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The Net Pastor’s Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 47, Spring 2023

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Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
Email: [email protected]

I. Strengthening Expository Preaching: Preaching The Epistles, Pt. 2

We are continuing our study of how to preach various literary genres of the Bible. In the last edition of this Journal (NPJ46), we began to study the subject of “Preaching the Epistles.” In that edition we covered the following topics…

A. The literary characteristics of the epistles.

1. The structure of epistles.

2. Common features of the epistles.

3. The function and form of epistles.

4. The historical context of the epistles.

B. Guidelines for understanding and preaching the epistles.

1. Analyze the literary structure.

2. Research the historical context.

Before continuing with the last two points (B3 and B4), I would like to illustrate what I mean by “researching the historical context” in four case studies…

Case Study #1: Philippians.

Question: What was the historical setting or occasion of the epistle to the Philippians?


a) Paul was writing them a thank you note for their financial support (2:25; 4:10-14), which support had been regular and generous right from the beginning (1:5; 4:15-16) but had been interrupted because of “lack of opportunity” (4:10), perhaps because they were experiencing some kind of financial constraint at that time.

b) The Philippian assembly was divided into factions (1:27; 4:2).

This explains Paul’s exhortations…

1. That God will supply their needs (4:19).

2. To not be anxious (4:6-7) but to be joyful (1:26; 2:18, 28; 4:4 etc.).

3. To be likeminded (1:27; 2:2; 4:2), humble (2:3), and gentle (4:5).

From this analysis you can see that, contrary to the interpretation many preachers put on this epistle, the Philippians were not an example of Christian joy. This only becomes clear when you study the historical setting and occasion. The fact is that they were lacking joy because of the disunity among them: hence, Paul’s repeated exhortations to rejoice.

Case Study #2: Philemon.

Question: What was the historical setting or occasion of the epistle to Philemon?

Answer: Onesimus was a slave who had run away from his master, Philemon, after stealing from him. Subsequently, Onesimus had become a Christian through Paul (Phil. 1:10) who was a prisoner in Rome. Under the social conditions of that time, a runaway slave could be put to death. The letter is designed to persuade Philemon to not take punitive action against Onesimus but to be reconciled to him for the following reasons…

a) Because of Christian love, not social customs (5-7).

b) Because Onesimus was Paul’s son in the faith (10).

c) Because their new relationship was brothers in Christ, not slave and master (15-16).

d) Because Philemon had certain moral obligations to Paul (18-20).

Case Study #3: 1 Corinthians.

Question: What was the historical setting or occasion of the first epistle to the Corinthians?

Answer: There were several issues that prompted this letter…

a) Their internal quarreling had led to divisions in the church, each group following a different prominent person in the church (ch. 1-4).

b) They had an instance of incest that required church discipline (ch. 5).

c) There were certain brothers suing other brothers in the public courts (ch. 6).

d) There were a number of practical and theological issues that needed addressing, about which they had written to Paul looking for answers (ch. 7-14).

This explains Paul’s many injunctions and the tone of his letter concerning…

a) Their need…

i) To be united in following Christ and him crucified (ch. 1-2).

ii) To grow up spiritually (ch. 3).

iii) To carry out public church discipline (ch. 5).

iv) To judge disputes between brothers in the church not in the courts (ch. 6).

b) Paul’s answers to their questions about…

i) The principles of marriage (ch. 7).

ii) Matters of conscience (ch. 8).

iii) Fleeing from idolatry (ch. 10).

iv) Women showing submission to men (ch. 11).

v) Proper conduct at the Lord’s table (ch. 11).

vi) The use of spiritual gifts (ch. 12-14).

Case Study #4: Ephesians.

Question: What was the historical setting or occasion for the epistle to Ephesians?

Answer: The overriding issue that Paul is dealing with here is how an ethnically diverse church (Jews and Gentiles) could exist together in harmony. Paul’s answer to this dilemma is…

a) To explain the new relationship in Christ between Jews and Gentiles in the church (ch. 1-3).

b) To exhort them to adopt new practices which reflect this new relationship (ch. 4-6).

So far, then, in preparing for preaching the epistles, we have learned the importance of (A) The literary structure of the epistles: (1) The structure of the epistles; (2) Common features of the epistles; (3) The function and form of the epistles; and (4) The historical context of the epistles. And we have proposed (B) Some guidelines for understanding and preaching the epistles: (1) Analyze the literary structure of the epistle; and (2) Research the historical context of the epistle. Now I would like to add items 3 and 4 to these guidelines for understanding and preaching the epistles…

3. Identify The Theological Ideas (the Timeless Truths and Principles). While determining the historical situation of the epistles is fundamental to understanding them correctly, nonetheless, as Graeme Goldsworthy rightly points out...

