February 17, 2013

Sermon - Thinking to Action!


Correct thinking leads to correct action!

1 Timothy 1


I am sure that some people here when they heard I was preaching tonight were expecting some obscure passage from the Old Testament or even something from that wonderful book of Leviticus. I know that Chris and Sue Cook were! But no! A change! Did I catch you out? Our passage tonight, wonderfully read for us, is found in the New Testament. The little letter of 1 Timothy, where the aged Paul is reminding and instructing Timothy, his much younger disciple, who is probably about 40 years old now. The whole of the New Testament church is growing and spreading far and wide away from its starting point in Jerusalem. Most scholars agree that this letter was written about 64AD, so it is now about 8 years after Paul's 3 year stay in Ephesus came to an end.

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to be a first century Christian. The original followers of Jesus, the apostles have either died or will be soon, so who will ensure that good teaching and guidance will be given to me and others around me? Who will ensure that sound doctrine of salvation through Jesus alone by grace alone through faith alone will be preserved? Some of these concerns are met by the apostle Paul in what we call the Pastoral Epistles - 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

Paul is getting on in age now. He is in Macedonia, but his representative, Timothy, was left in Ephesus, and by all accounts was undergoing a particularly torrid time. The church in Ephesus was still made up of small groups of believers and each group had a leader with some experience, knowledge and therefore influence. So you can imagine the turmoil if their understanding of the Gospel would become twisted, contorted and infected with false teachings and myths. The turmoil would act like a virus going from group to group, person to person.

The records we have of the early church show that when false teaching had been encountered elsewhere, it had usually come from outsiders to that local church. However, here in Ephesus, the false teachers had come from within the church in Ephesus.  Even some of the house leaders setup by Paul!  Was Paul surprised? Not at all!  Paul had predicted this would occur. We read in Acts 20, written much earlier than this letter, Paul saying "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears."

So Paul has delegated his authority to Timothy, his personal representative in Ephesus. Timothy is encouraged to counter with sound doctrine any false teaching, particularly in regards to the Mosaic Law. It seems from this letter, that the leaders were mixing Jewish ideas and pagan myths into Christian thought. We read about those things in v3 and 4. These things were distracting the church from doing God's work and were instead promoting fantasy, controversies and meaningless talk.

So Paul writes to Timothy. He had already written his letter to the church in Ephesus - that was a few years ago now. This letter is a personal one.  He didn't write to the church itself again. He did this in order to bolster Timothy's authority and position against those who were spreading false teaching. That's probably why Paul puts forward his credentials at the start. Paul is saying to the church in Ephesus "I, Paul, am an apostle because God has commanded me to be so! Timothy is my ambassador, my man, so wise up, church - you Ephesians! Listen to him and you won't go astray from the truth." Timothy would have shared this letter with the church there.

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The church (1 Timothy 1:4-11)

Let us start with the church in Ephesus, before moving on to Timothy, Paul and ultimately, God! Some leaders inside the church of Ephesus were teaching doctrines contrary to that of Paul. They were being troublemakers - causing rebelliousness and dissent. This NIV translates it as "false doctrine" but another translation puts it as "a different doctrine", as in different from apostolic teaching. These people were mixing myths and legends in with the true doctrine of solid apostolic faith. It led them to teach a different Jesus - making a Jesus who was different from the Jesus of Paul and the other Apostles. Just as the Corinthian church had been urged by false teachers to follow a different Jesus, so was the church in Ephesus. There was also desire of these troublemakers to inflict a form of Judaism upon the church, whereby a number of Jewish ceremonies were seen to be still binding on Christians - making a gospel of works rather than a gospel of grace.

For the Jewish people, genealogies were important, particularly linking back to Abraham, because by doing so, their salvation was guaranteed. A kind of false gospel, in the light of Jesus Christ and His salvation work. But Paul says here that any reliance on genealogies is useless and unreliable! Genealogies don't promote good work and a good conscience! To rely on genealogies for salvation is a gospel of works, as opposed to salvation through Jesus Christ which is salvation based on grace alone given by God in faith alone.

This teaching, combining myths and genealogies was promoting controversy and speculation rather than unity and morality. They were being contentious for the sake of arguments and quarrels. Whereas the goal of apostolic teaching was to be borne from love, and to result in love. Love issuing forth from a good conscience and an uncontaminated faith in God. Love of God and love of others is the product of teaching true doctrine, says Paul to Timothy - as opposed to the dissension, bitterness and contrariness of the false teachers. Timothy! Do not touch! Do not taste!

