søndag 12. april 2015

1 Timothy 1: true spiritual pedigree

1 Timothy 1: 1-17

What is church?
What is church for?
Who should lead the church and what should they be doing?
How should we as church members behave? What does it mean to be part of the family of God?

Good questions. Important questions. Questions we need to know the answers to. And questions that 1 Timothy answers. It is a challenging, uplifting, uncomfortable and encouraging book! Its key verse is 3:15 I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, 15 so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

So this letter teaches us how we in the church should behave as members of God’s household, literally God’s family (wow!), and reminds us what church is: the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Kind of lifts up this little gathering doesn’t it? Household of God. Pillar of truth! This is important stuff. We have an important job.

It’s worth pausing for just a moment to think about what we’re reading. Because this isn’t Exodus – a book of theological history (that is history as it happened but showing us God’s role in the events) – this is a letter. Exodus was before Christ, looking forward to Christ, showing us great events that foreshadowed what Jesus would do. This letter is written after Christ – the mystery of how God would save the world – well now revealed: through His death and resurrection. Now everything’s changed. Christ came into this world to save sinners. A trustworthy saying!

We are reading a letter. It’s a personal letter, but one that is designed to be read publically. It’s from Paul, the Apostle, to Timothy who’s been given responsibility for the city of Ephesus.

This morning we’ll start by looking at who Timothy is and who Paul is, and then we’ll spend a bit of time looking at the false teachers’ false teaching. What they were getting wrong. We won’t have time to look in detail at verses 9-11 (the list of sins) this week, but I’ll probably cover it in next week’s sermon. So, come back next Sunday!

Right, let’s get into it, and let’s start by looking at who wrote the letter and who he wrote it to. Since it is a letter. And therefore probably a good idea to understand who they are....

1. A letter from Paul to Timothy

Who is Timothy?

Timothy probably heard the gospel during Paul’s first missionary journey in Lystra and became a believer. You can read about that in Acts 14. Because two years later, during Paul’s second missionary journey, Timothy is mentioned by name in Acts 16:1–3. He had matured so well as a Christian that Paul asked him to come with him - an apprentice to the great apostle! He became one of Paul’s most trusted helpers, so that the apostle could write, “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare” (Philippians 2:20). So a godly man, who loved the Lord Jesus and loved His people. A great example for us!

It seems that he struggled with ill health, and he certainly had quite a task leading the church at Ephesus! But as Paul writes in v12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. Our strength to serve comes from God.

Timothy was a faithful man, who honoured the Lord with his life, and loved the people under his care. Timothy is the kind of church leader we want to have and want to be ourselves! He did not twist the truth for personal gain, but preached the gospel, taught the Scriptures, the Holy Bible without compromise. Oh that the Lord would grant us many more such leaders!

So that was Timothy. Paul, however, had quite a different background.

Who is Paul? Paul is one of the apostles – the twelve chosen by Jesus plus Paul as one “abnormally born” commissioned as an apostle by Jesus on the road to Damascus. You see, Paul used to be a Pharisee, an expert in the Jewish religious law (or so he thought). He had, like the people in v4 “spiritual pedigree”. He was zealous for God – his whole life was dominated by obeying the law. He loved the law. He thought he loved God. And so when Christianity came along he hated it! How dare they blaspheme God! How could they worship this Jesus instead of God Almighty?

And so he made it his mission to stamp out this horrible lie that was spreading out from Jerusalem. When Stephen was stoned to death, Paul was there, holding the coats of those hurling the stones, approving his death. He went from house to house “breathing murderous threats” the Bible tells us, seeking out Christians to arrest and to terrorise. Paul was like Islamic State is today, going from house to house to wipe out “corruption”.

And then Jesus met him.

Turn to Acts 9. Meanwhile, Saul (who was later renamed Paul) was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way (as the Christians were called in those days) he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. 3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” 5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! 8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus.
17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength. Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. 20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!” 21 All who heard him were amazed. “Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?” 22 Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

Paul’s story should give us hope that no-one is beyond God’s mercy: not Islamic State, not al-Shabab (who attacked the Kenyan university), not Janjaweed, not the Nazis, not the Klan, not even our neighbours – and not even you and me. God’s mercy is greater than our sinfulness!

You can see why Paul calls himself the “worst of sinners”. Can you imagine attacking and abusing Christians, even murdering them – and then meeting Christ?
What a turnaround! As Jesus said “Saul, why are you persecuting ME”. To attack those who belong to Christ is to attack Christ himself.

And yet what Paul found was not condemnation and judgement, but mercy. Mercy! The opposite of how HE had been treating people. God gives us what we don’t deserve. Not surprising, then, in v12-17 he says 12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, 13 even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. 14 Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. 15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honour and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

Don’t you just love the gospel? This Good News that we have. It is the only news that can turn a life completely around. I have seen countless people transformed by this Good News. As Romans 1:16 says – it’s the first thing you read on our website, and is a driving purpose for this church - For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes.

That’s why it can transform, change even a man like Paul. From violence and power to humility and mercy. Because it is the power of God. It is God’s message. God’s power. And we have the privilege of being the messengers, bringing Good News of hope and a bright future.

So why mess it up? Why pollute it? Why make it into the Bad News with rules and law and “you better be good otherwise God won’t like you”. It is dangerous it is wicked and sends people to Hell.
It matters what kind of gospel we preach.

