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The Character of the Christian
February 18, 2016

Today we continue our series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today we will look at what it means for an elder—and every Christian—to be gentle.

Paul writes to Timothy, “Therefore an overseer must [be] not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome” (1 Timothy 3:2–3). Similarly, he tells Titus that an overseer “must not be arrogant or quick-tempered … or violent” (Titus 1:7). The positive characteristic here is gentleness and it is opposed by the two negative characteristics of violence and quarreling. The elder (and, therefore, every mature Christian) pursues gentleness and flees from violence and bickering.

To be gentle is to be tender, humble, and fair, to know what posture and response is fitting for any occasion. It indicates a graciousness, a desire to extend mercy to others, and a desire to yield to both the will of God and the preferences of other people. Such gentleness will be expressed first in the home and only subsequently in the church. It is a rare trait, but one we know and love when we see and experience it.

Alexander Strauch notes that to pursue gentleness is to imitate Jesus. He writes, “Jesus tells us who He is as a person: He is gentle and humble. Too many religious leaders, however, are not gentle nor are they humble. They are controlling and proud. They use people to satisfy their fat egos. But Jesus is refreshingly different. He truly loves people, selflessly serving and giving His life for them. He expects His followers—especially the elders who lead His people—to be humble and gentle like Himself.” Similarly, John Piper writes, “This [gentleness] is the opposite of pugnacious or belligerent. He should not be harsh or mean-spirited. He should be inclined to tenderness and resort to toughness only when the circumstances commend this form of love. His words should not be acid or divisive but helpful and encouraging.”

The elder, then, must be gentle, able to control his temper and his response to others when he is attacked, maligned, and finds himself in tense or difficult situations. He is marked at all times by patience, tenderness, and a sweet spirit. Negatively, he must not lose control either physically or verbally. He must not respond to others with physical force or threats of violence. When it comes to his words, he must not quarrel or bicker or be one who loves to argue. Even when pushed and exasperated he will not lash out with his words, he will not crush a bruised reed or snuff out a faintly burning wick.

I am sure you realize that God calls all Christians—not just elders—to be gentle. Elders must serve as examples of gentleness, but each one of us must display this trait if we are to imitate our Savior. There are many texts we can turn to, including this one which tells us that gentleness is a necessary fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Shortly thereafter Paul says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).

He urges the Christians in Ephesus to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” and says that this involves living “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). When speaking of the congregation under Titus’ care he says, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:1–2). The evidence is clear: We are to be gentle so we can serve as a display of the one who deals so gently with us.

Self-Evaluation

So, how about you? Does your life reflect the meekness and humility of gentleness? I encourage you to prayerfully ask yourself questions like these:

  • When someone wrongs you, are you prone to lash out in anger? If so, does that anger express itself physically, verbally, or both?
  • Are people afraid to confront sin in your life because they fear your anger or your cutting words? Do your wife and children fear you?
  • Would your friends and family say that you are gentle? Would they say that you treat them with tenderness?
  • Do you like to play the devil’s advocate? Do you like a good argument? What would your social media presence indicate?

Prayer Points

The God of peace is eager to give you the peace of God (Phillipians 4:7, 9). So, I encourage you to pray in these ways:

  • I pray that you would make me more like Christ so that I may be gentle just like he is gentle. I pray that I would regularly consider all the ways in which you have been so patient and gentle with me.
  • I pray that you would help me swallow my pride, confess my sins to others, and restore any strained relationships I have.
  • I pray that you would give me the grace to be patient and calm when others attack and misunderstand me. Help me respond with gentleness even in the most difficult circumstances.
  • I pray that I would be slow to begin an argument or to wade into someone else’s.

Next week we will consider what it means for elders and Christians to be temperate in their consumption of alcohol.

Do Not Be Conformed to this World
February 17, 2016

Romans 12:2 is consistently one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. In that little passage we are warned that there are forces competing for our attention and loyalty and that even Christians are at times torn between the two. “Do not be conformed to this world,” says the Apostle Paul, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Paul assumes that we will not and cannot remain unchanged in life. We will not and cannot remain who and what we are right now. The question, then, is how we will change and who we will allow to influence us. Will we be conformed to the world around us or will be we transformed by God?