“as important as that is…the preacher is always left with the task of trying to grasp the theological principles being expressed so that they might be transferred to our contemporary situation…The specific situation, while illuminating the meaning of the text, is not itself the message. In a sermon we need to hear more than an analysis of what Paul said to the Galatians in chapter 1 of the epistle, and what motivated him to say it” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 243).

Thus, the theology of the epistles gives unity to our sermons, concerning, for example, the nature and character of God, God’s works and his ways, God’s relationship with and expectations of his people etc., with a view to bringing about the continuing transformation of God’s people to the image of his Son. So, the more we learn of God, the more we will be obedient to him, serve him, love him, speak for him etc. This theme, of course, is common to all biblical genre, since the subject of the entire Bible is the rule of God among his people – a rule that was marred by the Fall and which is now being restored (re-created) on the basis of the atoning work of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit through and in God’s redeemed people.

As we search for the theological emphases of each epistle, we should ask ourselves questions like: Why is this epistle in the Scriptures? What is its place in, and contribution to, our understanding of redemptive history? What do we learn about God’s revelation from this epistle? What does it tell us about God? What is the specific theological focus of the epistle as a whole and the passage in particular? What aspect of the nature, character, actions, expectations, and demands of God is this epistle addressing? How does all this affect and change our lives, our relationships, our beliefs etc.?

More specifically, we need to focus on what the epistles tell us about Christ - his person and his saving work, as Paul puts it: “Christ crucified…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God…Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23, 24; 2:2). Indeed, all our sermons should seek to focus on the person and work of Christ, for he is the central theme of the Scriptures (Lk. 24:27). Goldsworthy puts it this way: “No one sermon should ever be allowed to stand apart from the whole gospel-based thrust of the epistle” (Goldsworthy, 244).

The fourth step in preparing to preach the epistles is…

4. Work Out The Implications And Applications From The Passage. Having reached this stage of sermon preparation, now you are able to think about the implications of the truths in the text. By implications I mean truths derived from the text, any indirect or inferred suggestions, associated teaching, connotations, significances.

While it is vital that, as we prepare our sermons, we make sure that we understand the historical situation of the text, the theological issues being addressed and the reason why it was written, our preparation doesn’t end there. Now we need to work out how these theological truths and their implications apply to contemporary life. It is very important that we not leave any sermon in the realm of abstract concepts or ancient history. Theology properly explained is eminently practical. If the theology we preach does not lead to changes in how we live, then our sermons have failed. Our audience needs to understand the theological truths in the passage first, but then they also need to learn how to put those concepts into practice in their lives.

To do this we need to ask and answer some probing and insightful question: What is the significance of this instruction? What are the implications of this instruction? What difference does this make in my life? How does this apply to me? This is sometimes referred to as overcoming the “so what” hump – that barrier to understanding how the biblical truth connects to life, how this instruction in our contemporary context makes a difference in people’s lives.

Thus, we can see in these epistles where theology intersects with the practical needs of the recipients. Despite the fact that every epistle (as we have seen in the case studies above) was written to a specific recipient (church or individual) in a specific historical-cultural context in response to specific issues both theological and practical (i.e. real-life issues), our task as preachers is not to simply state general truth-principles but to show how those principles apply to the lives of the real people living in our generation now and in our culture, by showing how those broad theological principles affect and make a difference to all aspects of our lives– our beliefs, our attitudes, our speech, thoughts and behaviors, our relationships, the family, our values, our goals and priorities, our morality, our Christian witness and ministry etc. So, from the culturally specific issues in the passage, we derive general principles and implications and we show how those principles are applicable to all generations on matters of contemporary relevance both in the past, in the present, and in the future. Otherwise it remains words on a page rather than truth to be lived.

Let me take this one step further before we end this section. In order for our application of the truth to be effective in the lives of our hearers, we need to “concretize” the principles and issues in the text. By concretize I mean make the truth real, living, tangible, visible in such a way that people can identify where they need to change and how they will comply with these truths in their own situation. Someone has poignantly written, “A truth well-stated is excellent, but a truth well-lived is priceless” (Os Guiness, “Carpe Diem: Redeemed,” 79). Let’s make sure that our preaching is truth well-stated and well-lived by showing how it makes a difference in people’s lives.

In the next edition of this journal we will begin to study in detail the epistle to the Ephesians in order to demonstrate how understanding its literary structure, historical context, and theological ideas is fundamental to uncovering its implications and applications to contemporary life, all for the purpose of preparing to preach.

