The Fountain of Eternal, Infinite Bliss (1 Timothy 1:11)

…the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. —1 Timothy 1:11

The gospel is a gospel of glory and the glory is the glory of God, but is Paul wanting to say something more specific than that? Is “blessed” just a chance adjective that Paul uses to describe God here such that he could have just as coincidentally said the gospel of the glory of the holy God, the immortal God, or the gracious God? 

Rewind thirteen years. I come home and tell my parents that I have good news. Specifically, I say that I have “good news of the beauty of my godly fiancé.” When I use that phrase, do I desire to tell them about her beauty in general, such that godly is a chance adjective, or is the specific beauty that is such good news the beauty of her godliness? If you know my parents then you would know that the news that would most thrill them would be the news of her godliness. When you understand the person, then you realize that the adjective isn’t a chance choice.

When you understand the persons involved in 1 Timothy 1:11, then you know that “blessed” isn’t some chance adjective, and by persons I don’t merely mean Timothy and Paul. I mean the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When you understand the Trinity, then you see that the good news is good news of the glory of God’s happiness, His eternal bliss, His unconquerable joy.

Why is God so happy? The short answer is that He is God. But our sinful minds can misunderstand that too easily. We read Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases,” and we think God is happy simply because He can do whatever He wants to do. We say we would be happy too if we were God. Like the little child that sees dad and mom staying up late, watching a movie, eating popcorn and thinks that being an adult is the happiest thing in the world because you can do whatever you want, we are naive. Their are deeper joys and complexities beyond the child’s comprehension. So it is with God, but we do get glimpses. One such glimpse is at Jesus’ baptism. There we get a snippet of how the Triune God has eternally related. The Son does the Father’s will, The Father sends the Spirit to anoint His Son and exclaims, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” No dad rising from the bleachers has ever matched God the Father’s rising from the throne, rending the sky and exclaiming His joy. The Father is happy because the perfect Son perfectly reflects His perfect glory.

God’s happiness rests ultimately not on what He does, but in who He is. God is love. God’s being love didn’t happen once upon a time. It didn’t rev up at creation. It didn’t ignite when God breathed into man the breath of life. Eternally the Father has delighted in the Son, the Son in the Father, and the Spirit in the Father and Son.

Redemption overflows from this love. Creation and redemption speak to the fullness of God’s delight in God. Why did the Father plan our redemption? For the glory of the Son (Philippians 2:8–11; Colossians 1:15–17). Why did the Son accomplish our redemption? For the glory of the Father (John 12:27–28; 14:31; 17:1-4). Why does the Spirit apply our redemption? To glorify the Son and the Father (John 15:26; 16:14).

But now for the goodest part of this goodest of news. Our redemption not only flows out of God’s joy in God, it flows into God’s joy in God. At the end of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 He asks His Father, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” With what love do you love Jesus? You love Jesus with the Father’s love for Jesus put in you by the Spirit. Your love for Jesus is an expression of the Father’s love for Jesus. Astoundingly, in John 15:9, Jesus says that He loves us as the Father has loved Him. How is this not idolatrous? Because His love for us and toward us is an expression of His love for the Father. Jesus goes on to say that He has spoken these words (Joh 15:9-11) so that His joy may be in us, and that our joy may be full. Our love for God is God’s love for God. Our joy in God is God’s joy in God.

Behold the fountain from which our salvation flows and which it flows into—the blessed triune God. This fountain is its own undiminishing source, so it is natural that it would flow back into itself. The ocean of bliss from which our salvation flows, is the fountain from which it gushed. God is the Alpha and the Omega of our salvation. Our salvation flows out of God’s delight in God, and into God’s delight in God so that we exclaim with David, “in your presence there is fulness of joy, and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).” This is the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. —Romans 11:36

Towards a Healthy Immune System (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

When you read the details of the death of some ancient, be slow to give a diagnosis. With the exception of Galatians, I’m not sure we can be very precise as to the exact heresies Paul is speaking about in various letters. We see the church with puffy eyes, and a bad cough, but we are unsure of the disease. She’s sick, but what’s the sickness? We get clues and hints and we learn of elements and emphases, but no robust heretical synopsis is presented. We jump into the middle of letters, of conversations, where much is understood by the original “to” and “from.”

I believe this is best for us and that we have received the letters as they are because of God’s gracious wisdom. Because of this fuzziness we are more inquisitive and alert concerning these heresies. Instead of a specific vaccine to combat just one virus, we develop a healthy immune system to fight against many. The lack of specificity helps us to produce generalized antibodies that attack a wide range of theological bacteria and heterodox viruses. What little we learn of the false teachers in 1 Timothy 1:4 builds an immunity to a wide spectrum of threats to the body of Christ.