Conformity is an ever-present danger. I recently found myself considering it and thought of two ways that we can be conformed to this world—we can actively pursue the world and worldliness or we can simply be passive and allow the world a slow but steady eroding influence.

The first way to be conformed to the world, then, is to be drawn to it, to be enamored by it and to imitate it. This is a great temptation to many people and perhaps especially to young people who have been raised in Christian homes. When I was a teenager I saw many of my friends get swept up in this kind of worldliness. We had all been raised in Christian families, but when my friends began to experience the independence of young adulthood, as they began to distance themselves from their parents, many decided they wanted to experience what the world had to offer. So they studied how the world acted and acted that way. They studied how the world dressed and they dressed that way. In a hundred little ways they conformed to the world until they were indistinguishable from the world. Some eventually experienced a work of God to draw them back. Many others never did. They were deliberately completely conformed.

For most of us, though, the conforming power of the world comes in a much subtler form. We become conformed to the world by just lowering our guard, by neglecting to maintain a watchful demeanor, by failing to hold an offensive posture against the encroachment of the world. If full-out pursuing the world is the equivalent of being instantly crushed in a giant industrial mold, then this other kind of conformity is being slowly, slowly squeezed in that mold, one little crank at a time. Eventually both methods will conform you to the shape of the mold, but one will happen much slower—so slowly that you might not even notice some of the changes as they are taking place.

We can be conformed to the world this way through our entertainment, by not being cautious about what we see, hear, and read and about how much of it we consume. We can be conformed through our education, by being influenced too much by people who are opposed to God and too little by those who love him. We can be conformed through our friendships, maintaining our best and most formative relationships with unbelievers or outright antagonists. We can be conformed to the world through our apathy, neglecting God’s ordinary means of grace dispensed through the local church, failing to engage in private and family worship.

And what happens? Over time, our understanding of our purpose is shaped by whatever is on the bestseller list instead of by what God says in his Word. Our understanding of the world’s origins is set by the classroom instead of being measured against the Bible. Our understanding of sexuality owes more to movies or pornography than to the Creator of both our bodies and our sexuality. We are conformed slowly through carelessness, through lack of attention, through plain neglect. Where are you tempted to lower your guard? Where are you allowing the world just a crack into your heart and your mind? This may be the means through which you are being conformed to the world.

Worldliness is like gravity, always there, always pushing down on you, always exerting its influence on you. As a Christian you are charged with resisting it day by day. You must and you can. You must because your spiritual life and health depend on it. You can because you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit whose joy is to transform you by the Word of God into the image of the Son of God. Do not be conformed to this world!

Image credit: Shutterstock

Christians Should Not Watch Movies With Sex and Nudity
February 15, 2016

What would it take for you? What would it take for you, husband, to be okay with your wife baring her breasts and body in front of a movie camera? What would it take for you to allow another man to strip off her clothes, to kiss her, to fall into bed with her, and to pantomime having sex with her? What would it take for you to be okay with a camera crew recording shot after shot, angle after angle, until every detail is perfectly convincing? What would it take for you to be okay with the rest of us watching this as entertainment? And you, wife, would you be okay if your husband was the one acting it all out, holding her in his arms, mimicking ecstasy? Is there anything, anything at all, that would make all of that okay?

I believe the Bible makes it very clear that sex and the nakedness that goes with it are sacred, matters to be shared only between a husband and wife. What is good and appropriate within marriage—unashamed nakedness and uninhibited sex—are matters of exclusivity and privacy. I think you probably agree with me.

Nakedness and sexuality are common themes in today’s movies and television. It seems increasingly rare to find a movie or show that doesn’t have at least one lingering shot of nudity or one steamy scene of passion. And even while so many Christians feel freedom to watch it all, I am increasingly convinced that we should not. I am increasingly convinced that Christians should avoid watching movies with scenes of nudity and sexuality. There are many reasons for this, but today I will constrain myself to just one—one that I have found particularly compelling and convicting.

