Author Archives: Bryan Collier

Bryan Collier ~ Faithfulness

Most of us are familiar with John 15—it is particularly central to my life and to the life of the local church that I pastor, The Orchard UMC.  It is from Jesus’ command there, “to go and bear fruit” that we take our name, vision and mission.

Most of us are familiar with the flow: Jesus begins with an eight-verse reminder to abide in him, for apart from him we can do nothing.  Then there is a nine-verse reminder that we are loved and we should love one another as we have been loved. It is out of the overflow of these two relationships—with Jesus and with one another—that fruit is borne.  The fifteenth chapter finishes up with a ten-verse revelation that this message and we who are the messengers will not be well received by the world—Jesus says, it hated him and it will hate us—but he sends us anyway.

Lost on me for most of my life is the eighth verse.  It gets lost primarily because it follows the seven verses about abiding in Jesus and appears before the verses about love and so, thus wedged in, it gets read, but read over.

John 15:8 says, “By this my Father receives great glory, that you bear much fruit.”

My education in that verse came at a place called the Greater Soul Deliverance Apostolic Tabernacle and Revival Center.  During my Doctor of Ministry program I was assigned to do an ethnography of a congregation unlike any I had ever been a part of.  So my study partner and I opened the phone book and choose the Greater Soul Deliverance Apostolic Tabernacle and Revival Center.  I could tell many stories, but I will tell just this one; we went there for Wednesday night prayer meeting and when we entered there were people kneeling in front of the pews and using the seats as rests for their elbows and they were all praying out loud at the same time.  They were calling loudly on the name of Jesus to do a mighty work in whatever circumstance they were bringing to him.  Initially disconcerted a little bit, I finally walked down the aisle, found a pew and knelt down and began to pray.

This was about the time when I knew I was returning to Mississippi to plant a new congregation and in prayer I presented my “plan” for this new work to God.  I had in my mind and had set as my goal that we would reach 500 people in the first five years of this new church and I thought God would be impressed by such a lofty goal.  It was almost as if I sat down across the desk from God and slid my offer sheet across to him then leaned back and said, “what do you think about that?” Then, as audibly as I have ever heard the voice of God, he said, “Is that all?”  God continued, “Is that all it is going to be about?  What you can do?  How many you can count?  Or, could I do something so amazing that when people see it they give me glory instead of you?”  John 15:8 says, “by this my FATHER receives great glory, that you bear much fruit.”  God was saying that he wanted to do something so amazing that it was obvious that he was at work!

This is the story that God has been writing for the last 18 years at The Orchard, and I believe it is the story that God wants to write in every place and in every church.  I believe God wants to do something so amazing in our places that people say, “That must be God.”

The real danger whenever a group of leaders gather is that we strategize, theorize, philosophize and idealize—and those are all good and wonderful things, but only as we aim all of those efforts toward being faithful (not at being successful).  We cannot get caught in working for the redemption of the United Methodist Church when our Lord and Savior came not for the redemption of one denomination but for the redemption of humankind.  We cannot get caught working for the advancement of the church, when Jesus was only concerned about the advancement of the Kingdom.  Those things are not necessarily opposed to one another, but the first thing must come first and the second thing must come second.

One of the things that we say to each other around The Orchard is, “If we will do what is right for the Kingdom of Christ, it will always be what is right for the church.”  But we don’t want to get caught working that equation the other way because the result is very different.  Every time we get these things backwards it is a pursuit of our glory over God’s glory, and if we are not careful it becomes our work for God instead of God’s work that we join him in…which is the only soil for faithfulness.

Bryan Collier ~ Benefit of the Doubt: How Can A Loving God Send People to Hell?

How can a loving God send people to hell? 

The text comes from John 3:16-21:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

Before we get to unpacking the text, let me say right up front that the question, “how does a loving God send people to hell?” is not about hell. So in this sermon we are not going to decide if hell is hot or hell is cold.