II. Strengthening Biblical Leadership: Order In The Church, 1 Tim. 1:3-11

Over the next several editions of this Pastors Journal, I will be studying parts of Paul’s pastoral letters to his young protégé, Timothy. These letters are fundamental to our understanding of the scope and responsibility of pastoral leadership. Paul’s first letter to Timothy is structured around five points (charges) of pastoral instruction regarding order in the church…

A. Concerning Pastoral Responsibilities (1:3-20)

B. Concerning Public Worship (2:1-15)

C. Concerning Pastoral Leadership (3:1-16)

D. Concerning Personal Devotion (4:1-6:2)

E. Concerning Pastoral Motives (6:3-21)

We begin in this edition with the first point of instruction on order in the church…

A. A Charge Concerning Pastoral Responsibilities (1:3-20)

Following a fairly standard introduction that names Paul as the author of this letter and Timothy as the recipient, Paul immediately launches into the first aspect of his charge to Timothy concerning pastoral responsibilities…

1. Maintain pure doctrine. The first way to maintain pure doctrine is…by combatting false doctrine (1:3-7). “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than stewardship from God that is by faith” (1:3-4).

Having previously encouraged Timothy to remain in his pastoral role at the church in Ephesus, Paul repeats that charge here, the express purpose of which is to combat false doctrine. Specifically Timothy was to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” False doctrine includes any teaching that changes the one true gospel or mixes it with other teachings. While Paul is not explicit about what these false teachings were, it seems from the context to include those listed in 1:4, the basis of which was the misuse of the Mosaic law (1:7).

There were certain men in the church who had “devoted” themselves to false teachings such as “myths and endless genealogies” (1:4a). Part of Timothy’s pastoral responsibility was to charge them to stop promoting such false teachings, which were nothing more than idle, fictional fabrications. Presumably these men were misinterpreting and misapplying the O.T. genealogies, thus promoting “speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1:4b). These false teachings bred mere speculations in the place of biblical truth, which is what genuine stewards of the gospel teach. These false teachings delude people into becoming occupied with things that are speculative and outright false. They do not engender or promote saving faith in the one true gospel, which is the responsibility of all true ministers of the gospel.

Lest Timothy should admonish these false teachers in the wrong manner or with the wrong goal, Paul quickly points out that “the aim of our charge is love” (1:5a). While myths and genealogies promote speculations, which usually produce division in the church, Timothy’s aim must be to produce in these false teachers “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1:5). The threefold foundation of such love is (1) a “pure heart,” (2) “a good conscience,” and (3) “a sincere faith.” You cannot have a good conscience without a pure heart, nor can you have sincere faith without both a pure heart and a good conscience. These three characteristics of genuine teachers of biblical truth are inextricably tied together. You cannot have one without the other, as Hebrews 10:22 affirms: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” A true (sincere) heart, a good conscience, and genuine faith go hand-in-hand. A person with a true heart is one who is transparent, straightforward, upright, and thoroughly genuine. Such a person also has the “full assurance of faith” – faith that is confident of what they believe, fully trusting the work of Christ and the security of their salvation. Furthermore, their hearts are washed clean from an evil conscience – i.e. they have a good conscience. The conscience is spoken of in the Bible as part of the function of the heart because the heart in the Bible is where moral choices are made. The conscience can be either clean or defiled, either guilty or clear, either pure or evil. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse our consciences (Heb. 9:14). Only he can give us that internal cleansing from sin, a conscience that is at peace with God, a conscience that is set free from the burden of guilt.

When these spiritual and moral characteristics are not present in teachers, all kinds of aberrant doctrines can easily and quickly spread throughout the church. Such was the case at Ephesus where “Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1:6-7). There were some false teachers in Ephesus who had “served away” from the standard required of them – namely, “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” At one time they evidently were men of upright character and pure motives, but there came a time when they swerved off course. Instead of teaching the one true gospel and pure biblical doctrine, they “wandered away into vain discussion.”

Notice that the process that led these teachers off course was gradual - they “wandered away” from the truth they once held and taught. This is what can happen when teachers in the church take their eyes off biblical truth and get caught up in “vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” They became enamored with matters that have no spiritual value, such as “myths and endless genealogies” (1:4) and “vain discussion.” It seems to have started with their “desire.” Perverted interpretations of the Scriptures, specifically the law and its relation to the gospel (cf. 1:8-11), start with the perverted “desire” of the human heart. It seems that these were teachers who loved the prominence that their position in the church and their teachings afforded them. What makes such false teachings so insidious is that these same men assumed the position of “teachers of the law” but who, in reality, did not understand what they were teaching and who, nonetheless, spoke with utter confidence about their assertions. In other words they made up for their lack of understanding of the law by verbal persuasion, by asserting that what they taught was unquestionably true.

