This sermon was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 29th day of January 2017:
Introduction: Something Small Can Be Deadly
How many of you have ever wanted a snake as a pet? Probably not many of you. Most of us do not like snakes because we recognize how deadly they are, don’t we? Not very long ago, I was researching the world’s most deadliest snakes, and I came across many of the familiar ones: the rattlesnake, the viper, and finally the black mamba.
The feared Black Mamba is found throughout many parts of the African continent. They are known to be highly aggressive, and strike with deadly precision. They are also the fastest land snake in the world, capable of reaching speeds of up to 12 mph. These fearsome snakes can strike up to 12 times in a row. A single bite is capable of killing anywhere from 10-25 adults. The venom is a fast acting neurotoxin. The victim experiences a tingling sensation in the mouth and extremities, double vision, tunnel vision, severe confusion, fever, foaming at the mouth and nose, and depending on the nature of the bite, death can result at any time between 15 minutes and 3 hours.¹
But they are so small. People who die from their bites are not expecting to die from their bites. People go into areas their not supposed to, and unknowingly, BAM! They get bitten. It’s ironic how something so small can be so deadly. In our passage tonight, James the brother of Jesus, warns us about something very small that can be very deadly—our own desires. We probably don’t think about our desires very often, but it is our very desires that cause our temptations. Our desires are the source of our temptations, and if nothing is done about them, there are deadly consequences.
The Text: James 1:13-15, ESV
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
I. The Goodness of God During Temptations (v. 13)
You’ve probably noticed that I have not included verse 12 in with this passage. In your translation, it is likely that v. 12 is part of the paragraph containing verses 13-15 also. I haven’t included it in this part of the passage because it is a verse that serves as a pause or reflection on James’ previous thought. He had just finished talking about enduring trials (1:2-11), and now he is beginning to talk about temptation and personal sin. So for this sermon, it is better to start where James starts his new thought, and that is in v. 13.
I want us to notice first that James talks about the goodness of God during our temptations in v. 13. And the idea here is that God cannot be responsible for our temptations because He is a good God. James writes first a word of warning and of comfort: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
James presents a scenario of a man who is being tempted and blames God for his temptation. But James says that nobody has the right to say that, or to blame God for temptation because “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” God cannot tempt and entice you to sin because He Himself cannot be tempted with evil—He doesn’t face temptations. He doesn’t have the impulse or desire to sin, He’s perfect and completely holy. So then, James says, because God is good and cannot be tempted with evil, “he himself tempts no one.”
Not once have your temptations ever come from God. Not a single time in the history of humanity has God ever tempted any person to sin. All that comes from God is completely and entirely good, because He is good. James writes about that in the next passage: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (vv. 16-17).
God cannot be tempted with evil and tempts no one because He is a holy God. The Scriptures testify:
“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45)
“Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!” (Psalm 99:9)
“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)
I think we realize at this point that God is good, but why would James feel like it’s necessary to tell us that God is good? Why does James feel the need to remind us that we can’t blame God for our temptations because He is a good God? I think he has a twofold purpose in mind:
1) So that we understand who is truly responsible for temptations. He is going to spell out later in this passage that we are ultimately responsible for the temptations that we face. But notice how James is eliminating the possibilities of who could be responsible for temptation. Already, he has excluded Satan—he’s not even listed. And he has just said that God cannot be responsible for them. This serves a great purpose: the only one left on the list for being responsible for sin is us.
2) So that we understand that God is good—He wants to help us through temptation, not cause us to stumble into them. Adam tried blaming God and refusing to take responsibility didn’t he? God inquired of Adam and Eve for why they ate from the tree which God commanded them not to—and their response? “The main said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (v. 12). Adam blamed the woman. Listen to Eve’s excuse: “The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v. 13). Eve blamed Satan. For once in the history of the universe a woman was wrong, can you believe that? I saw a sign once that said “ALL MEN GO TO THE LEFT, BECAUSE THE WOMEN ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.” Just joking of course, but only a little.
