Week 44, October 24-28
Several kings and their armies have laid siege on Jerusalem. God sends Jeremiah out with a prophetic performance. He is to yoke himself like an animal and present himself before the kings. The point is that God will actually make these nations subservient to Babylon, not Judah. God even calls Nebuchadnezzar his servant! This is further evidence of all creation being under God’s sovereign sway. Of course, Nebuchadnezzar is only unwittingly God’s servant, but he is God’s servant nevertheless. These nations will be under the yoke of Babylon. God also promises that the exiles will return in two years, as well as the temple artifacts that were taken when Jerusalem was sacked. Another prophet, Hananiah, then takes the yoke off of Jeremiah to show that God will even break the yoke that Babylon has over Jerusalem by having the Jews return to their land.
Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles still in Babylon. He calls for them to settle down, build businesses, and raise families. They are to seek the good of the city they are in. This would have had to have been a difficult word to hear. How could the people not be overcome with anxiety and bitterness? But Jeremiah also tells them that the exile will last a period of 70 years. The times are in God’s hand; they will be released at the proper time. This prophecy will come true, which is the test of a true prophet. There are many other false prophets sending a very different message than Jeremiah’s.
While all of Jeremiah’s prophecies are significant, one does stand out. In chapter 31, the new covenant made in Christ’s blood is specifically foretold. Not only will it be a new covenant, but it will be entirely different. This passage is incredibly significant for the two distinctive facets of Baptist ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church): regenerate church membership and credobaptism (or believer’s baptism).
God tells Jeremiah that he will write the law on our hearts and that those in the new covenant will not need to teach anyone about knowing God. That does not mean there is no teaching ministry in the church, otherwise there would not be specific mention of teachers and preachers in the New Testament. What that refers to is the distinction between the redemptive application of the old and new covenants. Under the old covenant, the law had no redemptive power. Not all of Israel was redeemed or regenerated. To be a full-fledged member of Israel, you were bound to keep the law. There were certain laws that if broken required being expelled from the nation. But under the new covenant, God has sealed us already. Every covenant member is truly born again. Yes, there are those who act like Christians without ever being converted. And yes, those people might at times be difficult to pinpoint. But there is a categorical distinction between the lack of redemptive power of the law and the perfect redeeming power of the blood of Christ.
When the English Puritans were still seeking reform in the church of England, they did not see how a state-church fit the biblical model of the church. They read passages like Jeremiah 31 and saw that only the regenerate were truly members of Christ’s church. No one was born in to the church by virtue of having Christian parents or especially by virtue of being born in a Christian nation. It was their ecclesiology that led to them to consider credobaptism. The New Testament witness of repentance and baptism leading to church membership should be normative, not the other way around. So, these English Puritans were derogatorily called “baptists” because of their high view of baptism.
God then has Jeremiah buy land in Judah even though it is under seige. The point again is that the land will be returned to the Jews, and this serves as a sign and a promise. This prophecy is interesting because Jeremiah doesn’t understand the point of it. But God kindly answers Jeremiah, reminding them that the authority to do to the land what he wishes is his right. Since the people have abandoned the covenant, he will turn them over to foreign powers for a time of discipline and judgment. But God will restore their fortunes in jealousy for his own name and love for his own people. God will restore joy to the people. The land will no longer be a wasteland but will be full of people and animals. The eternal covenant made with David will be fulfilled in the coming of a righteous branch, Christ Jesus.
God continues to restore his people. Then Jeremiah sends Baruch, his assistant, to the temple to read a prophecy. The people hear him and tell Jeremiah and Baruch to hide. King Jehoiakim is furious that anyone would prophecy against him and against Israel, so he burns the scroll. Baruch records Jeremiah’s words again, plus many more, and gives it again to Jehoiakim.
Jeremiah is later arrested on charges of desertion. He claims his innocence, but he is imprisoned anyway. King Zedekiah asks to hear from Jeremiah, if he has a word from the Lord. Jeremiah does in fact, and he assures Zedekiah that he will be spared from Babylon. Zedekiah keeps Jeremiah safe and feeds him. But Jeremiah is still prophesying the worst is yet to come. The people simply won’t stand for it, and he is thrown into a cistern. Zedekiah turns from his word and does nothing to keep Jeremiah safe.
