Is Christianity an Exclusive Religion?

1 Timothy 2

1I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God’s mercy upon them, and give thanks. 2Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. 3This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. 6He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time. 7And I have been chosen—this is the absolute truth—as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles about faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-7, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

One of the criticisms I often hear when talking to others about Christ is that Christianity claims to be exclusive. These claims of exclusivity are seen as a negative in our culture, which values freedom of thought, and in the name of tolerance, often validates any and all views, no matter how outlandish or illogical.

It’s absolutely true that Christianity claims to be true and  on certain doctrinal matters it is exclusive.

In this passage of 1 Timothy 2, Paul is urging his audience to pray for everyone, including kings and those in authority. I previously wrote about the need to pray for our political rivals here.

Paul gives the reason why we should pray for others, even those who are in authority over us and with whom we might disagree – God wants everyone to be saved and understand the truth.

Two questions naturally follow: what does it mean “to be saved” and “what is the truth that people need to understand?”

When the Bible talks about being saved, it’s referring to being rescued from punishment. The picture is that we are on a trajectory that will lead to disaster but because of God’s help, our crisis is averted.

One of the questions that every religion seeks to answer is “how can people be reconciled to God?” Or another way of putting it is, “what must a person do in order to be accepted by God and enter into His presence?”

To be reconciled means to be brought back into a favorable relational status. What must I do to please God, to earn His favor and gain His acceptance?

Nearly every religion answers this question by providing a list of actions one must complete or avoid in order to gain favor. These actions form the basis for evaluating a person’s devotion to God and the quality or “goodness” of a person’s life, which in turn is used to determine their worthiness for entering God’s presence in the afterlife.

But here lies the problem. Nobody can follow all the rules that any religion might establish. These “rules” create a legal system for following God which people inevitably violate. One doesn’t have to read very far into the Old Testament to see that the Israelites were constantly abandoning God’s laws and rebelling against His statutes.

So what is the “truth” that God wants everyone to understand?

The truth is outlined in verses 5 and 6, which state:

For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time.

The truth is that the ONLY way to be reconciled to God is through Christ Jesus. His death on the cross purchased freedom for everyone.

So reconciliation to God does NOT occur by keeping a list of religious requirements. Instead, it comes by placing one’s faith in Jesus to make the payment for us.

Is it exclusive? YES and NO!

It’s exclusive in that Jesus is the ONLY one who has made a payment for sin. No other religious system even offers a solution to how imperfect people can make themselves righteous enough to enter into the presence of an infinitely holy God. Every other religious system keeps people trapped in the religious hamster wheel of endlessly attempting to make oneself “worthy” before God, only to experience moral failure through everyday sins.

Fortunately for us, Jesus rescues us from this religious trap and provides a way for us to actually be reconciled.

But it’s NOT exclusive in the sense that the freedom Jesus offers is available to EVERYONE, not just some select group. ANYONE can access God by coming to Jesus!

This is the truth that God wants EVERYONE to understand, which is why Paul urges us to pray for all people to ultimately understand this truth so that they might experience God’s mercy.

Reflection

What is your view on how a person is “saved”? In other words, in your view, what does a person need to do in order to make it to heaven and live with God for eternity?

What is the basis for your answer in the previous question? In other words, what is the source of the views that you hold? 

People often say that Christians are too exclusive in their views. Do you agree that Christianity is exclusive? If so, why is this seen as a negative to people? Does being exclusive mean that it is automatically wrong? Why or why not?

The essence of Christianity’s exclusive claims is found in verse 6, which says, “He [Jesus] gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.” How would you explain this concept to someone else? What does it mean that Jesus gave his life? What does it mean that he purchased freedom?

 

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Is Wealth Immoral? (Part 2)

1 Timothy 6

6Yet true religion with contentment is great wealth. 7After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. 8So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. 9But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT)

Ecclesiastes 11

1Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later.
(Ecclesiastes 11:1, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Yesterday, I posted here about a passage on wealth from Luke 12, in which Jesus tells a story calling a rich person foolish because he tore down his barns to build bigger barns so he would have a place to store his massive amounts of material possessions.

My post sought to address the issue of whether Jesus was condemning wealth in His story.

You see, there’s a lot of talk about equity these days and one of the areas where people are seeing inequity is in the wide array of financial positions held by people in our society. Some people are poor and some people are extremely rich, and a lot of people are somewhere in between.