So, Paul’s charge to Timothy concerning pastoral responsibilities is to maintain pure doctrine, first by combatting false doctrine and second…by promoting correct doctrine (1:8-11). The way to combat false doctrine is to refute it with correct doctrine. In contrast to these false teachers who didn’t know what they were talking about, genuine teachers of Scripture are those who “know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1:8). While the term “the law” probably includes the law in general, it most probably refers specifically to the Mosaic law which the false teachers were falsely interpreting and applying. But, Paul says, the law does not need to be reinterpreted to suit contemporary society or new philosophies, or academic studies. No, “the law is good,” but there is a condition attached to its use and application, namely “if one uses it lawfully.” Simply put, teachers of the law of God must interpret and apply it in accordance with the author’s original intention and meaning. That’s how we are to use the law. We are not permitted to reinterpret it to suit modern thinking and behavior.

To properly teach the law we need to understand its purpose (1:9-10). “The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient” (1:9a). Here is the contrast in the purpose of the law. It is not for “the just” - those who live uprightly before God and civil authorities - nor is the law “a terror to good conduct” (Rom. 13:1-7). Rather the law is designed for those who are “lawless and disobedient” – those who disregard and disobey the law. This general group for whom the law was designed is divided into four subcategories…

First, the law was meant “for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane” (1:9b). This subcategory describes those who, in general, oppose God, who blaspheme his name, who have no place for God in their lives.

Second, the law was meant “for those who strike their fathers and mothers” (1:9b). This subcategory describes those who rebel against common decency and the law of God, those who rebel against and thoroughly ignore the natural relationship between family members. They have not only lost any sense of decency and affection for their parents but have abrogated God’s law (cf. Ex. 20:12; 21:15).

The third subcategory describes those who are a danger to society, “murderers” (1:9c). This egregious expression of utter lawlessness violates the sixth commandment, for which the punishment was death (Ex. 20:13; Num. 35:16).

The fourth subcategory describes those who pervert society in general: “The sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers” (1:10a). This fourth and final grouping includes all who practice obscene sexual offenses (like fornication and homosexuality), those who enslave other human beings, liars and perjurers who cause chaos in society, especially those societies which rely on the rule of law in order to function properly. And just to ensure that the list doesn’t miss anyone, Paul embraces every other activity, behavior, relationship, and attitude in “whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1:10b). Anything that fails to manifest goodness, uprightness, honesty, and purity is contrary to the law and sound doctrine. Sound doctrine is always “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (1:11). There is always perfect consistency between lawful behavior and gospel truth.

Final Remarks. This, then, is Paul’s first charge to this young pastor Timothy. We learn here that those in church leadership are responsible to combat false doctrine, which requires not only (on the negative side) opposing and correcting false teachers, but also (on the positive side) teaching and promoting biblical truth.

One of the reasons our ministry here at IBP exists is “To strengthen the church in biblical preaching and leadership.” We are thoroughly committed to the discipline of expository preaching, which we promote and teach whenever and wherever possible. In order for the church to function properly, expository preaching goes hand-in-hand with biblical leadership. We are convinced that the most authoritative aspect of church leadership is the exposition of God’s word, which not only explains and applies the truth to the congregation, but also rebukes those who are opposed to the truth and corrects those who are in error (1 Tim. 5:20).

As we work our way through certain passages in 1 Timothy, may the Lord use these studies to encourage and equip you in your role as a leader in the church of Christ.

III. Sermon Outlines

Title: Learning from Jesus – Seeing Jesus’ Glory (Matt. 17:1-9)

Subject: The transfiguration of Jesus

Theme: What may seem good to us may not be the best – the best thing is to focus on Jesus only.

Structure: This episode in Jesus’ ministry is structured around (1) what we see and (2) what we hear.

Point I. We see a glorious transformation (17:1-2)

1. The glory of God is reflected in Jesus’ face (17:2a)

2. The holiness of God is displayed in Jesus’ clothing (17:2b)

Point II. We hear a revealing conversation (17:3-9)

1. It’s a conversation about who Jesus is (17:3)

a) He is the fulfillment of the law (Matt. 5:17)

b) He is the fulfillment of the prophets (Matt. 5:17)

2. It’s a conversation about what’s most important (17:4-6)

a) It’s not about us and what we can do for Jesus (17:4)

b) It’s about Jesus and what he has done for us (17:5-6)

3. It’s a conversation about listening to Jesus (17:7-9)

a) When we listen to Jesus, he banishes our fear (17:7)

b) When we listen to Jesus, he becomes all-absorbing (17:8-9)

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