December 18 — 1 Timothy 1‐6 — Be an Example. Paul probably wrote this first letter to Timothy after being released from imprisonment in Rome but before the second arrest that led to his execution. Timothy was Paul’s protégé who had been trained by him for many years. Now, he was left in Ephesus (1:3), probably not as the pastor but as an advisor to pastors, as Paul’s representative. It is a very practical letter, defining not only the proper roles for elders and deacons but also for men and women in the churches. Just as they were directed, so all of us believers are to be living with “a good conscience” (1:19), offering prayer “for all people” in leadership (2:1), training ourselves in godliness (4:7), and setting an example for others “in speech … conduct … love … faith … [and] purity” (v. 11). In verse 15, Paul gave Timothy three ways of being an example that apply equally to us: First, “Practice these things.” These are not things just to be learned to place on our bookshelf of knowledge but are things that we need to be constantly active in performing. Secondly, “immerse yourself in them.” This suggests depth and commitment. Finally, there is the result, “that all may see your progress.” This is evidence of development. As good as we might become in some of these areas, there is still room for growth and we should be striving for improvement.
December 19 — Titus 1‐3 — Training While Waiting. Titus and Paul were long-time companions in ministry, beginning with their trip from Antioch (in Syria) to Jerusalem in order to settle the dispute about circumcision (Gal. 2:1-3). Since Paul called him, “my true child in a common faith” (Tit. 1:4), he was probably led to Christ by the apostle. After Paul was released from his first imprisonment in Rome, he took Titus to the island of Crete to start new churches. Paul left him there to organize and monitor those churches and then followed it up with this summary letter of instruction about Christian living and church leadership. What struck me as I read this letter was a statement about our overall function as believers in the world. Paul summarized two main things that we should be doing: training and waiting. We are to be in training by God to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions,” on the negative side. and to “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (2:12), on the positive side. Start each day by asking God to help you to say “No” to the things that threaten your spiritual wellbeing, and “Yes” to that which builds you up. Training is active but the other function of Christian living is passive, i.e., waiting (“waiting for our blessed hope”—v. 13). We are passively waiting for the award ceremony for what we did actively for Him in life.
December 20 — 1 Peter 1‐5 — Bearing Up or Beaten Down? Peter wrote this letter about the same time Paul was writing to Titus. It was written to churches in the Roman provinces of the northern three-fourths of modern Turkey. His natural leadership shows up in that he averages one command for every third verse. The overall theme is persevering while undergoing pain or remaining faithful during trials. Although his readers may “have been grieved by various trials” (1:6), it was for the purpose of being “tested [for the] genuineness of your faith” (v. 7). How tenacious is our faith? Will it remain strong when our surrounding unbelieving culture criticizes what it thinks is old-fashioned and unnecessary? Will it endure when a close loved one dies? Will it victoriously resist the temptations to sin that the world offers so frequently and attractively? If so, we will receive that reward “kept in heaven … by God’s power” (vv. 4-5), being “guarded through faith” (v. 5).
December 21 — Hebrews 1‐6 — The Greatest! Both the identity of the author of Hebrews and the time it was written is uncertain. The author knew Timothy (13:23) and speaks of temple worship as if it continued (9:6), so it appears to have been written before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Because of its strong ties to the OT, the audience seems to be Jewish Christians, and the author knew them well. It has no introduction like a letter but is a very well-constructed document composed mostly of an extended theological argument about the supremacy of Christ. In these first six chapters, Jesus is shown to be superior to angels (1:4), and because they are less than the Son of God (v. 5), they worship him (v. 6) and they minister to His saints (v. 14). Secondly, Jesus is shown to be greater than Moses; even though Moses was faithful, Jesus was “counted worthy of more glory than Moses” (3:3). Finally, He is shown to be greater than the human priesthood because the OT priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, being imperfect (5:3), but Jesus was perfect (v. 9) and was a high priest forever (v. 6). We love, worship, and obey the greatest—Jesus, the Son of God.
December 22 — Hebrews 7‐10 — Let us … In these four rich chapters of Hebrews, the author uses three “let us” phrases to give three important things to do in our New Covenant living. The first is, “let us draw near” (10:22) to God with faith since we have been cleansed by the sacrificial blood of Jesus. As we read yesterday, when we pray, we should not crawl timidly toward God but, “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (4:16). After all, we are forgiven and we are friends. Secondly, “Let us hold fast” what we believe (10:23). We are not to be “tossed to and fro … by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14); we are to know what we believe and why we believe it. Being in God’s Word every day helps us to do that. Thirdly, “let us … stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). We need to be in the larger church services every week and in a small group regularly to mutually support, teach, and encourage each other.
December 23 — Hebrews 11‐13 — Without faith … Chapter 11 is famous for its concentration on faith. It uses the expression “by faith,” or its equivalent, 25 times. and names 16 OT people who were renowned because of their faith. The kind of faith discussed here is not a cross-your-fingers hope; there is “assurance” and “conviction” involved (11:1). This chapter also stresses that faith is not just a mental attitude; it involves a confirming action. For all the people named because of their faith, what they did to demonstrate their faith is stated, e.g., Abel offered a sacrifice (v. 4) and Noah constructed an ark (v. 7). Crossing your fingers is hardly an action! The little girl who brought an umbrella to church when the farmers gathered to pray for rain was the kind of action that reveals genuine faith. Real faith does things that will be seen as unusual and odd by most other people but it is this kind of faith that pleases God, and “without faith it is impossible to please him” (v. 6). What have you read today that God has promised? Believe it! Act on it!
December 24 — 2 Timothy 1‐4 — Faithful? This is Paul’s final canonical letter, written to his good friend and son in the faith, Timothy. Paul was in a dungeon prison in Rome anticipating his death by execution, around A.D. 64-67. The main theme is to persevere in faith in the face of trouble. It is important to be faithful to the end as Paul was doing, asking for books to be brought to him for his study and writing. Not everyone will hang in there during the hard times. This letter is unusual in that it names eight individuals who were not faithful, two in each chapter. Three of them disappointed Paul in that they “turned away from me” (1:15) and “deserted me” (4:10). Two of them “swerved from the truth” (2:18) by thinking that the final resurrection had already taken place. Three of them were people who would “oppose the truth” (3:8) and “opposed our message” (4:15). Notice that five of them reacted against the truth of God’s message. It is little wonder that Paul instructed Timothy that “what you have heard from me … entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2:1). We are to be faithful in adhering to God’s truth throughout our whole life in every trial, and to be faithful in sharing the truth with others.