In our very polarized society, it’s become fashionable to point to those who have extreme amounts of wealth and declare it to be immoral. It is assumed or implied that the only way people could have that much money is because of greed. To be fair, not everyone is directly declaring it to be immoral, but using words like “insane”, “outrageous”, “crazy” and “unnecessary” to describe the amount of wealth some people have makes the same point. Whether expressed directly or indirectly, many people are offended by the amount of wealth that some people have.

But is it immoral to be wealthy? Was Jesus, in his story, condemning wealth? You can read the details and explanation of my response here but the short answer is no, I do not believe Jesus was condemning wealth. What He was condemning was greed.

As if to reinforce that point, a portion of my reading today consisted of the passages above, which also speak to the issues of money, wealth and greed.

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul speaks to the need for contentment and then follows with a warning of the dangers that exist for people who “want to get rich”. Paul is speaking about greed.

Paul says that when people are greedy they find themselves “trapped by many foolish desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.” There are many examples of how this could play out but I initially think of a person who, in their hopes of making a big score, wastes all of their money playing the lottery or gambling.

The key verse in this passage is verse 10, where Paul says “the LOVE of money is at the root of all kinds of evil.”

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that money is evil. He says that the love of money is the problem. He continues by saying that many who crave money have wandered away from the faith. To “crave money” is another way of describing greed.

Just as Jesus’ story in Luke 12 was predicated on His warning to not be greedy, this passage from Paul also is delivered primarily as a warning against greed, not a condemnation of wealth.

As was stated in yesterday’s post, wealth is simply a tool. It is neither good nor bad, but can be used for good and honorable purposes or it can be used for evil and destructive purposes.

The Ecclesiastes verse above is a reminder that we are to be generous no matter how much money we have. If you have a lot of money, you have the opportunity be extremely generous.

Most of us are not in that extremely wealthy category, so it’s easy to look at those who have more than enough and wonder, “how can they possess so much money?” We might even begin to entertain the idea that it’s unfair and unjust, which is just a small step away from deciding that it’s immoral.

But be careful. Jesus doesn’t condemn wealth per se and as I demonstrated yesterday, there are many biblical figures who were, in fact, quite wealthy. How do we reconcile these truths if God is against wealth?

Instead of pointing to those who have more than enough and calling it unfair or even immoral, we should check our own heart and motives first. Greed is not a sin that just afflicts the rich. Anyone, from any socio-economic background can be lured by greed. However, those of us who aren’t rich can often cloak our greed by attempting to disguise our envy as justice.

Reflection

What do you think is the difference between greed and envy? When have you struggled with greed or envy in the past?

Paul warns of the dangers of “craving money”. When have you craved money, or any other material possession?

What examples can you think of in your own life or circle, where someone was “plunged into ruin and destruction” because of their “love for money”?

What steps can you take to avoid or resist greed and envy?

Do you agree or disagree with the idea that some people may attempt to point to extreme wealth as a sort of attempt to right an “injustice” when they may be simply expressing their own greed in the form of envy? Explain your view.

 

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Do You Pray for Your Political Rivals?

1 Timothy 2

1I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God’s mercy upon them, and give thanks. 2Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. 3This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

You may or may not know that Timothy was Paul’s “son in the faith”, which simply means that Timothy came to know Christ through Paul’s ministry. Timothy became one of Paul’s traveling companions, learning from Paul and being discipled by Paul.

Timothy eventually became the pastor of the church at Ephesus and Paul, knowing that he is nearing the end of his time on this earth, pens this letter to Timothy with many practical instructions designed to help him lead others.

In this section, Paul gives an exhortation concerning prayer.

Paul’s admonition is for Timothy to pray for ALL PEOPLE.

This was a pretty radical thought, since we as humans are typically inclined to pray only for ourselves and those who are closest to us. We certainly are not inclined to pray for those we don’t know, but that’s exactly what Paul tells Timothy to do.

What’s even more amazing about this passage is the fact that Paul commands Timothy to pray for kings and those in authority, “so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity.”

Given the state of our country these days, I wonder how many people are actively taking these commands to heart.

We are more divided than ever and much of our division is a result of our political views that are not embraced by those on the other side of the political aisle.  But if I’m taking this passage to heart and seeking to implement this wisdom that Paul gave to Timothy so long ago, then I need to pray for those in authority, EVEN IF THEY DON’T REPRESENT MY POLITICAL POSITIONS.