These false teachers from inside the church were promoting nothing but their own glory, rather than seeking the glory of Jesus Christ alone. They were leading people out of a secure salvation by grace alone through faith alone and into a insecure salvation based on works. These people were without a sincere faith, a pure heart and a good conscience and had wandered from the true Gospel. They were abusing the Law rather than teaching it. Instead, Paul explains to Timothy about the Law and that the Law is indeed good! He explains that the proper use of the Law is to restrain people from doing evil.  That rules and laws are not for those who are obedient but to correct and train those who are disobedient. The Law cannot save anybody, but only reveal their need of a Saviour.  In v9-11 Paul gives some examples of those who are breaking the Law willfully.

Into this mix, Timothy, is thrown!

Timbo! (1 Timothy 1:18-20)

Timbo to those of us who are Australian, and Timothy for the rest of you! Timothy's mum was a Jewess and his father a Gentile. Timothy was converted to Christianity early on in his life and was taken by Paul to assist him in his work for the Gospel. In particular to encourage the new churches sprouting up! So Timothy was basically an assistant Apostle! Paul, without a doubt, had taught Timothy in private as they travelled and conversed. Paul endearingly calls Timothy "his son" even though he probably didn't bring Timothy to faith.

Here, Timothy is instructed by Paul to keep fighting the good fight, battling the false teachers (Read v18-19).  Timothy, and therefore the church in Ephesus has a choice to make. They can keep following Paul and accept his wisdom. Or they can succumb to the wiles and whims of the false teachers. Timothy has been instructed to silence the troublemakers yet he would also be feeling the pressure to conform to the whims of those very same troublemakers. What is Timothy to do? He has a choice to make! Timothy is instructed to remember what was told to him in the past. We don't know what those prophecies were but it does seem when they were uttered, Timothy was set apart for ministry. Much like Adam was at his baptism. Timothy is to keep going and persevering in the true faith and doctrine of Jesus Christ. He is commanded! He is to have a moral obligation and duty to do as Paul has instructed and he is to fight and defend the truth against the error filled agitators.

Timothy has 2 things of great worth: the objectivity of an apostolic faith and the subjectivity of a good conscience. Apostolic faith is belief and a good conscience is action. If he holds on and uses both of them, Timothy will have fought the good fight of faith. By preserving a good conscience, Timothy will keep the faith. By remembering what he believes as apostolic truth, Timothy will be reminded to behave correctly. Belief and behaviour are co-joined. What is truly believed, will affect behaviour.

That is where the two blasphemers in verse 20, Alexander and Hymenaeus had gone wrong. Their apostasy and behaviour was so bad, that Paul had to exert church discipline against them, just as he had excommunicated somebody from the Corinthian church. Radical as it seems to us today, remember the church is still in an embryonic and formative state. This excommunication, was it permanent? It seems by the use of the word "taught" that they could be welcomed back into fellowship if they were willing to truly repent, to learn and then be restored. So that is Timothy but what do we learn here of Paul?

Paul (1 Timothy 1:1-3 & 12-14)

Paul we know is an apostle, a church leader! He has been set apart for this role by God and by Jesus the Son. He is impassioned here in this deeply personal letter to Timothy. You can almost imagine Paul writing imploringly to Timothy. What ever Paul does for the glory of God, its because God Himself is strengthening him. Paul - once an opponent and oppressor of Christ and His church - now commanded to be a dynamic servant of this Jesus. This Paul, who was a blasphemer and persecutor of the church has been transformed! Paul cannot forget what he had done to the early church, persecuting it and thereby also persecuting Jesus Christ. Paul cannot forget how he was transformed from a violet sinner into a servant of Jesus Christ! How did this come about? Not through his own doing but through the inexhaustible patience and work of Jesus Christ, transforming him via the twin wellsprings of grace and mercy. God's amazing grace and mercy, so abundantly poured out upon him. Paul's faith and love are in and for Jesus Christ and Him alone. When Paul says he is the "worst of sinners" in verse 16, is that not a very personal statement to make? Because when each of us confesses our sin to God, we all feel as if we are the worst of the worst. Or at least I know I do! So Paul is compelled and thrust forward - not by his own inner strength - but solely by the love of God and of Jesus Christ.

