Michael G. Brown

How to Respond to Those Who Hurt Us

Written by Michael G. Brown |
Friday, December 8, 2023

When enemies harm us, instead of retaliating, let us remember that, unless that person repents, the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. As the Preacher of Ecclesiastes said at the very end of his book, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14). It is only because of the certainty of God’s justice at the end of history that now, in this life, we can respond with grace and mercy toward those who hurt us.

In 2 Timothy 4:14–15, Paul warns Timothy of an enemy of the gospel, someone who had caused him much pain. “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.” Who was Alexander the coppersmith? It is difficult to identify this man precisely. Alexander was a common name in the first century Greco-Roman world, and there are several possibilities concerning his identity. He may have been a man in Troas of whom Paul wanted Timothy to beware. Given that Timothy would be stopping in Troas to pick up Paul’s coat and books, he should be careful to avoid him (2 Tim. 4:13). Another possibility is that this was a coppersmith in Rome, where Paul was then imprisoned, or this may have been the Alexander in Ephesus who was involved in the infamous riot (Acts 19:33). It seems most likely, though, that this was the same Alexander whom Paul mentions in his first letter to Timothy, the man in Ephesus whom Paul “handed over to Satan,” along with Hymenaeus, so that they would learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20).

Whomever this Alexander was, he had done serious injury to Paul. Paul does not specify the nature of this “great harm,” but it seems to have been linked to his arrest and trial. He says in the next verse that “at my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:16). Alexander may have brought false testimony against Paul during the first stage of his trial (what Paul refers to as his “first defense”). Paul says this man “strongly opposed our message.” This was not a fellow Christian with whom Paul had a disagreement. Paul is not expressing an unforgiving heart toward a man with whom he needed to reconcile. Rather, he identifies Alexander as a fierce opponent and bitter foe of the gospel. That is why he warns Timothy to beware of him.
It would have been easy for Paul to complain about what Alexander had done to him.

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3 Things You Should Know about 1 & 2 Timothy

Written by Michael G. Brown |
Saturday, November 4, 2023
Timothy must guard the gospel against false teachers so that it would be brought to the next generation (1 Tim. 1:3–11; 2 Tim. 1:13–14; 2:16–18), entrust the gospel “to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2; see also 1 Tim. 3:1–7), and be willing to suffer for the gospel like his mentor (2 Tim. 1:8, 12; 2:3, 9; 3:12; 4:5). Above all, however, he must preach the gospel.

First and 2 Timothy, as well as Titus, are known as Paul’s “Pastoral Epistles.” This simply means that unlike the Apostle’s other letters—which, except for Philemon, were written to congregations—these letters were written to pastors of local churches concerning their duties in the ministry. Timothy was the pastor of the church at Ephesus when Paul wrote these letters to him. Yet, by the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, Paul also writes to us. These letters are full of encouragement and exhortation to pastors and parishioners alike. Here are three things we should know about 1 and 2 Timothy.
1. Sound doctrine matters.
Ephesus was a wealthy and worldly city known for its practice of sorcery and worship of the goddess Artemis. Pagan religion and materialism, however, were not the only threats to the Ephesian church. When Paul penned these epistles, false teaching about Christianity was advancing aggressively in the city.
Today, things aren’t much different. Like Timothy, we too live in “the last days” (2 Tim. 3:1; see also 1 Tim. 4:1), when people are “lovers of self, lovers of money” (2 Tim. 3:2; see also 1 Tim. 6:10) and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4). We live in a time when people do “not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they . . . accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:3; see also 1 Tim. 1:10). We need leaders in the church who will “follow the pattern of sound words” given by the Apostles and codified in the church’s creeds and confessions (2 Tim. 1:13). We need ministers who will “preach the word . . . in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2; see also 1 Tim. 4:13), who will “always be sober-minded, endure suffering,” and “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). These letters describe the world in which the church now lives, a world full of apostasy and godlessness. If the gospel and sound doctrine are to advance into the next generation, the church—especially ministers of the Word and church leaders—must heed the exhortations and warnings found in 1 and 2 Timothy.
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How Will Christianity Survive during Dark Times?