The point is, since the beginning of humanity we have not taken responsibility for our sin—but listen: do not doubt the goodness of God during your temptations. He is a good God that is for you, not against you, and wants to provide the “way of escape that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
II. The Source of Our Temptation (v. 14)
We’ve seen that God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations, so what is it that causes our temptations? Why are we always slipping up on the same old sins? Why are we being tempted to sin all the time as believers? And why are temptations so frequent? James answers: “[But] each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (v. 14).
The source of our temptation is our own desire. James tells his readers, instead of God being responsible for temptation, “each person is tempted . . . by his own desire.” It’s desire. Desire is the culprit. Desire is problem. Desire is the root and the source of our temptations. The problem is within us—it’s not on the outside, but buried within our innermost beings.
Notice James says that “each person is tempted,” meaning that everyone faces temptations. You can bank on that—you will face temptations. If you didn’t, there’d be no need for this passage of Scripture whatsoever. James uses a fishing metaphor to describe what happens in temptation. Notice the language he uses here: “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
Desire is the problem, but what happens in temptation is that we are lured and enticed by our own desires. The Greek word for “lured” here is exelkó, literally meaning to be “dragged away.” It was used to describe when game (whether fishing or hunting) was lured away from its path to bait. So we have the picture of an animal that is dragged away from its usual path to bait that it thinks it needs. Similarly, the Greek word for “enticed” here means to “set a trap.”
So here you have these powerful Greek words that describe a man being dragged away and falling into the trap of sin. And why do we become lured into sin and fall into it’s trap? Well go back to the fishing metaphor that James is using. When you fish, you bait a hook. Before you drop the line in, you cover the hook with a jig and bait—it is so that the fish sees it as something he needs (food) and he goes after it, seeking satisfaction for his hunger. When he bites the bait, we jerk the pole and snag him—lift him out of the water where he dies and then he fries in fish grease so that we can eat him (if you like fried fish, that is).
It’s the same way with sin in our lives. It looks like something we need—it looks like something we need to satisfy us. Sin never appears to be dangerous, did you know that? Temptation never says, “Don’t do this. This will disgrace the name of God and hurt your witness. This will damage your relationship with God.” No, it sounds more like, “This will be fun! This won’t hurt! No one will ever know. Just do it.”
Our desires are deceptive, and it’s important to realize that our desires are the thing that pulls us in. It’s imperative to realize that the real problem is our own desires. Another Greek word for desire here is “lusts,” it is that passionate longing for sin that we sometimes experience. This is because we’ve been born into this world as sinners—naturally inclined to sinning against God. But if we’re born again, we have new natures and no excuse for continuing in the same sins.
But why has this been so important to know? Because we must recognize what the problem is before we can solve it or do anything about it. About a year ago, my office began to give off an awful odor. I looked everywhere for the source of smell. I cleaned the floors, took out the trash, and searched every corner—still nothing. Around this time we had recently been given a new puppy, and obviously he hadn’t been house trained, for I soon discovered the source of the smell. Behind a small guitar stand in my office lay a pile of hardened, old, dog droppings. That’s what the smell was! I cleaned it up, and soon my office was finally bearable. But you see, I couldn’t take care of the problem (the stench) without identifying it. And it is the same with our temptations—we can do nothing about our temptations until we discover what the real problem is: our own desires.
III. The Course of Our Temptations (v. 15)
We’ve already seen that God is a good God who doesn’t tempt us, and we’ve just seen what the source of our temptations are, but what’s the problem with letting our desires have their way? What is really at risk here, if anything? James answers again: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v. 15)
Our desires, if we welcome rather than resist them, lead to destruction. James uses another image here (as in v. 14) but one of birth. He pictures desire as conceiving and then giving birth, but then giving birth to death. Really, a horrifying image to think about. James has in mind the person who actively responds to his sinful desires. It is a person who has allowed his desires to conceive. And we understand this. It takes effort to conceive a child doesn’t it? It’s never, “Oops, how did that happen?” That’s what James has in mind here. He’s talking about somebody who does nothing about their desires. They welcome rather than resist those desires and then they conceive.