Let’s begin here: What we see on the screen is both fact and fiction. When it comes to nakedness and sex in movies, we sometimes lose the fact in the fiction. What we watch is a fictional story, but one that has been acted out in real ways by real people. This has important implications when it comes to a bedroom scene. To film that scene, real people had to remove real clothes, bare real bodies, touch each other in real places, and move together in a real bed. It may not have been full-on sexual intercourse, but it still involved real acts between real people. The reason sex scenes look real is that to a large degree they are real. Those are not fake breasts you see, the actors are not exchanging fake kisses or fake caresses, she is not pretending to straddle him.

Now the question: What would it take for you to be okay with your wife participating in that scene? Would you send her off to work tomorrow knowing that she would be topless for hours at a time, that she would be rolling around on a bed with another man as a crew looked on, as they adjusted the lighting, as they practiced different angles, as the director instructed her, “No, put your hands there. Move in that way…” She would not be having sex with him, but she would be doing her best to act like it, to make others believe it. She would be taking all she knows of the movements, the motion, the pleasure of sex with you and imitating it with this other man. Wife, what would it take for you to be okay with your husband stripping her and kissing her and carrying her to bed? My guess is that you cannot imagine any scenario in which that would be tolerable, in which that would be moral and right. Now hold onto that conviction for a moment.

You know the second of God’s great commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This commandment implies that the way you behave toward the ones you love most is meant to regulate the way you behave toward those you love least and even toward those you may not know at all. God assumes you will protect your own interests and makes that self-interest your guide to protecting the interests of others.

We have established how unthinkable it would be for your wife to bare herself for the camera or your husband to simulate having sex with that actress. This is a good indicator of how you ought to think about that Hollywood glamor girl when she begins to peel off her shirt, when she wraps herself around that guy. You have no right to see her body as any less sacred than your own spouse’s. If it would be intolerable for you to watch your wife acting out sexual deeds and sexual pleasure with another man, it should be equally intolerable for you to be entertained by watching anyone else simulate those deeds and that pleasure. To refuse to see such things is simply loving your neighbor as yourself, loving that actress as you love your wife.

The reality is, the Bible forbids what those actors are doing. If the Bible forbids what they are doing, it also forbids your voyeuristic participation in it. If they act sinfully by doing it, you act sinfully by watching it. But you bear the greater blame because you are a Christian, one who is meant to think of them with the mind of Christ and to see them through the eyes of Christ. God forbid that you would ever accept your wife baring herself for our entertainment! So God forbid that you would ever tolerate another woman baring herself for yours!

Image credit: Shutterstock

Letters to the Editor
February 14, 2016

With another Sunday, we have another batch of letters to the editor. These letters focus in on just a few of the articles I have posted over the past 2 weeks.

Comments on An Unexpected Blessing of Parenting

After reading the post, I get it that the picture is probably supposed to show a father and son as friends. But, in looking at the FB post of my friend, what I saw was a “couple” made of up two men. Not likely what you intended.
—Nancy P, Edmond OK

Tim: I see it as a sign of the times that we would see a graphic like that and immediately think “homosexuality” rather than “friendship.”

***

As the mother of two young boys, reading this article felt like God’s reaching down and giving me a hug. Although they rarely say the words “I love you,” and I never ask for that from them, they can hardly wait to hug me first thing in the morning. They love it when I lay down with them at night before bed, when I read chapter after chapter to them from good books, when we spend one-on-one time together, when we play soccer in the backyard….I delight in them, and I think they in me. I believe that God is using me to build them into capable adults, authentic men. But I must say, reading your piece just now breathes such affirmation into my soul. Thank you.
—Allison L, Orlando FL

***

Hi Tim - just wanted to say thanks for your article today! I am the mother of four boys, ages six and under. While I LOVE being a mom to all boys, I often had the nagging feeling that my window of influence would be restricted to the toddler years. Your article was very encouraging. I shared it on my page and it encouraged many other women. Thanks again!
—Sara Wallace, Coeur D’Alene, ID