This means that if you’re a conservative, you should be praying for those who are more liberal, and if you happen to be liberal, you should be praying for those folks, leaders included, who happen to be conservative.

The reason Paul gives for praying for those in authority is “because it pleases God.”

Now I know what you’re thinking – you cannot possibly pray for the evil people on the other end of your political spectrum because they believe a, b, and c and they do x, y and z. How could anyone pray for “those” people?

Paul’s exhortation does not imply that you need to embrace the beliefs of those with whom you disagree nor are you required to condone their actions or their policies. You simply are commanded to pray for them. The reason, again, is “so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity.”

The intent and desire is to live in peace. Praying for those with whom you disagree often has the effect of enabling you to disconnect emotionally from the other person’s beliefs and policies and see that person in their humanity. It’s only at that point that we can begin to understand people and demonstrate love toward them.

Reflection

What has been your habit and/or practice in praying for “all people” and in praying for kings and those who are in authority over us?

What barriers keep you from praying for those who are our political leaders?

The reason Paul gives for praying for those in authority is so that we can “live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity.” What are some things in your life (people, habits, etc.) that make it difficult for you to “live in peace”? 

What are some things you can do that would help you to live in peace and quietness with others?

 

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The Importance of Spiritual Fitness

1 Timothy 4

7Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. 8Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next. 9This is true, and everyone should accept it. 10We work hard and suffer much in order that people will believe the truth, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and particularly of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The letter of 1 Timothy is chock full of godly advice from Paul to his protege, Timothy.

In this passage, Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid wasting time on meaningless debates and issues and instead, focus his energy on training himself for spiritual fitness.

What does it look like to train for spiritual fitness?

In America alone, fitness is a $50 billion a year industry. People spend a lot of time, effort and money in order to make themselves look as good as they possibly can. Certainly, there’s an element of fitness that’s good – we should strive to be healthy. But there’s no doubt that our culture places an unhealthy emphasis on our physical appearance.

Paul agrees that physical exercise has some value but argues that spiritual exercise is even more valuable.

So we’re back to the question of what does spiritual exercise look like?

Well, since we’re comparing spiritual exercise to physical exercise, think about what is involved in physical exercise. If you want to get in shape, there are certain exercises you’ll pursue. Building up your cardiovascular system and trimming down would likely involve eating healthy as well as physically demanding exercises like running, biking or cross-fit.

Spiritual exercise is no different. If you want to develop yourself spiritually, it will require some effort, wise choices and exercises that are designed to build you up spiritually.

This is exactly the purpose of spiritual disciplines.

In his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”, author John Ortberg describes spiritual disciplines as activities we engage in to train ourselves for spiritual transformation, which is simply a process whereby your internal life is becoming more aligned with the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

Spiritual exercise is not a barometer of our spirituality, but it is a means necessary to achieving an end – real, authentic spiritual transformation.

Ortberg remarks that many people in the church are surprised when they see people who experience real transformation because it often isn’t the norm. Instead, we see what Ortberg calls “boundary marker” spirituality. Ortberg says that boundary-marker spirituality causes Christians to distinguish themselves from others by the things they do. It may be by the way they dress, the way they talk, or the activities in which they engage.

According to Jesus, this was the problem with the Pharisees, who maintained an impeccable outward appearance, following every rule and regulation in the law to the nth degree, but who were rotten on the inside. 

We can settle for boundary-marker spirituality, which wouldn’t require much time or effort but might help us to “look the part” of a Christ-follower. Or, we can experience real change – authentic transformation from the inside. This is the option Jesus wants us to pursue because it’s the only one that will enable us to truly conform to His image. But it will require work and effort on our part, a commitment to pursuing Jesus and training ourselves to think rightly about God, ourselves, and the world around us.

This is the purpose of spiritual fitness, and Paul encourages Timothy and us to “Just do it!”

Reflection

How have you thought about spiritual disciplines in the past? What role have spiritual disciplines played in your own spiritual development?

What is your reaction to the statement that many Christians have developed what Ortberg calls “boundary-marker” spirituality? What examples can you think of that demonstrate our penchant for promoting a spirituality in the church that is outward focused instead of inwardly focused?

How much time, money and effort do you put into physical fitness compared to your spiritual fitness?

What steps can you take to begin exercising spiritually? What resources are available to help you get started? Who are some people you know who could help you and encourage you in your journey?

 

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