Once conception takes place, then what’s the next step? Birth. So follows James picture here. Once desire has had its way, it gives birth to sin. It doesn’t give birth to satisfaction like you think it does, it doesn’t give birth to pleasure, or prestige, or power—it gives birth to sin. Once birth takes place, then what? Growth and death. And so follows James’ image. He says that once sin has “fully grown,” once it has matured, it brings forth death. That’s where sin ultimately leads—that’s what James is warning us about (Rom. 6:23).
If you do nothing about sin, it will only get worse and worse and ultimately lead to death. Do you know how an avalanche works? What causes one? An avalanche occurs when the snowpack — or the layers of accumulated snow — on the side of a mountain is in some way disturbed, leading to a fracturing of the top layer and a downward torrent of a large mass of the snow. Snow builds over time—it’s not moved, it just builds on top of more snow. Once it gets too heavy, if falls, sometimes killing many people each year.
That’s the way it is with our desires for sin. When our desires grow, when we do nothing about them and they just get worse and worse, then they give birth to sin and then sin brings “forth death.”
IV. How to Fight the Desires (selected Scriptures)
As we’ve unpacked this passage of Scripture verse by verse, James has taught us several things. First, God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations. Second, our desires are—and always will be, the source of our temptations. Third, if our desires are welcomed rather than resisted, great destruction can take place—even death. But finally, I want us to look at a few practical ways we can fight those desires. If desires are the problem, then our desires need to change and they need to be fought. So how can we do this?
1) Study and know yourself. It’s good to take a long look in the mirror sometimes isn’t it? We need to know what desires we have a problem with and what situations or people cause us to enter into temptation. What desires do you have a problem with? Find out what situations, places, or people, cause you to have desires for sin. Study and know yourself well. Ask God to reveal that to you as well. Pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).
2) Avoid tempting situations. Keep yourself away from the situations that cause you to sin against God and fall into temptations. You know it does no good to pray, “Lord deliver me from evil,” if we thrust ourselves into it. I heard an old preacher say, “You can’t pray “Deliver me, Lord, from temptation,” if you thrust yourself thither!” Avoid the situations that cause temptations. Don’t park a freshly washed car under a tree full of birds. In other words, don’t try to be clean when you willingly go into areas that will make you dirty! The writer of Proverbs presents a picturesque warning for us concerning flirting around with sin, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27). Indeed not.
3) Submit to Christ. When we get saved, we make Jesus our Savior and Lord. He is our Savior because He saved us from death, hell, and the grave. He is our Lord because He takes control. But that’s the part that gets us sometimes. There may be areas of our heart that we haven’t submitted to Christ and made Him Lord over. But we must submit to His leadership and will and allow Him to take control of all the areas of our heart—including our desires. It is taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
4) Get satisfaction from God. Desires seek to be satisfied. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be desires. So since desire is the problem, then our desires need to change. How can that be done? By getting our satisfaction from God. If you don’t believe that God can satisfy you, David invites you to “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Similarly David says to “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). It’s like eating your favorite food—you keep eating it because of the satisfaction it brings your belly! When you get hungry, don’t you desire your favorite food? Of course you do, because you have a mental remembrance of the satisfaction it brings. It works in a similar way with God. If we will get our satisfaction from Him, we will inevitably begin to desire Him.
Conclusion: Enchanting But Deadly
For years, workers and visitors flocked to the sight of silvery dust flakes that floated to the floor in a mill where steel strips rolled over pads in a tall cooling tower. There was a steelworker, Joe Gutierrez who wrote about it. He says that “the snow danced in August.” It was beautiful and enchanting, but it was soon discovered that it was asbestos floating in the air. “Everybody breathed it,” Joe writes. He now suffers from the slow, choking grip of asbestosis, as do many plant workers.
“Can’t walk too far now. I get tired real fast, and it hurts when I breathe sometimes. And to think we used to fight over that job,” he says. Sin is enchanting, sin is pretty and attractive, but it can be a killer. Are you taking the steps necessary to overcoming these desires? Are you avoiding tempting situations? Are you submitting totally to Jesus Christ?
