For The Sake Of My Brothers
Last night, I was reading 1 Timothy 2. I just finished my last class at Re:Train this weekend on Pastoral Leadership with Pastor Dave Bruskas, and he had been teaching us through the pastoral epistles, so I decided to review what we had gone through in my own devotional time.
Frankly, I'm trying to get better at distinguishing "my own devotional time" from "my devotional time as a means to the end of writing for you" - which isn't to say that I don't want to write for you, only that I want to be better at resting in the presence of Jesus, myself.
But I can't get this thought out of my head, so maybe it's the Spirit telling me to write it out, regardless.
Up to this point, Paul is writing to Timothy, affectionately, as his "true child in the faith" (1 Timothy 1:2). He charges Timothy to stay in Ephesus so that he may both preach right doctrine and guard against false doctrine. False teachers are promoting skepticism, whereas the goal of God's people is "love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1:5). True faith and right doctrine manifest themselves in love of God and love of people, but Timothy was having to guard against teachers who wanted to be divisive and bicker about the law, which was laid down for sinners. The law is the good character of God, we are the problem, and the law stacks up against us to draw us to repentance - which only the grace of God enables.
Paul then goes on to summarize the gospel: "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." Paul tells Timothy that God had mercy on him so that Jesus' "perfect patience" (1:16) would be displayed in him for the rest of us predestined to believe. Paul is the fruit of the intended result of the gospel.
In chapter two, Paul begins his charge by urging that "supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people" (2:1) - an exhortation rooted in the fact that "God desires all people to be saved" (2:4). As Christians though, contrary to loudly-emerging universalistic claims in our culture, we know that not all people are saved.
This necessarily raises the question, "Does this mean that God desires something that he cannot fulfill?" While the skeptic would love to (and often does) push that button, Christians know that God is capable of anything and everything he wills… what do we do with that? The ESV Study Bible footnote is a helpful tool in this regard:
"Both Armenian and Calvinist theologians respond that God 'desires' something more than universal salvation. Arminians hold that God's greater desire is to preserve genuine human freedom (which is necessary for genuine love) and therefore he must allow that some may choose to reject his offer of salvation. Calvinists hold that God's greater desire is to display the full range of his glory (Rom 9:22-23), which results in election depending upon the freedom of his mercy and not upon human choice (Rom 9:15-18). However one understands the extent of the atonement, this passage clearly teaches the free and universal offer of the gospel to every single human being; 'desires' shows that this offer is a bona fide expression of God's good will."
I was raised beneath Jesus-loving parents who held to Armenian theology, but God has shifted my position pretty dramatically over the past five years, and my mom and sister, from the conversations we've had (I think) hold to a more Reformed doctrine now, as well. This isn't about that, but the point is that I'm interested in the conversation, and in Jesus, who, frankly, transcends the conversation. So the above footnote on 1 Timothy 2:4 drove me to Romans 9 to explore the verses listed:
Romans 9:22-23 (on the display of God's glory): "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make knows his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make knowns the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory…"
Romans 9:15-18 (on the freedom of God's mercy): "For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.' So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills."
Paul is writing to the Romans and teaching all of this doctrine which, honestly, can sound cold in and of itself, especially if you were to take it out of it's context, or to come at it without a high view of God. But what is the tone of his teaching? What spirit - what attitude - does Paul write with?
"I am speaking the truth in Christ - I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit - that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh…" (Romans 9:3).
Sit with that for a moment. Read it. Let it sink in. Feel the weight of what the apostle is saying.
When I read it, I am terrified. It seems incomprehensible. Truthfully, I do not know if my love for others could compel me to sacrifice eternity in hell in their stead. It scares to me utter the words, and yet I think that Paul would have given his eternity were it not that his substitution would fall short as an atoning work between God and the men that he wept over.
Do you love like this? Do you weep over the unsaved? I am convicted that I do not. I want Romans 9:3 to drive us back to 1 Timothy 2:1 - that we would urgently pray and intercede for all people, because "there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…" (1 Tim 2:5).
What Paul knew he could not accomplish, Jesus did. I want Romans 9:3 to drive us back to 1 Timothy 2:8: "I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling…"
Christians depend upon and believe in the God of the Bible, knowing that he works through prayer to change hearts. Only Jesus can save people by and through his perfect, sovereign substitution. Whether we take this text through the lenses of Arminius or Calvin, let us at least be Pauline in our affection, prayer and intercession for the people that desperately need Jesus Christ.