A eunuch who worked for the king saves Jeremiah. He tells Zedekiah what has happened to Jeremiah, and he is given thirty men to help. Jeremiah doesn’t really trust Zedekiah anymore, but Zedekiah wants another word from the Lord. Jeremiah insists that Zedekiah promise to protect him if he tells him. Jeremiah tells Zedekiah that if Zedekiah gives himself over to Babylon upon the invasion, his life will be spared.
2 Thessalonians 3
Paul warns the Thessalonians about idleness. It’s not explicit, but there does seem to be some logic in that many were confused about the end of this age and therefore decided that work and production was futile. Any eschatology that understands the Christian life as kicking back and waiting for the end is not biblical. Regardless of your particular views on the various components of the end-times, Jesus gives plenty of parables in Matthew 25 about staying sober and ready for his return. It is not in dispute. What Paul does here is take that to its logical conclusion and affirm that Christians must still seek the welfare of the city in which they find themselves.
1 Timothy 1-6
Some have argued that since 1-2 Timothy and Titus focus heavily on church order rather than the Holy Spirit leading the church that Paul did not write these letters. But that just indicates a lack of reading comprehension. Even back in Acts 20, Paul addresses church elders. The church has had leadership since its inception, beginning with the apostles. The Jerusalem council is a council of men giving direction to the early church.
This book highlights in short form the similarities between Paul and James. Both of them use the term “justification” differently, which has led some to believe that they disagree on the place of works in the Christian life. But context makes clear that Paul is focused on the how of justification in books like Romans and Galatians, and James is focused on the end of justification. Paul speaks about justification as God declaring us to be righteous. James speaks of justification as our demonstration of that righteousness. In 1 Timothy, Paul somewhat bridges that gap in our understanding. He focuses on how the gospel leads to godliness.
He opens with a traditional greeting and quickly moves to a warning against false teachers. He mentions “myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculate rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:3). In the early church, one of the ways that pseudo-Christian groups went off the rails was by using the apocryphal books and Old Testament genealogies as means of special knowledge not found in Scripture. Paul says that those things do not belong in Christian teaching and doctrine. Stick to the word that’s more fully confirmed, not the speculative nonsense that’s so ready available. Stick to the word “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11), which is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).
The gospel has implications for daily living and how the church governs herself. The Christian prays for everyone. We do not back down from engaging the world, and we primarily do it by praying that God would intervene. He goes to say that the way the church orders herself in worship is a sign of how we will live in the world. Is worship orderly and reverent, or do we focus on fun and entertainment? Paul clearly articulates the need for order and reverence in worship when he calls for the proper way of praying and modesty.
This is the context for Paul calling for wives to learn quietly. Paul roots this command (“I do not permit…”) in creation, not competency. Women are not trophies to be kept clean and quiet on a shelf. The basis for this command is that Adam was formed first and that Eve was deceived first. This command is still binding today because Paul does not root it in cultural situations or something education levels. Church order, like marriage, is a living parable of Christ and the church. The Greek words for “man” and “woman” can sometimes mean “husband” and “wife” in the right context. But since Paul is speaking about the church and not marriage, “man” and “woman” are what he has in mind.
The mention of women being saved through childbearing is difficult, no doubt. Paul never teaches that women attain salvation by having a child. Otherwise, barren women are damned from the outset. The Greek sozo, or “saved”, is used multiple ways, depending on context. Here, in the context of church order, Paul must not be referring to how a person is saved, since they are already in the church; that is always by grace through faith. Sozo can also refer to the progressive sanctification of the Christian life (IE, was saved, am being saved, will be saved, as in Philippians 2:12-13). Only in the modern age have we said that a women’s role as a child-bearer and a mother is a second-class station in life. That is the fruit of wicked ideology that seeks to undermine the family. While we should not make the other extreme error and worship mothers, in no way, shape, or form does motherhood ruin a woman’s life.