***

I have followed your blog for many years, but this is the first time I have been moved to write. As a homeschooling mom of a 12-year-old boy, I was very encouraged to read about your relationship with your mom. I’ve always been close to my son, but as he has grown, I’ve questioned whether or not I should continue to pursue that closeness, or if I should draw away. After all, I don’t want to raise a “mama’s boy,” as you said in your article. He has a good relationship with his dad, and I will continue to encourage that, but now I will worry less about the closeness we share and the amount of time we spend together. Thanks!
—Kim S, Wellsville, PA

Comments on Capturing Weak Woman

I wanted to thank you for your excellent article on Weak Women. God has brought our church through a difficult time that has involved many of the aspects that you shared in your article. Your point on being lead and motivated by guilt is so relevant. When we refuse to go to the Cross with guilt, the only other option is to “charge” others to release our sin debt.
—Dan M, Milltown WI

Comments on The Hidden Beauty of a Bad Sermon

Thank you so very much for taking the necessary time and thoughtfulness to write this important article. As someone who is presently serving on a pastor search committee, I find these words encouraging in the grace and love with which they are saturated. Well done.
—Vicky B, Harlan KY

***

As a young preacher who has preached, and will preach, some of these ‘hidden-beauty-sermons,’ I want to thank you for the encouraging article. I am finding that the tumbles along the way produce a humbler and hardier preacher. One of the greatest needs in the world today is men who are mighty in the Scriptures. By God’s grace He will make me into a man who heralds His word with might and skill. “And may they forget the channel, seeing only Him.”
—Caleb H, Cambridge ON

***

What should a parishioner’s response be when the preacher preaches bad sermon after bad sermon after bad sermon. In this case, he is not a new, young preacher, but a very seasoned one. Each week it is 45 minutes to an hour of rambling with no discernible outline and 10 or so slightly related points. After several years of this, along with other non-doctrinal concerns (safety in the children’s ministry), I feel it is time to search for a new church home. Do you feel like this is an appropriate response or should we stick it out?
—Melissa M, Kerrville TX

Tim: I hesitate to answer questions like this one, but do often recommend the 9Marks site as they have accumulated a wealth of material on healthy and unhealthy churches. Their articles helpfully discuss when it may be time to leave a church and how to do it well.


Comments on Why I Love an Evening Service

I don’t know. I didn’t necessarily disagree with any of the article - it was well written. But, you left off the part about God commanding a day of “rest.” I think many churches are actually coming to terms with the fact that Sunday School, Sunday morning service, choir practice, evening service and ice cream social do not lend themselves to actual rest. Just my two cents.
—Caleb P, Greenville SC

***

While I agree in theory with your idea of an evening service to praise more, learn more and spend more time with my church family it can make for a long day for volunteers in ministry. My husband is in the worship band. We pick up local college girls at 8:30 am, band practice is at 9:00, service at 10:00 which ends at noon. If he is on prayer team that can add almost another hour. Then we return the girls to the college. By the time he gets home and has lunch it can be almost 3:00 pm. If he has to be at church for a 6 pm rehearsal then dinner has to be at 5pm. Maybe he gets home by 9 pm. He does all this as a volunteer. You say that people want a chance to serve, but it is our experience that 10% of the people do 90% of the work and it can be extremely difficult to move people from the pews to the point of service.
—Lynn H, Beverly MA

***

I would like to point out a rather forgotten origin of the evening services. They seem to have started in the UK during the era of large estate houses. The evening service began as a way to provide the servants with their own church service. Due to the demands on the household staff of preparing the families and their guests for the church service as well as the Sunday meal, the servants had no time to join the service. After the Sunday meal, most servants were given the evening off. This allowed them to attend an evening service that was offered for them.
—Todd C, Oman

February 12, 2016

There is a lot about parenting I expected. I had been tipped off to many of the joys and many of the sorrows. I knew it would require long days and late nights; I knew it would draw out both strengths and weaknesses in my character; I knew it would expose a part of my heart that would love with a unique tenacity and fierceness; I knew it would help me better understand why God relates to us as Father; I knew it would deliver a special kind of satisfaction that I could be involved in something as incredible as forming and training a person made in the image of God.