What I want you to know is that this is not a sermon about hell or the existence of it.  To even ask the question, “how does a loving God send people to hell?” makes two assumptions if only for the sake of argument—there is a hell and hot, cold whatever—it is a bad place. And there is a distinction I would like to make about hell that is important for our question today: hell is a Godless place.  God is not there. That is the only thing about hell relevant to our question today, because the question, “how could a loving God send people to hell?” is a question about the character of God.

We could assert that there is no hell.  The Bible and certainly Jesus himself points at the existence of hell repeatedly; so if you are a believer, to say that there is no hell is simply an act of denial.

We could assert that there is a hell but that no one goes there.  But Jesus repeatedly points out those people that are in danger of hell or certain ways of living which are leading people toward hell.  In Matthew 5:30 Jesus says, “…if your hand—even your strong hand—causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  That points at the reality of hell, that some people will go there and the seriousness with which we are to deal with choices that are leading us down that path.

So if we assent that there is a hell and people do go there we are only left with one question. What is the character of a God who would send people to hell?

Well the Bible provides God’s revealing of himself. It points out that God is:

  • Loving (1 John 4:8) (We also have John 3:16 – for God so loved the world.)
  • Good (Psalm 145:9)
  • Merciful (Ephesians 2:4)
  • Patient (2 Peter 3:9) for our good
  • Redemptive (Romans 6:23)

This does not negate that God is also:

  • Holy—the Triune God can’t tolerate sin (1 Peter 1:16)
  • Righteous—or our sinful actions and attitudes (Psalm 145:17)
  • Just—that there are consequences of both that God cannot ignore (Psalm 36:5-6)

These are reasons that someone might point to as to why God sends people to hell. But God has satisfied the demands of his holiness, righteousness and justness by his loving, good, patient, redemptive plan. To satisfy the price of humanity’s unholiness, unrighteousness and lawlessness—God who is loving, good, merciful and patient paid the price for us.

There is one other action of God that points to his character that must be highlighted—the Incarnation.  God’s desire to be near us was so great he came to be with us.  When we could not go to him, he came to us…and he came to us to give his life for us.

If this is the nature and character of God why create hell in the first place?

Because even though God’s great love and desire is to be near us, and even though we were created to be near God, God does not force us or make us love him back or even force us to be near him.

So hell exists because just as some choose to be with God some will choose to be without God.

God does not want it.  In fact, because we were created to be with God, hell wasn’t even created for us.  In Matthew 25:41 Jesus says that hell was created for the devil and his angels—those who wanted to be without God.

Do you know what this means?  A loving, good, merciful, patient, redeeming God never meant for anyone to go to hell—it is not his desire or design. So why do people go to hell?

God’s light came into the world, but the people loved the darkness more than the light for their actions were evil.A loving, good, merciful, patient, redemptive God makes a way for people to come to him and find life—but some prefer death.  Some prefer darkness. Hell is not a place God sends us to. Hell is something we choose and God in his judgment lets us have what we choose.

One of the simplest ways to understand this that I know is this: every thought, every action, every attitude of the heart that we experience is either life-giving or life-taking.  God’s way is life-giving.  The world’s way, our way, is life-taking.  There really are no neutral thoughts, actions, attitudes. They are either life-giving or life-taking.

At birth I am predisposed to life-taking decisions.  But God is already at work in my life from the moment of conception, calling me, loving me, caring for me, and providing for me, standing in the path of my life-taking decisions.

  • At some point I come face to face with him and I am, by his grace, reoriented and changed toward life-giving (God’s way) and I begin to choose life-giving.  He becomes the center of my life, he is the priority, he is the King.  It doesn’t mean that I never choose life-taking—but my life has been transformed by God and I desire and pursue life-giving.
  • Or I decide I don’t want to be near God, to walk with God, walking in life-giving ways…I want to be life-taking.  I want it to be about me.  I want a life with me as the center, with me as the priority, and with me as the king. When we do this God says, “have it your way.” But you need to understand you get all that comes with “having it your way.”

And that choice is choosing hell.

The hit TV show “Breaking Bad” follows the story of Walter White, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who, after receiving a terminal diagnosis, turns to cooking crystal meth to provide for his family. As he develops a taste for the trade, Walt slowly turns into a bold but degenerate thug. But the show doesn’t soft-peddle the consequences of sin. The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, said, “If there’s a larger lesson to ‘Breaking Bad,’ it’s that actions have consequences. I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something.”