Paul then lists the qualifications for those in church leadership, those of elders and of deacons. You’ll notice that they are primarily character qualifications. The only significant difference between elders and deacons mentioned here is the requirement that elders be teachers (3:2). And no matter how charismatic or gifted a person is, there is no substitute for time as a believer (3:6). “Recent” might be determined in the local church context since no specific time in mentioned here. It’s noteworthy that both elders and deacons must be leaders in their homes.
Since women are not to teach or have authority over a man, and since Paul mentions the elder must be the husband of one wife, it stands that the office of elder is reserved for men. Again, it’s not because of competency but because of creation. For deacons, however, the issue of women serving in that office is less obvious. Some translations include the word “their” in 3:11, implying that “their wives” refers to the wives of the deacons, meaning that deacons must be qualified men. However, “their” is not in the text, and “wives” can also mean “women”, depending on the context. It is not out of bounds to suggest that what Paul is saying is that women serving as deacons “must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (3:11). Then verse 12 indicates that male deacons should not have multiple wives, which was not unheard of in that day. Women did not have multiple husbands at one time, so there was no need to mention it. This is somewhat circumstantial, I must admit. But in sticking to the words of text, I believe firmly but charitably, Paul does permit women to serve as deacons but never as elders, especially since deacons are not called to be leaders or teachers as elders clearly are.
So can women teach at all? There are other passages that clearly commend the teaching of women to children and other women (2 Tim. 1:5, Titus 2:4). But what about other areas, such as Bible studies? What about Sunday school? What if other adults are in the room? Where is the line dividing faithfulness and disobedience?
Colossians 3:16 calls all believers to be teachers. In Acts 18, a husband and wife, Aquila and Priscilla, take a teacher, Apollo, aside to give him a correction in his teaching. Priscilla is mentioned explicitly as contributing to that scenario. Paul mentions women praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11. So clearly, there is not a full-blown barrier to women teaching in mixed contexts. I believe wisdom calls for case-by-case decisions. For instance, at Mt. Pisgah, Sunday school curriculum is determined by the pastors. Can a woman teach it? We believe the answer is yes. Is it gathered worship? No. Can a woman teach a mixed-group Bible study? Is she usurping the pastors on central Christian doctrines? If no, then yes, she can instruct a group of men and women. Women, by definition, cannot fulfill the office and function of elder. But then again, neither can unqualified men.
Paul goes on to say that if the church focuses on spiritual maturity, order, and reverence, that some will abandon the church because of it. By sticking to the gospel of Christ crucified and biblical church order, we will offend some. But let them be offended by the truth instead of God being offended by substandard worship.
Paul ends with some general, final instructions. Take care of widows and orphans. Let young windows remarry with a clear conscience. Respect your church elders. Let servants respect their masters. Excommunicate false teachers. Pursue righteousness. Guard the deposit of faith.
2 Timothy 1-2
This letter was likely written during a Roman imprisonment after the end of the book of Acts, making this Paul’s final letter. The purpose of this letter is to call Timothy, and us by extension, to greater faithfulness even in the midst of suffering. Don’t let suffering make you think that God’s plan has been undone. You are exactly where he wants you.
After a traditional greeting, Paul remarks that Timothy shows fruit of real faith. He was faithfully taught by his mother and grandmother, as well as Paul. So he should guard that with all his might. When this world mocks you and hates, don’t be ashamed of the one who died for you. There are many who have done just that—they have abandoned both Paul and the faith.
But Paul calls Timothy to be a good soldier. Stick to the teaching of the gospel. Say the same things over and over. Persevere through difficulty and mockery. Soldiers focus on the one who enlisted them, not on their own gain. What awaits for us, what was earned for us by Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, doesn’t begin to compare to what we’re going through now. Rightly handle the word of God. Irreverent babble, or disrespectful and foolish teaching, marks much of contemporary teaching. But we must stick to the Scriptures and nothing else.
Timothy is much younger than Paul, so Paul warns him about youthful passions. They are strong, but the gospel is stronger. When we’re young, we’re prone to the latest controversies. The same was true in Timothy’s day. Paul encourages him to move beyond that. Don’t be quarrelsome, but stick to the Scriptures.
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