God (1 Timothy 1:15-17)

Now let us come to Paul's God! The true God, as opposed to the "different" god which was being proposed by the false teachers.  The first thing we see about Paul's God is in verse 1! God is a saving God and is also the saviour - Jesus Christ! This God is our hope, exclaims Paul! Forget the "different god" being proposed by the miscreants - God alone is to be our hope exclaims Paul! This saving God of hope, is imbued with grace, mercy and peace! Because of God's grace and mercy, Paul was now saved and one of God's servants and apostles. Mercy springs forth from grace, because from God's mercy there is forgiveness of sins. Without grace and mercy, peace with God is unobtainable. A God of mercy, means that the follower of Jesus, the Christian, has a throne of grace to run to with boldness in order to seek the help of the great King of Majesty! WOW!

This sound doctrine conforms to the blessed Gospel and teachings of Jesus Christ rather than opposing it. In verse 15, Paul sums up the Gospel "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners"! WOW, isn't that good news! Because of Jesus Christ, eternal life is granted to those whose hope and faith is in Him alone! Just as Jesus was immensely patient with Paul, so he was with each of us who are Christians. Just, as He is patient with those still outside His church, and not following Him. This God is a personal God! WOW! Do you know these truths of God for yourself? This great and awesome King is still calling people to follow Him. He is still calling people to accept the free offer of salvation through Jesus Christ alone, by grace alone through faith alone. Are you one of His followers yet, or are still exercising Jesus' great patience with you, just as Jesus did with Paul?

Now Paul explodes into a line of utter and complete adoration about God! This God, this King, is eternal, immortal, invisible, the only One! This God is before time, outside of time, and after time! WOW! Amazing! This God entered time in the person of Jesus Christ to save humanity which was thoroughly incapable of saving themselves. Forget genealogies, you trouble makers, and remember God's salvation by grace alone through faith alone!

Paul ecstatically exclaims that God is King - a mighty ruler, majestic sovereign over all! This God has established a Kingdom through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who lives within His people! This King is eternal,  the King of all Kings and the King of all the ages - past, present and future - and not bound by the unstable ebb and flow of time's fluctuations. God the King eternal, He of the ages, and beyond the ages, is often called so in Old Testament worship. This King is immortal, beyond the ravages and decay of time! This immortal King is incorruptible, imperishable and unchanging! This King is invisible, beyond the scope of vision of mere mortal humanity! Yet humanity had once glimpsed His glory, when the God who is outside of time and space, entered time and space in the God-man Jesus Christ. This King is also the One and Only God who is the One and Only great King!  This King is unique, majestic, and without rival or parallel. Because this King is eternal, immortal, invisible and the Only, He alone is worthy of honour and glory. WOW! God the King of Holy Majesty!

Moreover, this God is personal! Look again at the personal pronouns Paul uses to describe relationship with God!

  • Verse 1 - our Saviour ... our hope,
  • Verse 11 - he entrusted to me. ...
  • Verse 12 - our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.
  • Verse 14 - The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly along with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
  • Verse 16 - I was shown mercy so that in me, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

So what?

So there you have it. It is 64AD. The church in Ephesus is in a mess. Timothy is drowning under the pressure to conform. Paul has heard about it and is writing to encourage Timothy. Timothy has a choice to make. Succumb to the pressures thrust upon him by the false teachers, trouble-makers and miscreants to follow a false God, a false Jesus - or continue to follow the true God - the eternal, immortal, invisible and only King and the apostolic doctrines as taught to him by Paul, the Apostle by command of God.

What about us today? In a lot of churches today, the word 'doctrine' is unfashionable. I have had people say to me just this last week, that doctrine belongs to a time gone by, and that what is needed is new experiences of God and miracles from God! That is the way forward for the church, they say. Or don't go to that service, it might be a bit too heavy or too light for you. We are starting a new thing - come along! Is that new thing or new way of thinking about God, really of God or is it the result of human pride or even a trick of the devil?  I am sure that you are aware that's how the cults started. Jehovah Witnesses & Mormons starting something new as a supposed continuation of biblical Christianity.

Doctrine is for all those who consider themselves Christians, regardless of the level of academic achievement (or none);·regardless of the length of time they have been a Christian; and regardless of their status in the church they attend, whether as a church leader or an ordinary church member who sits in the congregation. Let us not be afraid of doctrine.