In one of the most memorable scenes of season four, the biblical implications of Gilligan’s vision become clear. Walt’s younger accomplice Jesse Pinkman commits murder and then attends a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in hopes of finding relief. After Jesse shares a thinly veiled version of his crime, the group leader counsels self-acceptance. “We’re not here to sit in judgment,” he says, to which Jesse explodes: “Why not? Why not? If you just do stuff and nothing happens, what’s it all mean? What’s the point? So no matter what I do, hooray for me because I’m a great guy? It’s all good? No matter how many dogs I kill, I just—what, do an inventory, and accept?”

It’s not surprising that Vince Gilligan believes in hell and judgment for human sin. He said, “I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.”

Be assured that hell does not exist because God is stomping his feet like a little child saying, “do it my way or else!”  God is the most generous, loving, wonderful being in the cosmos.  He has made us for a purpose: to relate to him and others lovingly.  We are not accidents, we are not random mistakes. If we have a relationship with him and choose over and over again to live for the purposes for which we were created—a purpose by the way which would allow us to flourish more than any other way of living—then we get heaven now and eternally.  But if we reject a loving God’s offer of relationship and choose over and over again to reject the purposes for which we were created—then God will have absolutely no choice but to give us what we’ve asked for all along in our lives: separation from him. And that is hell.

God hates hell and he hates that people are going there.  When people go there it is because they choose too.

There are only two kinds of people – those who say “thy will be done” to God or those to whom God, in the end, says “thy will be done.” All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it (see The Reason for God by Timothy Keller).

How can a loving God send people to hell?  The answer is simply…God is honoring their decision.

A decision to live a life separate from Him—the loving, good, merciful, patient, redemptive God—who wants to be have a relationship with them.

Maybe that is you today…

Bryan Collier ~ Intoxicated: The Power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:12-2:13)

We’ve started a sermon series entitled Intoxicated. The word comes from a misunderstanding about what was happening in the lives of the disciples when the Holy Spirit fell on them. It was such an inexplicable experience that those who were seeing the effects accused them of being drunk!

But something else was going on. Jesus has promised them the Holy Spirit in his bodily absence for work in their lives and work in the world, and he had gone to great lengths to explain what that was going to look like. Even though the world would misunderstand what was happening, they would know and understand what God was up to in the life of the follower of Jesus: they would have his constant presence: I will no longer be with you – there’s something better…I will be IN you! And they would have constant guidance: the Spirit will guide you into all truth, teach you about me and remind you of what I have said. And the Holy Spirit in the world would convict the world of its sin and brokenness, reveal God’s right way, and make way for the judgment: the impending collision of the world’s way and God’s way.

Now they were at that moment. The promised Holy Spirit, the promised power was poured out on them; and along with the misunderstanding came the unexpected!


But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8

The disciples knew what Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would do. They just didn’t know how the Holy Spirit would do what Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would do. Jesus had generalized the “how” by saying, “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will receive power for…

Last week we listened in on Jesus explaining to his followers what the Holy Spirit was going to do in them and in the world and how that was going to be unexplainable to the world. But Jesus wasn’t a whole lot more specific with the disciples—here is what is going to happen. Here is how that is going to happen—you will receive power. The rest you will have to wait for.

So I think the disciples were surprised themselves. I think while it was unexplainable for the world, much of what happened when the promise of power was fulfilled was unexpected by the disciples.

What was the effect of the power of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the disciples?

Patience (Acts 1:12-13)

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying.      Acts 1:12-13

Jesus breathed on them the Holy Spirit (in John 20:22). It was a moment before the full-time fulfilling; it was an appetizer before the feast.

Jesus had told them and they believed that God was up to something and they would rather be about something with God than about something without him.

No doubt, in the excitement of the resurrection and the interactions with the living Christ they could have rushed out to do something for Jesus—but the power of the Holy Spirit had breathed into them the power of patience to wait because Jesus had said “wait.”