1. Iakhovas. “Top 10 Most Venomous Snakes.” List Verse. March 30, 2011. http://listverse.com/2011/03/30/top-10-most-venomous-snakes/
The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church, on the 25th day of January 2015:
There is perhaps nothing more important to the human body than its health. This is due mainly to the fact that good health is necessary to the human body. In fact, this is especially true in our own age. We find that there are more organic and wholesome foods sold today than ever before. Cigarette smoking is at its lowest percentage now among high school students.¹ Fast food restaurants are being questioned about their practices, the way they prepare their food, and what they put into it. This focus on health is evident even in my own life. I went on a search the other day to a few general stores because I was looking for coffee creamer. Sounds strange right? Not quite, if you’re a coffee drinker like myself. The reason I went on this search is because I was looking for coffee creamer that was actually made with real sugar. I never noticed this before, but more and more stores are carrying products that are sugar-free. Every store I went to, the label read, “Sugar-Free” on all the creamers. I was seriously making sure I hadn’t missed the Rapture, because it sure seemed like the start of the Great Tribulation.
So we have this emphasis on health today more than ever before, and there are certain principles we put into practice in order to maintain our own health (at least we’re supposed to). We eat right, we exercise, and I might add—we avoid sickness. Nobody enjoys being sick and unhealthy, expect maybe the guy whose job is to drain out Porta-Potties in the Summer and calls into work sick. Praise the Lord for his days off, right?
But in the area where health should be regarded as infinitely important is where it is nearly totally neglected, in fact I would say, nearly entirely lost—and that is in the church. The church, more than a human body, needs health to have a beating heart. It needs to have health in order for its hands and feet to actually be the hands and feet of Jesus. Simply put, there are certain things that must be done in order to maintain the health and life of the local church.
That’s what Paul’s letter to Titus is all about. It’s all about what we should do in order to have a healthy church, what we should do in order to have healthy, biblical families, and what we should do to have a bold witness before a watching world. All of that is influenced by a healthy church. Those are the three themes in this letter: the church, the family, and our witness before the world. In this epistle, Paul talks about:
1.) Doctrine and duty in the local church (1:5-16)
2.) Doctrine and duty in the Christian home (2:1-15)
3.) Doctrine and duty in the world (3:1-11)
This epistle to Titus is really a bargain book—you get more for less. It is theologically jam-packed, and it goes to show the magnificence of God in inspiring Scripture because He can say so much in just a few words. Paul begins this letter by talking about how we can maintain the health of our ministry here: ministry to one another, and ministry to our community and the world. We will see how Paul put certain principles into practice in order to maintain effectiveness in his own ministry. He begins this letter by talking about his own character, the purpose for his ministry, his message, his proclamation, and then his power.
The Text: Titus 1:1-4, ESV
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”
I. Principles for Ministry
Notice first how formal and drawn-out Paul’s introduction is here. It is the longest of Paul’s introductions in the pastoral letters, and the second longest in all of his letters (Romans being the longest). This passage itself is one long, elegant sentence in the original Greek—in fact, it is just one sentence in the English translation, too. The question we should be asking is this: Why such a long introduction for a letter to a friend in ministry? Was it because Paul had a distant relationship with Titus and had to remind him of who he was as an apostle? Not likely.
Paul had a unique relationship with Titus. Paul traveled with him to do missionary work: “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me” (Gal. 2:1). Also, Titus worked with Paul to relieve the problems of the church at Corinth. He is mentioned nine times in 2 Corinthians (2:13; 7:6, 13, 14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18, 18). Paul calls him in those places his “brother,” and “partner and fellow worker.”
Paul didn’t write out such a formal introduction because his relationship with Titus was distant. But did he perhaps, write such a long introduction to introduce themes he would talk about in the letter? Not necessarily. Now, the themes of the introduction, like salvation, and knowledge leading to godliness are clearly picked up in later sections of this letter (2:11-14; 3:3-7); and Paul does this often times, mentioning a few things in the introduction(s) that he will talk about later (Paul’s introduction in Romans and Galatians are excellent examples).