The conquering power of evil is on the increase. This is characteristic of the last times. Innocent babies are now not even allowed to be born, so corrupted are the moral standards. Or if born, no one educates them, so desolate are studies. Or if trained, no one enforces the training, so impotent are the laws. In fact, the case for modesty . . . has in our time become an obsolete subject.
Although these words could easily describe the moral erosion that we see today in the modern Western world, they are in fact from the pen of Tertullian, an early church father who lived in Carthage, in the Roman province of Africa, during the late second and early third centuries. Like us, Tertullian dwelled in times of difficulty, when there was a noticeable decline in society’s decency and virtue. Reading these comments helps us remember that sin has been a perennial problem with humans ever since Adam rebelled in the garden. Godlessness is characteristic of every historical period. Never was there a golden age in which selfishness, greed, and violence were absent. We should avoid romanticizing the past, as if people were less sinful in days gone by. But we should also avoid romanticizing the future. We need a sober assessment of the problem of sin in society, especially if we are to appreciate the power of the gospel.
The Apostle Paul provides us with such an assessment: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:1–4). Paul wrote these words to his young colleague Timothy, the pastor of the church of Ephesus, to help him put into context the troubles he was facing. Timothy should not be surprised by opposition from false teachers, nor by the rampant immorality in the city in which he served, for he lived in evil times, and the evil would only increase. Paul gives Timothy an accurate diagnosis of the radical corruption of the human heart so that he will put his confidence in God and stay focused in times of difficulty, preaching the Word boldly in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.
The church today needs that same confidence and focus. We are too easily tempted to look for merely external solutions to the pervasive problem of sin, as if more laws or better public policies could produce righteousness in the human heart. Paul’s diagnosis of the last days not only helps us grasp the depths of societal depravity, but it also reminds us that only the gospel can regenerate the human heart and cause a sinner to live for the glory of God.
As Christians, certainly we are called to love our neighbors and to be good citizens, doing all we can to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). Likewise, the magistrate has the God-given responsibility of suppressing vice in society, promoting justice, and being “an avenger . . . on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4, NKJV).

The Importance of a Plurality of Elders

Written by Michael G. Brown |
Friday, August 19, 2022
A plurality of elders provides the flock of Christ with greater pastoral care. In the Old Testament, a multitude of elders were appointed to assist Moses in caring for the people of God. The Lord gave a portion of the Spirit that was on Moses to seventy elders so that they would help carry this burden (Num. 11:16–17). Likewise, in the new covenant church, elders share the responsibility of pastoral care with the minister. Peter writes: “So I exhort the elders . . . shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight” (1 Peter 5:1–2). Elders do this in a variety of practical ways.

Living in Milan, I enjoy taking walks around the perimeter of Sforza Castle. Built in the fifteenth century, this structure was one of the largest citadels in Europe for hundreds of years. Its massive walls, more than a hundred feet high, loom over the outer moat like a towering tsunami of brick, making the castle practically impenetrable. There was a time when these walls extended around the entire city, protecting its inhabitants from invasions and providing them with a sense of security. In the medieval world, a city without walls was almost unimaginable. It would have been defenseless and unlikely to survive.

The vast walls of an ancient city illustrate the church’s need for a plurality of elders. Just as ramparts and fortified gates helped safeguard a city so that civic life could prosper, so too a plurality of faithful overseers in the church helps preserve life in the kingdom of God. A church in which the senior pastor is the sole elder or possesses the most authority among its leaders is in a very vulnerable position, exposed to the perils of power, personality, and conflict. One need only observe the course of many influential evangelical churches in recent years to see how true this is. In most cases, the eventual collapse resulted in part from a lack of shared authority among a group of elders.
There are at least four biblical and practical reasons that a plurality of elders is necessary. First, it provides the church with greater accountability. According to the Bible, believers are accountable for their doctrine and life. What they believe and how they live are to be in line with Scripture. The elders of the local church have the weighty responsibility of holding the members of the congregation accountable. “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17). Notice that this verse speaks of leaders in the plural. Christians are not accountable to one leader alone. Instead, Christ cares for His church through a plurality of elders. This shared accountability helps protect the flock from the spiritual abuse and bullying that could more easily occur in a church where everyone is accountable to one man.

Moreover, the pastor himself is also accountable to the elders. The biblical model for church government is not a hierarchical system in which the senior pastor is a bishop over the elders of the church. In the New Testament, “bishops” (also translated “overseers”) and “elders” (also translated “presbyters”) are synonymous. For example, when Paul instructs Titus to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5), he describes the qualifications for these elders, calling them overseers: “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach” (Titus 1:7). He uses the two terms to describe the same office. Likewise, in his farewell address to the leaders of the church in Ephesus, Paul “called the elders of the church to come to him” (Acts 20:17). He then addressed them as “overseers” or “bishops” of the church of God (Acts 20:28). These terms are never used in Scripture to describe differing ranks of authority or a single leader governing the church alone. This means that the pastor serves the congregation alongside the ruling elders but not over them. He himself is an elder who labors “in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). Even though he has biblical training and spiritual gifts for rightly dividing the Word of God, his vote is not more important than the votes of other elders; nor does he possess veto power over the consensus of the group.

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