Lately, though, I have been reflecting on one blessing of parenting that I had not anticipated. It took some time to experience simply because it depends upon having children who have grown past the toddler stage, past the little kid stage, and into the older kid or teen stage. An unexpected blessing of parenting is that eventually your children become your friends. You wake up one day and realize that you enjoy your son not only as a child but as a friend. You look over at the passenger seat and see someone sitting there who is as much a friend as a daughter.

This has been a sweet realization. It has been a joy to see that, in time, the parenting distance increases and the peer distance decreases. It has been a joy to learn to relate to my children not only as their father but as their friend. It has been a joy to add to the relationship that has always existed—father/child—one that has been forged out of our shared time and experiences. We no longer want to do only those things that fathers and sons or fathers and daughters do. Now we want to do the things that friends do, to relate in the ways that friends relate. We enjoy one another so much that we would spend time together even if we weren’t related.

What I am learning is this: Ultimately, the great joy of parenting is to come to love and enjoy your children not only for what they are (your children) but for who they are (your friends).

The Character of the Christian
February 11, 2016

Today we continue our series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today we will look at what it means for an elder—and for every Christian—to be hospitable. We will also see why God elevates this trait to such high importance.

Paul tells Timothy, “an overseer must be…hospitable” (1 Timothy 3:2) and echoes this in his letter to Titus (Titus 1:8). The Greek word for “hospitable” (philoxenon) indicates a love for strangers. In the day before the Holiday Inn, Christians were expected to extend hospitality to other traveling believers or itinerant preachers. They were to feed them and to provide them a place to sleep apart from dirty, dangerous, and unsavory inns. The word is naturally expanded to include other forms of hospitality. But at heart, it indicates a willingness to invite others into your home for a short or extended stay.

Why is there such emphasis on this trait? Alexander Strauch explains by saying, “Hospitality is a concrete expression of Christian love and family life. It is an important biblical virtue. … Giving oneself to the care of God’s people means sharing one’s life and home with others. An open home is a sign of an open heart and a loving, sacrificial, serving spirit. A lack of hospitality is a sure sign of selfish, lifeless, loveless Christianity.” Hospitality is a tangible, outward display of godly character.

An open home displays Christian love but it also enables it. Hospitality creates opportunities for relationship, for discipleship, and for evangelism. It creates a natural context for modeling marriage, parenting, and a host of Christian virtues. While we are to teach others what the Bible says, we are also to demonstrate what it says, and we do that by inviting people into our homes and into our lives.

Is it only elders who are called to share their lives and their resources by opening their homes? No, this call goes to all Christians. While the Old Testament law places great emphasis on caring for and protecting the sojourner, this care for strangers is made even more explicit in the New Testament. Peter writes to all Christians when he says “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9) and Paul tells the whole congregation in Rome that they must “Seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13). The author of Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2 ). Paul instructed Timothy to extend the church’s benevolence to a widow if she “has shown hospitality” (1 Timothy 5:9–10). Jesus taught that we will be judged on the basis of our hospitality, for when we love and welcome others we in fact love and welcome him (Matthew 25:35–40).

Strauch concludes, “Hardly anything is more characteristic of Christian love than hospitality. Through the ministry of hospitality we share the things we value most: family, home, financial resources, food, privacy, and time. In other words, we share our lives.”

Self-Evaluation

So, how about you? Would others say that you are hospitable? Engage with these questions and be honest with yourself and with God:

  • How many people from your church have you invited into your home for a meal? When was the last time someone stayed the night?
  • Do others come to you when they need help, or do you give the impression that you don’t want to be bothered?
  • Is your family intentional about welcoming others into your home, even if they are different from you or if they make you feel awkward and uncomfortable?
  • Why do you fear welcoming others into your life and your home? What promises has God given you that you can cling to for hope, peace, and assurance?