It seems that Paul has written such a lengthy introduction here to give unchanging, objective, external principles to guide his own ministry. Paul used these principles in his own ministry, and he was expecting Titus to do the same. Because Titus had an important task: to strengthen the churches in a pagan region of the world. He needed biblical principles for his own ministry that would stand the test of time. Paul was aging and he would soon die, and these principles he lays down for Titus’ ministry could be, and should be used even after Titus passes on. Why? Because these are eternal principles—unchanging, and biblical. These churches still needed a lot of work ( v. 5), they had to work through the bugs—these churches weren’t established Southern Baptist churches with orders of service and Lottie Moon mission offerings. In fact, they were likely the opposite—in need of sound doctrine, elders who would lead biblically, and the proper perspective for Christian families, and a proper perspective of the world. And it begins with the principles he would use for the ministry of the local church. Ministry can’t be done effectively, biblically or even purposefully without scriptural principles guiding, leading, and directing Paul, Titus, and us today on our journey of faith. As we see them, we need to ask ourselves if we have these individual principles in our own lives, and in the life of our local church.
II. Our Character (1:1a)
Paul begins with his own name—characteristic of all of his letters. That is one main reason why Paul is rejected as the author of Hebrews, because his name is absent. In all of Paul’s letters, his name is present at the beginning—it is the first word penned before anything else. When we write letters today, we usually sign our names at the bottom of the page, but in Paul’s day it was the exact opposite. You began letters by identifying who you were. Sometimes the letters were still signed for authenticity reasons (2 Thess. 3:17). And we see that Paul begins this letter by identifying himself in two significant ways: 1) “a servant of God,” 2) “an apostle of Jesus Christ.”
1. A Servant (δοῦλος) of God
Notice first that Paul says he is a “servant of God.” Now, Paul does not casually call himself a “servant of God” here. First of all, this phrase occurs only here in Paul’s introduction to this letter. Never does Paul refer to himself this way except here. Paul sometimes calls himself a “servant of Jesus Christ” (as in Romans 1:1, and with Timothy in Philippians 1:1). Usually, in his introductions he refers to himself as simply, “An apostle of Christ Jesus . . .” On every occasion (with the exceptions of 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Philemon), Paul always calls himself “an apostle of Christ Jesus.” If we are going to be good interpreters, this should cause us to ask why he deviates here, when his normal self-identification is “an apostle.” Every word in the Bible counts, so there’s a significant reason why he does this.
I believe we find our answer in the Old Testament, for the expression “servant of the Lord” is an explicit OT expression. In defining his relationship with God in this way, he draws on the Old Testament pattern established by Moses, David, and other prophets who stood in the special position of those who had received revelations from God. Typically, God’s chosen prophets were described as “servants.” Let’s see a few examples:
“Moses the servant of the LORD” (Deut. 34:5).
“. . . my servant David” (God to Nathan in 2 Sam. 7:5).
“For the LORD GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
And in Jeremiah 7, God says that he gave the Israelites His commandments, but they did not obey. And in an attempt to get them to obey, here’s what God did:
“From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers” (Jer. 7:25-26).
It seems that Paul is aligning himself with obedient servants of God who preceded him as recipients of divine revelation. Just as the towering figures of the Old Testament were obedient servants of God and received God’s revelations, so was the same of Paul. By describing himself this way, Paul anchor’s his ministry in the story of the covenant God of the Old Testament. Those great characters of the Old Testament served God’s people, His elect (and notice later in this verse that he says that his purpose as an apostle was the exact same purpose for all of the Old Testament prophets).
If this is true of Paul, his authority and obedience to God are not to be questioned. This was important for the Cretan culture that Titus ministered in. They had discounted the teaching of the gospel of Jesus and had devoted themselves to “Jewish myths,” (1:14) and they were an untrustworthy, lying culture that was proud to admit it, too (1:12). So while they would have been taught that Judaism in its various forms was superior to Christianity, Paul was saying that he received revelations from God just as the prophets of old.