Unity (Acts 1:24)

Quite possibly the most stunning evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples in a temporary portion before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s constant presence is found in verse 24.

Disciples whose history is arguing over who is greatest (Mark 9:33-35) and clamoring for prominent positions (Mark 10:35-45) shouldn’t be expected to be agreeable about who the replacement disciple should be or the process for selecting that disciple. But these disciples are different.

There is a spirit of unity…the Holy Spirit has fallen on them and they pray, “O Lord, you know every heart. Show us which of these men YOU have chosen…”

We don’t want what we want…we want what you want.

They were unified, aligned with God’s will more than their personal desires.

They had seen and believed that what God had for them was more and better and higher than anything they could procure for themselves. And so patient and unified, waiting expectantly for what Jesus had promised, the power they had experienced in measure now fell in all its fullness.

The Spirit Fell (Acts 2:1-4)

They were all together in one place and the Holy Spirit, the promised power came in the sound of a roaring mighty windstorm and flames of fire on each of them.

There is, of course, nothing necessarily sensory about the Holy Spirit. Yet God in his providence often accompanies his Spirit’s working by visible and audible signs.

Wind it is everywhere, constant; Ezekiel had prophesied of the wind as the breath of God blowing over the dry bones in the valley of his vision and filling them with new life (Ezekiel 37:9-14), and it was this wind of God’s Spirit that Judaism looked forward to as ushering in the final Messianic Age.

Fire as a symbol of the divine presence was well known among first-century Jews (the burning bush [Exodus 3:2-5], the pillar of fire that guided Israel by night through the wilderness [Exodus 13:21], the consuming fire on Mount Sinai [Exodus 24:17], and the fire that hovered over the wilderness tabernacle [Exodus 40:38]).

Luke’s main point is that this “sound like the blowing of a violent wind” that “came from heaven” and “filled the whole house” symbolized to all present—in a manner well within their appreciation—the presence of God’s Spirit among them in a way more intimate, personal, and powerful than they had ever before experienced.

And it happened to them while together…but the power of the Holy Spirit fell on – note these key words—”each of them and everyone…” No one was left out. Every believer received the Holy Spirit.

And this up-close-ness, this power produced in them…


Look what happened…disciples who had gathered in the upper room moved outside.

Before, in the post-crucifixion days, the disciples hid in the upper room out of fear of the Jews (John 20:19); they now gathered in great expectation of the promise of the Holy Spirit and when the Holy Spirit fell, they went out into the public arena—boldly, fearlessly, and faithfully to use the…


We will take a closer look at the varieties of gifts that are given by the power of the Holy Spirit, but in this instance, the power expresses itself in languages.

Notice, what the disciples are speaking are known languages. They are not speaking in tongues—a gift we will hear more about in a couple of weeks. They are speaking in languages that they had not learned but were common to the people who had gathered from all over the region.

The people who hear this phenomenon are bewildered. Galileans had difficulty pronouncing gutturals and had the habit of swallowing syllables when speaking; so they were looked down upon by the people of Jerusalem as being provincial (cf. Mark 14:70). Therefore, since the disciples who were speaking were Galileans, it bewildered those who heard because the disciples could not by themselves have learned so many different languages.

Why this gift at this moment? Verse 11 gives us some guidance—so that the people who had never heard the “wonderful things God has done!” can hear and understand!

And so we are given an answer to why the power of the Spirit comes at Pentecost to live in the life of every follower of Jesus…

By the Holy Spirit’s power, patience, unity, fearlessness and gifts are all manifested, poured out and given to the followers of Jesus for…

The Announcement of the Wonderful Things God Has Done

The disciples do this as a Holy Spirit-filled group and in the section immediately following, Peter does this as an individual. He steps up to preach.

We will see that not everyone is a proclaimer, but everyone, by the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives, is to be an “announcer of the wonderful things God has done.”

If we return to Acts 1:8 and to the description of what Jesus says we will do when the power comes upon us, this is what he says: “you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere.”

