Jeremiah now describes the fall of Jerusalem. This is the event of 588-586 BC when Babylon completely took down the walls of the city. Babylon had attacked Jerusalem previously in 597 BC, but it was not a complete destruction. The Jews who survived the destruction of the city rebelled against Babylon, as you would expect them to do. Gedaliah is the governor that Babylon placed in Judah, and this is who the Jews are rebelling against. A group of men conspire together and assassinate Gedaliah, which only serves to further infuriate their Babylonian overlords.
Lest we think that the Jews have learned their lesson, we read chapter 42. They rightly pray for mercy from God. They seek a word from God through Jeremiah. Whatever God says, they will do. Ten days later, God speaks to Jeremiah. God says that the people must stay in the land. God will rebuild them. God also said that if they flee to Egypt for protection and provision, they will face judgment. In their foolishness, many still fled to Egypt for safety, even with a clear word from God through a trusted prophet. The people will not be spared from their sins; God will now send Babylon to sack Egypt. Jeremiah is now taken to Egypt, as well. God sends a word through Jeremiah to the Jews living in Egypt. He has sent no shortage of prophets, but the people continue in their abominations. None of those who left Judah for Egypt will survive. God will send the armies of Nebuchadnezzar to kill Pharaoh Hophra and destabilize all of Egypt. God then sends Jeremiah a word about the impending judgment on several nations: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, far out nations, and finally, Babylon. These are nations that were the enemies of Israel and therefore enemies of God.
2 Timothy 3-4
Paul warns Timothy about what he can expect to experience in his ministry. Paul lists a variety of characteristics for Timothy to monitor in the churches. He pulls from an Old Testament example when Moses was opposed, and in the same way, there will be those who oppose Timothy. But “they will not get very far” (3:9). Timothy, however, must be content with a ministry focused on God’s word. Only the Scriptures are sufficient for life and ministry, which contrast with false teachers who would rather teach a pagan philosophy and pass it off as religion.
Timothy must spend his days being in the word and preaching that word. Preaching and teaching serves these purposes: reproving, rebuking, and exhortation. To reprove is to gently call out a sin in someone’s life. To rebuke is to criticize a philosophy or worldview that is inimical to Christ. To exhort is to call to faithfulness and endurance. Scripture is the only sufficient and necessary means of fulfilling these important parts of the ministry.
Paul finally sends Timothy off with some personal instruction. This primarily has to do with Paul’s travel and his companions in the ministry. He urges charity and compassion on those who are facing difficulty in the complex circumstances of the Christian life.
Paul’s letter to Titus reads a lot like 1 Timothy, so it’s possible they were written around the same time, which would be the mid-60s. Overall, Paul is here concerned with faith being proved by works. This is another good example of how Paul and James are in complete agreement when it relates to the relationship of faith, works, and justification.
Titus is ministering on the island of Crete in churches likely planted by Paul, although that missionary journey is not recorded. After the greeting, Paul moves right into the necessary qualifications for church leaders. Note that most of what Paul says consists of character qualifications and not skillsets. Most of these qualifications are not controversial in any way, save maybe the faithfulness of an elder’s children. How can a father ensure his children will become Christians? Is that not the Spirit’s work?
What Paul is likely saying is not that a man can only become an elder if his children are already Christians but that they are being discipled as Christians and not reeling against their father. Paul says something similar in 1 Timothy 3, and there Paul only mentions that the children of an elder/overseer must be well-behaved. This heavily implies that Paul is focused on order in the household, not necessarily conversion. The primary qualification of an elder is sound, biblical character and the ability to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (1:9).
While there are others want to bring in popular teachings that go far beyond the word of God, Titus must “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). This looks like encouraging people with the word of God in every stage of life and in every circumstance in life. The gospel moves us to be self-controlled while we wait for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Titus will face plenty of discouragement throughout his ministry, but he must be a strong, devoted man who cares little if any regards him as foolish.
Some people are quarrelsome, and Titus is to call it out when he sees it. Christian maturity is not pugnacious. Even amidst disagreement, we must be gentle and respectful to our brothers and sisters. After all, were we not all once at war with God? So Titus must avoid anything quarrelsome. That’s not to say that Titus must avoid controversial issues; but he must direct the church back to the word of God, which is the only means of settling the issue. Some issues are necessarily controversial, and in other cases, there are “foolish” controversies (3:9). Let the word of God decide. If there are those who insist on being quarrelsome over foolish controversies, warn them twice, then remove them from fellowship. It is not worth poisoning the whole church because of one person’s or one group’s hobby horse.
Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s letters. Philemon must have a been a man of some wealth and standing, because he had at least one slave. Slavery in the ancient world is a mixed bag, but it must be said that we should not unthinkingly assume slavery at one time in the same as slavery in another. Chattel-style slavery of early America was the purchase of people as property. The entire framework behind the mid-Atlantic slave trade was that if you paid money, you could treat another human being as if they were a piece of farm equipment. It was wicked, and the good people of that age, primarily Christians, were right to abolish it.
There were many forms of slavery in the ancient world. First-century Rome knew of many of them. Some were viewed as property. Some were working off a debt. Some were seeking citizenship. It seems as if the situation that Onesimus finds himself in resembles something between a debt relationship and property. Otherwise, it seems unlikely that Paul would want Philemon to receive Onesimus, a runaway slave, as a brother in Christ. Paul stops short of asking for Onesimus’s freedom. He simply wants Philemon to treat Onesimus as he would any other brother.
At some point in the time between Onesimus running away and Paul’s letter to Philemon, Paul had been a player in Onesimus’s conversion to Christ. That new reality necessarily changes the relationship between master and slave. There are too many other passages in Paul’s letters to say that slavery in every form is sinful. It is beyond dispute that many forms of slavery are nothing short of oppression and are therefore evil. But can we say the same for those paying off a debt? What about those who willingly enter into a master-slave relationship for the mutual benefits?
When English translators translate the Greek word δοῦλος, or doulos, they have the difficult decision of whether to use the word “slave” with all of its connotations, even though that’s literally what the word means. Most translations select either slave, servant, or bondservant in different contexts. But we cannot move away from the fact that 1 Peter 2:16 calls Christians δοῦλος of Christ, or slaves to Christ. So slavery does carry a theological sense. We are not our own; we were bought at a price. Slavery is a common image of the believer’s relationship to Christ. Marriage is a common image for the relationship between Christ and the church, much like how adoption is a common image for the relationship between God the Father and the believer. We must understand these images as Scripture uses them and not load them down with contemporary weight.
The book of Hebrews is all about how Jesus is better than the angels, Moses, priesthood, and the old covenant. The Jewish people highly valued all of these things, and the author of Hebrews is dedicated to showing how those things actually point to Jesus, which is why he’s better than them. The real thing is better than the substitute. The movie is better than the script. Jesus is better than everything that came before. Jesus has always been the point, but before getting to Jesus, God used other people, places, and events to prepare us for the coming of Jesus. Since before creation, God had a plan to save sinners. The point here is that everything else that came before Jesus was like the trailer for the movie.
The Exodus? To show us that God draws us out of wickedness into righteousness. The priests? To show that Jesus talks to God for us. The sacrifices? To show us how evil sin really is. The temple? To show us that worship is based on what God says, not what we say. The kings? To show us that God is our only righteous ruler. All the Old Testament expectations are fulfilled in Christ. This is Hebrews’ point.
Paul wrote in Galatians 3:19, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” Paul is saying much more there, but for our purposes the point is that angels delivered the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Earlier in Galatians, Paul wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the on ewe preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Angels are God’s mediators, or servants. They are the go-betweens. And they only serve the purposes of God.
In Hebrews 1, we’re given seven reasons why Jesus is better than the angels:
The book of Hebrews does have its interpretive difficulties. One of those is the presence of what have been called the “warning passages”. These passages warn believers about falling away from God’s grace. Some have interpreted these to say that the believer may truly be declared just by God at a point in time, but it is possible to fall away from grace to such a degree to lose that justification. I believe that to be a cursory reading of the warning passages that avoids their overall context.
The first of these warnings is Hebrews 2:1-4. The point is that since the message delivered by angels came with curses fore disobedience, what kind of curse must the message delivered by Jesus bring? What the author is not saying is that the believer can ever reject that message. He is simply warning against what happens when people are confronted with that message and then reject it.
Even though chapter 3 is a part of this week’s reading plan, we will address chapter 3 next week since the author clearly has Moses as a different section from chapters 1-2.