2. The false teachers’ false pedigree and false gospel

The gospel of Jesus Christ can be summed up in one word “done”. It is finished. That’s what Jesus said on the cross. He had met all the requirements of righteousness. He had fulfilled the law. And as he died his body bore the weight of our sin and he became our sin offering – our perfect sacrifice paying for our sins so that we can go free. It is finished It is done. Our salvation, and our continued salvation – rests on the completed work of Jesus the Christ (Messiah).

But man-made religion always says “do”. Why? Because we want to earn our salvation because if we earn our salvation then God will owe us our salvation and then we have power over God. It’s the same old lie, every time. I want to be God. I am my own ruler. I am King. I am the boss. And so on. And we do not want God – the true God – stepping in. Why do Christians so often get rejected by their families? Or killed? Why is the history of Christianity marked with martyrdom (dying for your faith) – and even today thousands are murdered each year simply for professing Christ – in our modern, progressive world.
People hate Jesus, and so they hate us. How annoying it is when the real God shows up. You have to give up your throne!

And that way of thinking keeps creeping back in. Into our thinking, and into the church. And so Timothy has stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. Shut up!

Why? Because, v4 they were wasting their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees.

The word pedigree there is genealogy (slektstavle). A dog has a pedigree – Eowyn, our dog, is a pedigree dog. Her father is a dog show champion, even won Crofts in England earlier this year. Her mother likewise – and they both have a lineage that can be traced back many many steps.

And that’s what these guys were doing. Oh, I’m better than you because I’m descended from so and so. Oh, everyone in my family are believers. Oh, I follow so-and-so because his family are descended from….

That kind of nonsense. Oh, but we do it too. My grandfather was a Christian, I grew up in a Christian home. I follow so-and-so because he has the “anointing”. I’ve been to Israel.
And all of – ALL OF IT – is simply to say “I’m better than yo-ooou”.

But even worse, they were v6-7 But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently.

They were using the law as a way to promote themselves. To add to their pedigree. They were DOING and were teaching that their DOING made them more acceptable to God. More acceptable than the perfect work of the Son of God? There is only one trustworthy saying, and it’s not “God helps those who help themselves”, or lies like that, Satanic lies. That’s not in the Bible. The Bible says God helps those who are dead in their sins! Christ came into this world to save sinners – now there’s a trustworthy saying!

You see, what was their teaching leading to? Well, v5 shows us what true gospel teaching leads to: love, a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. Why? Because we know we are loved, and so we can pour out love on others. We have a new heart – the heart of Christ. Something has changed within us. We have a clear conscience because when we sin we know our sins are dealt with – not by us doing rituals – but by the finished work of Christ. Amen? Our consciences are clear. We do not fear. And so our faith is genuine –Christ’s joy and love pours out of us and we long to serve him all day long.
What does false teaching lead to? The opposite of v5. Bitterness (because you’ve failed) or pride (because you’re better than everyone else. But never love. People who are good at being religious never love. Certainly not their enemies. There is no new heart – just an angry heart trying to manipulate God. There is no clear conscience – no assurance – because you’re never sure if you’ve worked hard enough to cover your sins. And your faith – well it’s in the wrong place. It’s in you and your efforts – and that’s the road to Hell.

Martin Luther said that as a monk he hated God, hated him. And the more he read the Bible and saw the impossible demands God made of him - he did not love, but hated him. “How could you make this so hard?” He cried. He was terrified of Hell, terrified of God’s anger – and rightly so. Until one day as he was reading Romans he suddenly understood: God’s righteousness is a gift! Not something to be earned. It is given. And that changed his life, and reformed the church.

This is the great gospel we have.

Now Paul – well he used to be just like these guys, didn’t he? Working hard to justify himself before God, instead of, as now, working hard for love because he is already justified by the free gift of grace.

But there’s one big difference between Paul and these false teachers. Did you spot it in v 13? But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief.

It’s an unusual statement, and just by itself, could lead us into all sorts of weird theories and mistakes. But what Paul is doing is warning these guys. You see Paul had no idea about the gospel, no idea what he was doing. But these guys do. They know the gospel, the true gospel – and they are deliberately distorting it for their own gain. It is immensely wicked, and very, very dangerous. At the end of the chapter Paul talks of two of these guys who have been “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme”. Now that probably means that they’ve been taken out of leadership and put out of the church for a while until they repent – but it is serious words because this is a serious matter.

See v9 For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful

The law is not there for Christians to follow trying to justify themselves before God. The law is there to show us our need for forgiveness. To show us our sin. The law is a powerful searchlight revealing our wickedness. It’s like the bright light in the operating theatre showing the tumors, the disease, that needs to be cut out. But these guys – oh man these guys are using the law like floodlights on a stage. Look at me, look how good I am.
Any good we do is just because of the mercy of God – how dare we take God’s glory and steal it for ourselves. That’s like dancing on the operating theatre table saying “look how healthy I am” instead of letting the doctors cut out the cancer within.

Praise God for the gospel we have! Christ came into this world to save sinners.

O Lord, please let us grasp hold of this trustworthy saying, and never let go. Let us repent of false teaching that creeps in. Examine our hearts Lord, examine our lives and show us where we are preaching, sharing a gospel of do, do, do (wagging finger) and not done (come, come as you are (warm embrace)).
The spirit of the false teachers lives within each one of us – let us repent Lord. Because we want people to see in us and hear from us the gospel which can save Islamic State, Nazis, and even modern, wealthy, secular Norwegians – a gospel which can turn the worst of sinners like Paul around. From Saul the persecutor and blasphemer to Paul the Apostle. From Daniel the arrogant sinner to Daniel the forgiven beloved son of God. Praise God for his mercy! Praise the Lord!

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