Prayer Points

Take heart in the truth that the God of the weak and the outcast welcomes you—and pray to him for his help in these ways:

  • I pray that you would fill me with your Spirit so that my life bears fruit through loving deeds for others.
  • I pray that I would hold loosely to all that you have given me and to know that my home, my food, my time and everything else belong to you. Help me to be a faithful steward of all of them.
  • I pray that you would give me boldness to welcome others as you have welcomed me.
  • I pray that the motivation of my heart would be that, through loving others, I might express my love for Christ. Please give me great joy and freedom in hospitality.

Next week we will consider what it means for elders and Christians to be sober, gentle, and peacemaking.

5 Things You Can Give to God Every Day
February 10, 2016

We hear endless talk about productivity. It is the major focus of many of the most popular blogs out there. The bestseller lists may as well have a category dedicated to it. But what if we’ve gotten productivity wrong? What if it isn’t quite what we’ve made it out to be? What if it’s actually far better and far more compelling than we imagined?

As you know, I recently published Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity, and one of the burdens that led me to write on the subject was a desire to redeem productivity from lesser definitions that focus entirely on tasks, projects, and money-making. Those aren’t bad things, of course, but they aren’t the heart of productivity.

The heart of productivity is glorifying God by serving others. It is carefully and deliberately considering the things God calls us to do, and deploying all that we’ve got for his glory and the good of people made in his image. It is giving back to him what he has entrusted to each one of us

To that end, here are five things you can give to God every day.

1. Give Your Gifts

The Bible teaches that God gives each one of his children supernatural gifts. These are gifts given by the Spirit to empower us to be a blessing to others. Do you know how God has gifted you? Maybe he has given you a gift of encouragement so you are able to speak refreshing and life-giving words to others. Or maybe it is the gift of teaching, and you are especially adept at simply opening up the Bible, explaining what it means, and telling others how to live like it’s true.

The gifts are diverse, given for the benefit of others, and especially for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in Christ. If you are a Christian, God has necessarily given you some of his gifts. Find those gifts and use them for his glory and others’ good.

2. Give Your Talents

God has not only given you spiritual gifts, but he’s also given you talents—areas in which you are naturally skilled. Perhaps you are a talented musician, or a talented writer or artist or host or leader. Do you know where God has given you this kind of skill? He has given these talents so you can return them to him, using them for his glory. No matter who you are and what you do, you can commit these to him and look for creative ways to use them for the good of others and the glory of God.

3. Give Your Time

Time may be that rarest and most precious of commodities. God gives you just 168 hours each week, and he gives them in trust, asking you to use them wisely and to steward them faithfully. Do you surrender your time to God? Do you commit your time to him? Do you plan your time as well as you can to ensure you are putting it to the best use? Begin every day by prayerfully giving your time to God, asking him to help you make each hour count.

4. Give Your Energy

Are you a morning person? A night owl? An afternoon warrior? You may be like me and find that your mind is sharpest and most active first thing in the morning. Or maybe you’re one of those rare people who’s at your best long after the sun goes down. Do you know when your energy is at its peak? Plan your day so that, whenever possible, you can give your best times to the highest purposes. Consider how you can use your best moments to accomplish your most important tasks. Plan to give God the best of your energy.

5. Give Your Enthusiasm

God gives us gifts, talents, time, and energy. He also gives us enthusiasm. He makes each of us feel passionately about certain issues or ideas. Where has God given you enthusiasm? Where do your passions lie? Are they toward teaching or mentoring? Are they toward issues of charity or justice? Find ways to deliberately use your God-given enthusiasm to bless others and glorify God.

What is productivity? Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. This is productivity at its highest and best. This is what God calls you to every day.

Image credit Shutterstock; this article first appeared at The Gospel Coalition.