It causes us to be wary of anything with a mystical flavor; anything that seeks to commune directly with Christ. For example, I remember in seminary a number of us were reading Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. At the time my diagnostic skills were not keen enough. Foster is a Quaker. Quakers emphasize looking for the light of Jesus within them. If you’ve read Foster, read him again in this light and you’ll see Scripture is generally set aside and direct communion with God by means other than Word and Sacrament are emphasized (if you’re looking for a solid book on spiritual disciplines I would commend Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life). Man’s speculations are set above God’s revelation, of which we are stewards (1 Timothy 1:4). A more widespread cousin virus goes by the name Experiencing God, that effects the body in much the same way.

Along these lines you can identify Heaven is for Real as a viral virus that has infected the body. Remember, viruses try to look like normal body cells. Here again man’s speculation is elevated above God’s revelation. I am thankful that the title is so helpful in pointing out the problem. Heaven is for Real, really? Because of a boy’s vision we now have greater assurance, peace, and faith? Never mind the Father’s infallible, inerrant, inspired, incredible words about His Son, we now have a boy’s vision. If your faith isn’t settled in the Bible, it isn’t Biblical faith (Romans 10:17). Besides Scripture’s being sidelined, compare the boy’s nonchalant, casual encounter with the risen Christ, with the awe and glory of His New Testament appearances. Compare Burpo’s book to Randy Alcorn’s excellent book Heaven. By the way, if you are a properly functioning antibody, you must alert the body for her health. We must name the virus, anything else is unloving. It matters not if the virus’ host is a little boy.

Also, bacteria like the Bible code, hidden meanings, and the prophecy specialist with his charts, dates, and antichrist suspect list now are recognized for what they are. But a bacteria that still goes unnoticed by many is those who are orthodox on paper, but whose papers are pretty hidden. The doctrine is the fine print, the experience gets the bold face, colored, graphic-designed font. Beware the church that is all about providing you an experience, and beware your own heart if that is what you are seeking. When experience becomes the priority, the doors are wide open for false teaching, both for “shepherds,” and the flock. Look at the charismatic crazies. The glue that binds together all kinds of incompatible doctrines is experience—a direct experience with the Holy Spirit, so they say.

Don’t play in man-made, putrid, stagnant, bacteria-ridden, tepid, toxic ponds, swim in the God-accomplished, God-revealed, sweet, refreshing, and pure ocean of the gospel found in the Holy Bible.

Paul Ain’t Carol Coleman or What is an Apostle? (1 Timothy 1:1-2)

You don’t have to get far into 1 Timothy in order to be able to preach a sermon. The first word will do, “Paul.” And I don’t mean a sermon that merely biographical. “This is Paul. Wow! Paul! Be like Paul!” I don’t have in mind the sermon that is repeated with every “hero” of the Bible that amounts to little more than a “baptized” morality; one of those “baptisms” where you say the person only got wet. No, I don’t mean a biographical, but a theological sermon. You can preach an expository sermon, faithful to the text, and only preach this first word, insofar as you are understanding how that word relates to the rest of the letter.

If this letter began “Larry,” it might be a great letter, doctrinally sound, and helpful in many ways, but one thing it certainly would not be is in the Bible. It is because of who Paul is that this letter is where it is, namely, in the Bible.

While I was at “Together for the Gospel” a pastor friend of mine happened upon a card, of a local, certainly not an attendee of the conference, with a picture of a woman who had taken the title, “Apostle Carol Coleman, End Time Prophetess, General in God’s Army.” We wondered what one has to do to carry the title “General in God’s Army.” But we do not have to wonder what Biblical title she should rightfully be given—“False Teacher.”

Apostleship is hand delivered by the nail-scarred hands of the resurrected Christ. Paul says that Jesus appeared to him last of all (1 Corinthians 15:8–9). When Jesus appeared to Paul He told him, “I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you (Acts 26:16).” And apostle is a sent messenger. Jesus appears to Paul not only to send, but to give Paul a message. The authority and the message were received simultaneously, for Jesus was the source, and subject of Paul’s apostleship. Paul says one who aspires to the task of an overseer desires a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1). He says nothing like this concerning apostleship, not because it isn’t a noble task, but because one may not aspire to it. The number is closed. 

In nine of Paul’s thirteen letters he mentions his apostleship in the greeting. In three of Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 Timothy) his apostleship receives special emphasis in the opening chapters. In the very greeting of two of those three (Galatians and 1 Timothy) the mention of Paul’s apostleship comes with a punch. Normally Paul would say something like, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” but here we are told that Paul is an apostle “by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” He is commanded by the One he commends. Paul received his apostleship from the One who is his message, “God our Savior, Christ Jesus our Hope.” There are no other apostles. All teaching is to be compared with that of the apostles, and no teaching  is to be esteemed above it. If you want the truth about Jesus, go to His apostles.

So when you see “Paul,” at the beginning of his letters, think that no small word. Paul’s name at the beginning of the letters we have in the New Testament means, “God’s Word.” Oh, that we would realize what we have in the 1 Timothy, and in all the Scriptures; words from the King to us through His authorized messengers.