That word witness in the original language is martus. You don’t have to be a language scholar to figure that word out do you? Do you know any other word that sounds like martus? How about martyr? This is the same word—Jesus says, “When the Holy Spirit comes you will receive power—and the result of that is that you will give your life for this—telling people about me everywhere and announcing the wonderful things God has done.

The power of the Holy Spirit falls on the disciples today because the Holy Spirit does what needs to be done in the lives of the followers of Jesus so that God can do through them what needs to be done in the world.

Is there scatteredness? The Holy Spirit unifies.

Is there anxiety or fear? The Holy Spirit instills a spirit of fearlessness.

Is there concern for a lack of giftedness or ability? The Holy Spirit pours out gifts.

So that the purposes of God might be accomplished in the world; and what is this purpose?

That all may know him, know his love and experience the new life that only God can give.

God doesn’t give people the Holy Spirit in order to let them enjoy the spiritual equivalent of a day at Disneyland.  Of course, if you’re downcast and gloomy, the fresh wind of God’s Spirit can and often does give you a new perspective on everything, and above all grants a sense of God’s presence, love, comfort, and even joy.  But the point of the Spirit it is to enable those who follow Jesus to take into all the world the news that he is Lord, that he has won the victory over the forces of evil, that a new world has opened up, and that we are to help make it happen.

And for the accomplishment of this purpose, God promises every Christian power.

So What?

Is there a misunderstanding on your part of who the Holy Spirit is or what the Holy Spirit does? The Holy Spirit is the constant presence of Christ, the constant guidance of Christ in you. The Holy Spirit gives the promise of power to overcome our impatience, disunity and our fears; the Holy Spirit fulfills the promise of power to gift you to do the work of God in the world.

A.W. Tozer was a pastor from rural Pennsylvania who spent over 30 years pastoring, preaching and writing in Chicago. His down-to-earth nature has made his writing popular for over 50 years now. I try to start my morning at the office by reading his devotional for the day and this past week he had something for me that clarified what an amazing gift God gives us in the power of the Holy Spirit. And he raised it in one sentence—“we have to ask ourselves are we simply holding on to the painted mane of the painted horse, repeating a trip of insignificant circles to a pleasing musical accompaniment?”

Let me explain what was clarified for me: on an almost daily basis I am persuaded by the world that I live in a mechanistic world where I am what I produce. I can believe, quite easily, that I was created to pick up a screw put it in a hole, pick up a screw put it in a hole, pick up a screw put it in a hole, clock out and go home. In that kind of world, I can question why I am here and whether what I do really matters in any way beyond the provision of goods and services and the earning of an income. I can feel like I am simply holding on to the painted mane of the painted horse repeating a trip of insignificant circles to a pleasing musical accompaniment.

But – God says, “I have a plan for you.” And that plan goes beyond loving me and redeeming me. He didn’t suffer, die and live again so I could joyfully play in the yard for the rest of my life, oblivious to his plan that moves from promise to power to purpose.

I am God’s plan for turning the world upside-down. You are God’s plan for turning the world upside-down. And for this reason, Jesus promised and God pours out power on every follower of Jesus.

Power that unifies also emboldens and gifts for the purpose of telling the wonderful things that God has done in our own unique way. So that the power of the resurrection let loose in us is let loose through us into the world.

And so dear friends, you might not have expected this…but let there be no misunderstanding…there is power promised to you because you are God’s plan for telling the world the wonderful things He is doing!

The power of the Holy Spirit is given to every follower of Jesus, but sometimes it is hemmed in by our rushing out to do something for Jesus ahead of the Spirit. And sometimes the Holy Spirit is hemmed in by our reluctant spirit to do anything at all. Sometimes the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is hemmed in by our fears or our convictions that we aren’t gifted enough. Jesus, turn the power of the Holy Spirit loose in my life.


Bryan Collier ~ Living With Others in Mind

We are examining this Teacher-Student-Teacher relationship between Paul, who invested in Timothy and expected Timothy to invest in others as a model for not only how, but what to pass “downline.”