But there’s another important reason why he says this. The Greek word for “servant” here is doulos, meaning one who gives himself up wholly to another’s will. This is literally translated “bondservant,” which in this case is someone who has no rights of his own, no will of his own—but his sole desire is to do the will of his master. If anyone in the Bible could say this of himself, it was Paul. In the passage where Paul lists all of his credentials and spiritual accomplishments, what does he say concerning them all? “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). Also recall in Acts 22 where he recounts his conversion and he notes that he inquired of the Lord, “What shall I do, Lord?” (22:10). Paul was a doulos of God—he had no will of his own, no agenda of his own. Paul’s will was to do God’s will and God’s agenda.
And he is laying this down as a principle for Titus, too. If Titus is going to be a successful pastor of his church, a leader of his own home, and a witness in his pagan culture—he must be a servant of God. How would he expect his church to be servants if he wasn’t a servant? How would he expect his family and the families of his church to be servants if he didn’t model it for them by being a servant? And how would he expect for a lost world to be a servant and follow Christ if he wasn’t being a servant?
The same applies to us. If we’re going to be effective in the ministry of our own local church—it begins with this: we must be servants of God—submitting our wills completely and entirely to God. If we want health in our church, we must be servants of God. If we want health in our homes, we must be servants of God. If we want a healthy, bold witness to our world, we must be servants of God. The Bible already says we are slaves of God, we just need to act like it. For instance, Paul in Romans 6 says, “But now [you] have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God . . .” (v. 22). We just need to become what we are already—slaves of God. What about you? Are you a slave of God? If you want a healthy church, here’s where it starts. This is where it started for Titus, and this is where it must start for us.
Most of the time, our plans are rarely God’s plans, but Paul was someone whose whole life was changed because of submission to God’s will. Living in submission to God’s will is perhaps the greatest thing on this present earth for a ChristianGod wants us to be His servants, and He will give us strength and grace daily if we will only surrender. This is so important because not only was being a servant characteristic of Paul, but of our own Savior—in Philippians 2 Paul says that Jesus “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men . . .and [became] obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (vv. 7-8). And Peter, speaking in Solomon’s portico, defending the messianic Jesus before the peoples, says this: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him” (Acts 3:13). Jesus is our supreme example—He was a servant of God. Paul was a servant of God, and this must characterize us as individuals and us as a local church. If we can’t honestly say that we are servants of God, maybe we need to get our hands dirty and out into the action, pull up our bootstraps and get to work—empowered and motivated by a passion to serve God because of who He is and what He’s done for us in the gospel. Motivated not because we want God to love us—but motivated because He already does love us. We need Paul’s attitude: “What do you want me to do?”
2. Messenger/Apostle of Jesus Christ
We’ve seen the first way that Paul identifies himself, as a doulos of God, and as we expect from Paul, he defines himself secondly as his usual designation, “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” To further confirm his authority as an apostle, not only is he in the spiritual line of prophets who received revelation from God, but he was a special messenger of Jesus Christ Himself. That’s what it means to be an apostle. The word apostle literally means a messenger, a representative, or envoy. This is the usual way he describes himself, because that’s what he was.
During Paul’s conversion, the Lord Jesus says of him, “[He] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). He was Christ’s instrument. In Romans, Paul says in introducing himself, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). And Paul defends his apostleship in Galatians:
“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles . . .” (Gal. 1:15-16a)
But I just want to make you aware of something at this point. We have really elevated the term apostle in our language. Yes, Paul being an apostle meant that he was given revelation from the Lord and of course, penned 13 letters of our New Testaments. But the word apostle is really nothing lofty—it just means to be a messenger. Someone is an apostle simply because they carry a message. If I have a message I need to send to someone, say across the street, and I get someone to take it for me, then they would be my apostle—my messenger.
