs. 15). Constable thinks that this refers to a pact with another nation (possibly Egypt) that they thought would protect them against an invasion from Assyria. As opposed to the Jews’ contrived methods to protect themselves, God said that he would give them one source of protection – a “stone” (Isaiah 28:16). This “cornerstone” is explained by Paul (Ephesians 2:20; Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 1:23) and Peter (1 Peter 2:6) to be Christ, himself and his gospel. Thus, God himself would be their judge, nullifying any contract they thought they had for protection (Isaiah 28:16-18). They thought they had security (like a bed and blanket), but they would discover it to come up short (Isaiah 28:19-21). Instead, he called them to return to him (Isaiah 28:22-29). A farmer does not keep plowing when it is time to plant, does he? And he does not harvest fragile crops with a sledgehammer, does he? Then why would Israel continue to do the wrong things, in the wrong ways, at the wrong times, when they have the wisdom of Jehovah himself at their disposal? It is a good question for believers today as well.

Isaiah 11

Chapter eleven continues the theme of Israel’s restoration. Picking up on the analogy of Assyria as a great tree to be cut down, Isaiah pointed to the coming Messiah as “a shoot…out of Jesse’s root stock, a bud…from his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). Like his father, David, this king will have God’s Spirit on him, helping him make wise and godly decisions over God’s people. He will execute perfect justice and righteousness, which will characterize his reign (Isaiah 11:2-5). During his kingdom, the curse on creation will be lifted (Genesis 9:2, 5; Romans 8:19-22), and his kingdom will cover the entire earth.

Messiah’s rule will not be over Israel only but over all the nations (Isaiah 11:10-16). One of the key indicators that it is truly Messiah’s kingdom will be the return of the remnant to the land of Israel from all the nations where they will be. None of the other returns to date (Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1948), or even in the Tribulation, can be the fulfillment, because Messiah is not in Jerusalem yet. Additionally, there will be topographical changes as well, including the drying up of the Euphrates River before their return (Revelation 16:12). This return will be an event reminiscent of, but much greater than, the exodus from Egypt (see Jeremiah 16:14-15).

Isaiah 8

Chapter eight records another son that Isaiah and his wife had (one son was mentioned in Isaiah 7:3). Due to the proximity of the birth announcement to this birth, some scholars believe that Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was the “son” referred to in the chapter seven prophecy, especially since Isaiah 8:8, 10 both end with “Immanuel.” They see that as a nickname or title rather than the boy’s given name. His given name means “Speeding to the Plunder, Hurrying to the Spoil” (Constable). Nine months earlier God had Isaiah write that phrase on a tablet and witnessed by Uriah and Zechariah (not the later writing prophet). This served as the prophecy that Israel was soon to be plundered by Assyria (Isaiah 8:1-4). Rather than accepting God’s gentle stream of blessings, Israel had rejected Jehovah, so he brought Assyria on them like a torrential flood (Isaiah 8:5-8). Israel’s response was a mocking song: “Do your worst against us, but you will be broken because God is with us!” (Isaiah 8:9-10)

Yet they were afraid of the situation, and God told Isaiah to not be like them (Isaiah 8:11-15). They would devise conspiracy theories and be afraid, but Isaiah was to hold fast to the truth from God. Quoted by both Paul and Peter with reference to Jesus (Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8), Isaiah was told that God himself would be the one that the Jews would trip over as they tried to live their own way. Isaiah told his followers to keep a record of his messages tied up in a scroll, likely for proof in the future that these events had been foretold (Isaiah 8:16-18). He then confirmed that he would put his trust in God, exactly as God had said.

Possibly in response to Isaiah’s affirmation of his trust, God warned him that people would come to him looking for oracles, but instead of seeking them from God, they would ask for incantations, divination, and necromancy (Isaiah 8:19 – 9:1). This was “because their minds [were] spiritually darkened.” Rather than receive the blessings they sought, they would become destitute, even to the point of cursing God, and their country would be overthrown. However, that would not always be the case.