Last week we opened in chapter 1 of 1 Timothy where Paul, before teaching even the first “what,” sets the context – Grace. Everything that will be taught, should be taught in the context of Grace. Paul points at the Grace of God for us and then calls us to be examples of grace by being givers of grace.

This week in chapter 2 Paul picks up the first theme that he wants to pass on to Timothy and wants Timothy to pass on to others.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:1-15)

A Difficult Text

When we were looking at the plan for preaching over the summer and felt really led by the Holy Spirit to spend the summer in preaching through 1 and 2 Timothy, I wasn’t really paying attention to the details of 1 Timothy chapter 2. We can all acknowledge that this is a very difficult text. I would absolutely agree that it is a difficult text—but I think it is difficult for a different reason that you might expect. It is not difficult to understand. It is difficult because most of us (I would guess especially the women) don’t like what it has to say.

I want to tell you right up front that this is a difficult text for reasons I want to walk through with you today—that is, this text is difficult because it is very hard to do what it asks us to do and here is what it asks us to do—live your life with others in mind. 

Now lets talk about the details and work our way back to this truth. As Paul begins to instruct Timothy he begins by saying…

Pray for All People (2:1-4)

I urge you…pray for all people.

That doesn’t sound too controversial does it? I mean, simple enough, pray for everybody.

But Paul particularizes what he means by All…

Pray for the Kings. Again, simple enough right? However, the weight of this command can only be seen when we remember that the Roman Emperor when Paul wrote this Epistle was the cruel monster Nero—who later put Paul and Peter to death. Paul is urging that we pray for our present rulers, no matter how unreasonable they may seem to be.

This is foreign to us. I doubt many Republicans pray regularly for our Democratic President, at least not good prayers for him. I doubt many Democrats prayed regularly for our Republican President when we had one. Complain about him, yes. Whine about him, yes. Criticize him, yes. How about pray for him?

Paul also adds to pray for “all those in authority” in various levels of government. The purpose of this is very logical and significant: “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and honesty.” The fact that we are permitted to assemble peaceably for public worship is dependent on our rights under law—law as upheld and enforced by our legislators, administrators, and judicial leaders. Pray for them.

Then Paul connects prayer and the way we live to the salvation of all humanity. He says, “our praying and our quiet lives of godly dignity please God. So, Pray and live in a way that everyone is saved and comes to understand the truth.” Obviously everyone includes kings and those in authority and “everyone else.”

So pray for everyone. Ask God to help them, give thanks for them and pray for them to come to a saving knowledge and understanding of the truth. Now I want to ask you–who or what is the focus of the prayers that Paul is instructing Timothy to offer? Others.

When we compare what Paul instructs Timothy to do with what our most basic prayers often sound like what we find is that Paul says the focus of prayer is others but most often we experience that the focus of prayer is me. Help me, give me, guide me, show me, lead me, teach me.

Paul’s instruction to Timothy regarding prayer is to make your enemies, that leader you don’t agree with, that leader you don’t respect, those in authority over you and the unknowing, unbelieving world—make them the focus of your prayers. Live your life with others in mind and specifically, pray your prayers with others in mind.

But he doesn’t stop there…

Men: Live Lives of Integrity (2:8)

“In every place of worship I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God.” Lifting up one’s hands in prayer is often mentioned in the Old Testament (e.g., 1 Kings 8:22; Psalms 141:2; 143:6). It is a natural gesture, indicating earnest desire.

The word for holy here is “devout, sincere, pleasing to God” (The word “holy” here is not the more common hagios, but hosios, which means “devout, pious, pleasing to God”). Paul says, I want men’s lives to match their prayers.

What did he just tell them to pray for? Others. So what is he telling them to live for? Others.

This “devout, sincere, pleasing to God” prayer is the directive to live in right relationship with God—to be at peace with God—to not live in the tension between praying one thing and doing another. Let your prayers and your life be aligned. Pray for others and work for and live for others.

And that means not only live in right relationship with God, but live in right relationship with the other people God has put in your world.

Paul is echoing the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:23-24 where he commands, “so if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

Men: let your living for others match your praying for others. This means dealing with the division between you and God and the division between you and others.

Live your life with others in mind.