For every Christian, doctrine matters. If we have solid, biblical doctrine being practised in our life, then we will be seen to be living a life of total submission and obedience to Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to the praise of God the Father.   As the mind is renewed and transformed with teaching about Jesus Christ, and the Christian puts into practice what the mind learns, the very life of the Christian is seen to be transforming into the image of Jesus. Then people will ask questions. Questions regarding the reason why you and I are being transformed and the reason for the hope we hold onto. That way the Gospel and Good News of Jesus Christ is spread, for doctrine in practise is also evangelism - telling others about this wondrous one and only King who is eternal, immortal, invisible yet made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Another reason, learning solid doctrine is important is so that we can discern solid Apostolic & biblical teaching from the false teaching of heretics and those who want to lead Christians astray. By knowing good doctrine, we will be enabled to start discerning true beliefs from false beliefs and ultimately engage biblical doctrine into living a life worthy of Jesus Christ.  Did Steve Chalke's recent missive about homosexuality not being sinful, have its origins in his changing of the doctrine of atonement a few years ago? After all if Jesus sacrifice was not an atoning sacrifice, how then could the Old Testament atoning sacrifice for sin be fulfilled? Did Mr Chalke's diminished view of the atonement inevitably lead to a diminished and dumbed down view of sin?

Just as Timothy had a choice to make - succumb to the troublemakers or submit to God via Paul, we also have choices to make in our daily life. Do we conform to the world or to Jesus Christ? We are to be in the world but not to take the values of the world. That is a command of Jesus Christ who is our master.

Finally, and it is hard to ask these questions, but they have been laid on my heart. I asked God if I could skip asking them, but as usual I was told to behave and just do it. Several times. Questions like...

Which Gospel are we showing and telling others? Is it the gospel as explicitly given by Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15 or do we deliberately or inadvertently live and tell another gospel - a false gospel, just as the Ephesian troublemakers were doing.

Which God do we tell others about? Is it the God of the Bible who is Tri-unity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - of whom humanity is made in the image of? Or is it some kind of false God made in our own image?

Which Jesus do we confess and live for? Is it the Jesus who said in Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Put on my yoke and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Is it the Jesus who was welcoming to all but made demands on them in order to transform them -such as the rich young man who left distraught at the demands made upon him by Jesus or the woman at the well who had her sins forgiven but was told by Jesus to stop her lifestyle of sin? Or is the Jesus we share some kind of modern day Jesus who makes no demands at all? And some churches do indeed preach and teach that kind of insipid, powerless, nodding-head Jesus.

Are we wanting to enjoy all the benefits of being a Christian?  Things such as our salvation, our sins being forgiven, access to that glorious throne of grace - without enjoying the Joy-giver who wants to transform us willingly into the image of Jesus Christ the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us.  It is simply idolatry to want to enjoy these benefits without enjoying and submitting to the benefit giver, the Majestic King who is the only true God. It is idolatry because those other things are taking precedence over worship to the King.

Why do we take for granted our salvation and our meeting together with other Christians when we can? Why do our prayer meetings and services not fill with Christians wanting to worship, be taught and to pray for this church, this town and the mission work around the world?

And finally, you will be glad to know, why are there people coming into this church who are not Christian, and there are, and yet are not going on to follow Jesus and be baptised? There hasn't been a baptism here for over a year. Why not? Again if you are here and haven't been baptised, and you would like to be please do go see Bruce! He would welcome you with open arms!

Or perhaps you are not yet one of His followers, still exercising Jesus' great patience with you to accept Him as Lord of your life? If that is so, please don't leave here tonight without talking to somebody about how you can start following this Jesus. Don't leave it too late. You wont regret following Jesus but you may regret it if you don't start.

Finally, for the rest of us, we have a great opportunity on February 14 to gather to reach out into town along with other churches in the town, to tell about a God of love on the day of love. Let us go out of here, making a choice to submit to the power of the Holy Spirit, follow Jesus closely to the praise and honour of God the Father. Let His light shine out from us into a town that is in spiritual darkness, dying to know personally our majestic King who is God. Let His love shine out of us as we learn and submit to him - loving others, loving each other to reflect a God of love. Put your thinking and doctrine of God into practise which is evangelism. If the God we serve is the God of 1 Timothy - a majestic King who is personal, ageless, without decay or corruption, invisible and the only God - then we are duty bound to tell and show others about Him. After all, each of us who are Christians here tonight have had somebody tell us about the offer to succumb to the fathomless patience of Jesus and accept Him as master of their life.  Let us go! Are you ready?

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