The same is true of us. We are ambassadors for Christ, we are His messengers—and having a healthy church starts here too. We must realize that we are His messengers in this world. I love Paul’s description of this in 2 Corinthians 5:20, where he says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” We may not have the gifts Paul had, and we certainly will not be agents of divine revelation—but we have a responsibility to be messengers.
True ministry begins with our character—we must understand who we are; slaves of God and messengers of God. It is our birthright; when we become believers, we have the responsibility to live every day in these ways.
Let me add something in closing. Being servants of God and being His messengers are not simply things we need to be, but they are things we can be. This is not legalism; God has all the empowering, motivating grace we need to be servants and messengers. To reinforce this point, what does Paul crave for Titus in v. 4? He says, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.” Paul couldn’t be a servant or messenger without the grace of God, Titus couldn’t either, and neither can we. Without the grace of God, we are powerless, lifeless, and useless. But because He has “lavished upon us” the “riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7, 8).
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cigarette Smoking Among U.S. High School Students at Lowest Level in 22 Years, June 2014.
One of my favorite things to do as a minister is to plan future Bible studies and sermon series. The anticipation is more intense than a three-year-old waiting for Christmas morning. I cannot wait to teach the Bible. Jeremiah’s words burn in my heart (no pun intended): “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jer. 20:9). I am privileged at a local church to teach regularly, and with this privilege I get to plan for upcoming Bible studies. I will share with you some of God’s stirrings in me for upcoming Bible studies in 2015:
1. A Gospel-Shaped Community
If the gospel doesn’t shape you, you’ve never experienced the gospel. One of the most unique things about the gospel is that it doesn’t just transform individuals, but it transforms individuals into a community of people shaped by the gospel. That’s what Titus is all about. Often times, people overlook this letter because it is a pastoral letter from Paul to his “true child in the faith,” Titus (1:4). But in reality, it’s not just a personal pastor letter from a concerned Paul to a young Titus. It’s a rich, theological letter, full of implications for what it means to be shaped by the gospel. Paul describes various people that make up this new community, and how they should be shaped by the gospel: Elders (1:5-16); Older men (2:2); Older women and younger women (2:3-5); Young men (2:6); Servants (2:9); and all of God’s people (2:11-14). We will study through Paul’s letter to Titus to see how people shaped by the gospel are called to live. I am excited about the spiritual growth and discussion that this sermon series will bring about.
2. 7 Churches of Revelation
Revelation. Some people study this daunting book of the Bible with unreasonable skepticism, others stay completely away from it because of its unusual literary type. But even amid Revelation’s difficult symbolic language, and despite all the scholarly skepticism that surrounds it, Revelation is highly practical (as all of the Bible is). One of the most practical sections of Revelation is an outstanding section on the 7 Churches of Revelation. Now if you’ve read Revelation before, you easily recognize that there are seven-fold series (seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, etc.), and the first seven-fold series consists of the seven churches. In this section, Jesus Himself gives a diagnosis of each church, with both positive and negative elements. These were churches that were existent at the time when Revelation was written, and we must reflect on what characteristics we should have as Jesus’ church, and what characteristics we shouldn’t have as Jesus’ church. This is going to be an expositional study of Revelation 1:1-3:22.
3. Who Am I?
Who are you? The answer to that question says everything about you. In our culture today, we allow so many things to define who we are. But what about who God says we are? Isn’t that infinitely more important? This study examines Ephesians 1:3-14 and looks at what God says about us as His people. No one can define who you are but God alone through what He’s accomplished through Christ.
4. In The Beginning
We need to know about our origins. . . period. Everything else in the world is dependent on answering the question, “Where did we come from?” Looking at the first chapters of Genesis, we will learn how to defend the Genesis account of creation, looking at Genesis literally and expositionally. We will learn about the creation of the world, the creation of man, and the origin of sin. Your knowledge of origins will far exceed what it was before. I had tried to do this Bible study earlier this year, but couldn’t find a spot to slot it in, so I am going to aim for it again this year.
You can keep up with these upcoming Bible studies right here on Brandon’s Desk. I look forward to what God is going to do during these expositions of His Word.