Women: Live Lives of Modesty and Submission (2:9-12)

This is no doubt the most controversial part of the text today.

To understand exactly what is at stake we have to see it against its historical background. This passage is written against a Greek background.

Ephesus, where Timothy was when this letter was written to him, was an ancient Greek city. Ephesus was the home of the Temple of Diana the Greek goddess with hundreds of priestesses who were sacred prostitutes. The Temple of Aphrodite in Corinth also had thousands of priestess prostitutes—who were constantly displaying themselves and drawing attention to themselves with elaborate dress, jewelry and hairstyles. This was part of Greek culture and specifically at Ephesus.

Add to this the fact that the respectable Greek woman led a very confined life. She lived in her own quarters into which no one but her husband came. She did not regularly appear at meals and only rarely in any public assembly and never on the street alone—because someone would have concluded she was a temple prostitute.

When we understand this about the culture, we see a little more clearly why Paul wrote what he wrote to Christian women. The Christian woman is not to adorn herself with “gold or pearls or expensive clothes” so as to draw attention to herself. This is what the prostitutes did. Rather, Christian women are to adorn themselves “with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

It is important to note that Paul does not forbid jewelry or dresses or attractive hairstyles. What Paul instructs is a decent and orderly and appropriate way so that when people notice you they don’t notice those things—they notice the good things you do in the name of God (2:9-10).

Likewise, Paul’s instruction for women to not teach men and to learn quietly. If in any Greek town Christian women had taken an active and speaking part in the work of the church, the church would inevitably have gained the reputation of being the resort of prostitutes—because those were the only women who had a public life.

Paul did not forbid women from an adorned life, but instructed them to pursue a life that was rightly adorned (appropriate dress, jewelry and hairstyle) and consisted of appropriate action (actions that pointed to God and not to themselves). And Paul did not prohibit a public life, but in this context, in public, an orderly life—a life that did not draw attention to itself either by an overly public life of teaching and leading. Jesus and Paul valued women their gifts and their ministry and elevated them to places that society and culture in no way afforded them.

Yet in Paul’s ministry:

  • Eodia and Syntyche were women who labored in the Gospel (Philippians 4:2-3)
  • Philip the evangelist had four daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9)
  • Lois and Eunice were held in the highest honor (2 Timothy 1:5)
  • Phoebe was a deacon in the church in Cenchrea (Romans 16:1)
  • And Paul’s summary statement is in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So what are we to make of Paul’s clearly high view of women and their gifts compared to his statements here? That there is some specific reason that Paul is telling Timothy to tell the Christian women in Ephesus to dress modestly, draw attention to yourselves by actions that point at God and live an orderly life. Do you know what that specific reason is?  Paul is telling the women—Live with Others in Mind.

Live with others in mind—pray for everyone—even the king who is persecuting you.

Live with others in mind—men—let your life match your prayers—pray for others/live for others.

Live with others in mind—women—don’t draw attention to yourselves—live a life that points at God. This living with others in mind could be confusing—because I thought we were supposed to live with God in mind—his purposes, his plan, his glory and acclaim.

If you will notice there is a section of scripture vv 5-7 that we passed over. In all of the writings of Paul there is an intent to declare the central truths of the faith. Paul includes that teaching here. He articulates four central truths:

  1. There is only one God
  2. And one Mediator—Christ Jesus
  3. He (Jesus) gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.
  4. At God’s appointed time.

Why does Paul sandwich those truths here between his call to pray for others and his call for men and women to live for others?

He is saying, “Here is why I am asking you to do this: Jesus did this for you.”

The Son of God became Mediator—he gave his life with you in mind. He gave his life to purchase freedom for you.

When Paul writes to the Philippians he says it this way:

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

In case you missed it, Paul begins that passage with “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” As his people, we do what he did—we live our lives with others in mind. Verse 3: this is good and pleases God our Savior.

The very easy application from today’s sermon is to tell you to pray for everyone, the President, the congress, the Govenor and the legislature, the Mayor, and the city council.

But the harder call is to actually live your whole life with others in mind.