Capturing Weak Women
February 08, 2016

It can be a dangerous thing to walk into a Christian bookstore. It can be a dangerous thing to listen to Christian radio or watch Christian television or attend that big conference. It can be dangerous because the Christian world is polluted by so much bad teaching. There are so many leaders who claim to be teaching truth when they are, in fact, teaching error. The healthy, growing Christian must learn to tell the difference.

This is not a new phenomenon. Wherever there have been good teachers, there have also been bad ones. We see an important example in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, pastor of the church in Ephesus. We do not know all the particulars of the situation, but from what we can reconstruct we can draw important warnings and applications for our day.

Paul has just described the depravity of humanity and warned about enemies to the church that will inevitably arise in these “last days.” He then focuses in on a certain group of enemies and their willing victims. “For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6–7). Paul describes both enemies and victims here—false teachers and the women they corrupt. He offers five characteristics of these women.

They are weak. Paul is not suggesting that there is an intellectual inferiority among all women but that there is a moral weakness displayed within this group of women. They are not mental simpletons but spiritual weaklings. They are people who have had opportunity to grow in the faith but have neglected to do so. Instead, they have allowed themselves to become the disciples, the captives, of untrustworthy teachers.

They are burdened by guilt. The false teachers are able to gain access to the hearts and minds of these women through the gateway of guilt. Perhaps it is guilt for sin the women committed before or since conversion, or perhaps it is guilt they feel for their inadequacy as wives, as mothers, as women, as Christians. Either way, they have never been set free from the guilt of their sin and now accept the solution offered by these false teachers.

They are led astray by evil desires. Some see these words as indicating that the false teachers are leading the women into sexual immorality, but it is more likely that Paul simply means to indicate that they are being controlled by sin rather than being led by the Holy Spirit. They are giving free rein to their evil desires. Combined with their guilty consciences, this leaves them in a vulnerable condition.

They are always learning. These women are constantly learning from the false teachers. The desire to learn and to keep learning is a good one, of course. But their kind of learning is unhealthy because it eschews firm answers and focuses instead upon unbiblical answers or no answers at all. It denies what is clear and focuses on what is speculative. It leads to grave instability.

They are never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Because these teachers do not teach what is consistent with God’s revelation, the women never arrive at the truth. Even though they are always learning, they never come to firm, settled convictions. They never appropriate the truth that can set them free from their guilt and never submit to the Spirit who can destroy their evil desires. They are weak or backslidden or perhaps lost altogether.

These women have fallen victim to false teachers. The teachers are creeping into their homes, sneaking past pastors and husbands, most likely by doing their work during the day when the women are available and others are occupied. Once in, they take these women captive, enslaving them to sin and error and despair. They promise they are teaching truth when in reality they oppose the truth. They insist they are being godly when in reality they are utterly disqualified to open their mouths.

This is a sad picture of women who have neglected God’s means of grace and protection and instead allow themselves to be victimized by false teachers. They feel the weight of sin and guilt, they feel the burden of their inadequacy before man and God, and they are, in that way, easy marks for someone who arrives with a cheap and easy gospel. These teachers are no doubt assuring them they aren’t so bad after all, that the solution is just to do more, to do better, to try harder, to follow the program.

In that way, these first-century false teachers prove themselves close relatives to twenty-first-century false teachers. If in that day the false teachers were men, today they are men and women. If in that day the teachers went from door-to-door, today they go on the printed page or the digital screen. If in that day they crept into houses when no one was looking, today they slip unseen between the covers of books or through slick videos and popular conferences. Still they seek out weak women who are burdened by guilt and led astray by evil desires, and through constant teaching—another book, another program, another conference—they promise cheap solutions. Yet somehow all that learning never leads to a knowledge of the truth, to a settled reliance upon God’s sure revelation. Somehow joy still eludes them. And, lest we think this applies to only women, we do no damage to the text to extend it to men for we, too, are vulnerable.

The harsh reality is that the greatest danger to the church usually comes from within the church. More harm is done by “Christian” books than by non-Christian ones. More harm is done by “Christian” teachers than by Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or atheists. Those false teachers are always nearby and always looking for new ways to creep in unawares. Even today they prey upon the weak and vulnerable.