We live in a country whose fundamental tenant is freedom. But that central tenet has regrettably devolved into to non-consideration/personal freedom at the expense of others. “I can do what I want to do, say what I want to say, dress how I want to dress…and it is my right…I don’t care what you say—or more significantly how it affects you.” But Paul says, Christians—followers of Jesus—follow Jesus in Living your Lives with Others in Mind.

They not only pray for others—they live for others. And if that means changing the way we think and act and dress and behave for the benefit of others—we do.

You want to know what to pass down the line? It is this: your life is not your life. It is Christ’s, and Christ would have you live your life with others in mind.

Bryan Collier ~ Beforehand Grace

Prevenient grace does not depend on any power or merit in man; no, not in any degree, neither in whole, nor in part. It does not in any wise depend either on the good works or righteousness of the receiver; not on anything he has done or anything he is. It does not depend on his endeavors. It does not depend on his good tempers, or good desires, or good purposes and intentions; for all these flow from the free grace of God. They are the streams only, not the fountain. They are the fruits of grace, and not the root. They are not the cause, but the effects of it. Whatsoever good is in man, or is done by man, God is the author and doer of it. Thus is his grace free in all that is no way depending on any power or merit in man, but on God alone, who freely gave us his own Son, and with him freely gives us all things (Romans 8:32) (John Wesley)

Paul wrote the book of Titus to his co-worker who was sent to Crete to correct some problems among the churches there. One of the glaring problems was leadership. More complicated however, was a wrong understanding of God’s work that expressed itself in two extremes, with the same damning result. This wrong understanding was so significant that in a book with only three chapters, Paul devotes two of them fully to the issue.

The issue was that the Cretans thought their relationship with God or lack of relationship was about them. The two extremes of that belief for the Cretans could have been articulated in this way. (1) My relationship with God is what it is because I am good enough, or (2) My relationship with God is what it is because I am not good enough. Paul wrote to Titus to help him address this deadly problem where, though the two major strains of thought were polar opposites, they were equally destructive because both were wrong about the one at the center of a relationship with God.

Why does this matter to us? Because approximately 2000 years later we are still a bunch of Cretans. When I look in the mirror, I see a Cretan—someone who by my actions, emotions and thoughts, celebrates or aches and moans over my spiritual condition—depending on which of these two wrong understandings I buy into today. When the relationship is good: my relationship with God is what it is because I am good enough. I work hard at it, I read my Bible, I go to small group, I go to church, I serve, I pray, I fast. When the relationship is bad: my relationship with God is what it is because I am not good enough. I don’t read my Bible, I am not in a small group, I don’t pray, I don’t fast, etc.

So in my broken understanding of relationship I have placed myself at the center. Paul, however, clearly points to God as initiator and the central Actor in this drama. Titus 3:4 opens—“When God…” and continues “…he revealed…he washed…he generously poured out…he declared.”

Paul is pointing out that before we could take any steps toward God, God reached out to us. God acted on our behalf while we were still “foolish and disobedient” (3:3). God came looking for us.

My wife and I met as freshmen in college and when you are young and infatuated you spend almost every waking moment together (at least that is what she told me!). My classes were on one side of campus and hers were on the complete opposite side of the school. But, between certain classes, if I hurried, I could get to a spot where she would be walking by and I could say hi or catch a glimpse or hold her hand for a minute. I ordered my day to be with her, and when I couldn’t be with her I worked for any snippet of time, any planned chance meeting so that I could be near her. Sounds like stalking doesn’t it? But it wasn’t.

God orchestrates life so that we are constantly bumping into him. God wants to catch any time with us, any snippet, any chance meeting to be near us (John 6:44, Acts 17:28, 2 Timothy 1:5). This same God initiated, gave that beforehand grace that is a part of every human being’s life. 2.11 tells us that “the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to ALL people…and this is true no matter which of those Chapter 3 verse 3 descriptors describes us.

The question is are we paying attention? Because our relationship with God is NOT what it is because we are good enough or because we are not good enough. It is what it is because we are paying attention to the God who is trying to get our attention or we are not. This is the work of God’s prevenient, beforehand grace.