Sunday, May 22, 2011

Internal Issues (1 Timothy 1.1-17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
May 22, 2011
Some Music Used 

 Prelude: "Ayre" (Telemann)
Hymn of Praise: "We Know that Christ is Raised" (ENGLEBERG)
Song of Praise: "Beautiful One" (Hughes)
Choral Offertory: "Speak, O Lord" (Getty, Townend, McDonald)
Song of Confession: "Have Mercy on Me" (Peterson)
Offering of Music: "Here I Am, Lord" (arr. Bobby White)
Song of Sending: "One Pure and Holy Passion" (Altrogge)

Internal Issues
Text: 1 Timothy 1:1-17

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

We are in the fourth week of our study of “Being the Church,” using the Christian Church in Ephesus as a case study. Between all the books in the New Testament, we have snapshots of that church over at least a generation, from it’s founding through its first pastor (Paul), to its second pastor (Timothy), to the picture given in Revelation some 20-30 years later.

We saw in Acts 20 that Pastor Paul, having moved on to other mission work, charged the church leaders in Ephesus to continue to hold together the grace and truth of the Gospel. We saw this message expanded and elaborated last week in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Grace builds the Church up, together, and out in ministry and mission. We also heard Paul’s challenge in Ephesians 6 to “stand firm” in the truth of God, when the Church and the very Gospel are at risk. In Ephesians, that risk was framed primarily in terms of spiritual attack from outside the Church, and we know that the early Ephesian Christians faced persecution from the pagan Greek culture around them as their message directly conflicted with the commerce in Ephesus around the worship of the Greek goddess, Artemis.

Today, in 1 Timothy, we find Paul writing to his younger friend and disciple, Timothy, who is now leading the church in Ephesus. In this letter, we find that the conflict is inside the church; yet we will see Paul’s same challenge: hold on to grace to build the Church up, together, and out; and stand on the Truth to defend and protect the Church against these challenges. 

Internal Issues

Chapter one describes the internal issues facing the Church of Ephesus. There were actually two problems going on simultaneously. The first is described in verses 4-5. Certain people were teaching “strange doctrines.” Specifically, they were “paying attention to myths and endless genealogies” and these were speculative rather than spiritual and true. While we don’t the exact nature of these strange teachings, they might have been Jewish myths or simply a preoccupation with names and bloodlines, speculating about matters not explicitly taught in Scripture. A modern example might be a preoccupation with the Shroud of Turin or yesterday’s predicted Rapture, generated through Harold Camping’s fixation with numbers in Scripture rather than the clear teaching of Scripture that “no man knows the day or time of His coming.”

You can imagine the issue, right? One group within the Christian community starts focusing so much on these strange teachings that they start leading others astray and also become uninterested in the core Gospel acts of ministry and mission.

But that wasn’t all – there was another group causing problems in the Church in Ephesus. Look at verse 6, which literally says “others, straying from these things [the love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith – v. 5], have turned aside to fruitless discussion.” Sounds like more of the same, right? But this group had an additional problem – they were focused on the Law, the Torah, except they were not trained and did not understand the Torah. We read in verse 7 that they were “wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” Have you ever met those people? They want to be in positions of authority but are neither trained or qualified to have that authority… but that doesn’t stop them. And imagine if they are given the pulpit, or start classes and take the role of teacher. The problems come quickly!

We are not going to get to chapter two today, but it is my belief that this second group was made up of a number of women, because the literal word for “some others” in verse 6 indicates a male or a mixed group. Women, and particularly Greek women, would not have had the training in the Torah and yet may have been encouraged by a new openness to women in the Christian community. When you read Paul’s words in chapter two, you can see quite a correspondence between his correction of the Ephesian men and the first problem, and his correction of the Ephesian women and the second problem of “usurping teaching authority.” If that interests you, I’d be glad to talk further!

What I want to focus on though, is how Paul responds to this internal crisis. He moves next to a declaration of truth, particularly related to the Law that was being taught irresponsibly and incorrectly. He corrects that teaching with the truth before his rebuke of those teachers in chapter two. 

Truth

So, starting with the Torah-Law, the subject of false and weak teaching, Paul lays out some truth. And doesn’t he turn it on its head?! “The Law is good, if one uses it lawfully…” This is evidently what was not happening. We aren’t told how it is being mis-used or mis-taught, but we can infer from Paul’s correction here: “The Law is not made for a righteous person (to point the finger at others, perhaps?); but for those who are lawless and rebellious…” (v. 9). And then he goes on to list a bunch of examples. I bet I know which one jumped out at you; but let me ask you where you are in verses 8-10. Seriously, look again:

…Law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching…”

Are you the righteous person? In and of yourself? In Romans 3:10, Paul quotes the Psalms, “There is none righteous, not even one.”

Lawless? Rebellious? – I didn’t make it past those two. Sure most days I behave pretty well, but I can’t escape those descriptions.

Profane? That’s related to profanity, you know.

Immoral? Surely not you, pastor? But don’t you remember Jesus teaching about the lust of the eyes, the lust of the heart.

Just because you haven’t killed or kidnapped or yes, experienced same-sex attraction, doesn’t mean you get out of this truth-telling session. Paul is making the same claim here that he makes at GREAT length in Romans: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God… when it comes to sin and unrighteousness and being convicted by God’s Law, it is a level playing field. Yes, some actions have more serious earthly consequences – murder is worse than lying. But in terms of our holiness, rightness with God, and purity before Him, we are ALL – every last one – the broken sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

Why does he mention “contrary to sound teaching?” Here, particularly, that was the problem. I don’t know what the untrained and misguided teachers of the Law in Ephesus were teaching, but from Paul’s words here, I know that it was not that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And because that was not being taught, what Paul says next was not being taught, and that is the very essence of the Gospel, which is the GOOD NEWS. Listen… 

…and Grace

This is the “glorious gospel of the blessed God” (v. 11) and this is GRACE. Before getting to the broad statement of grace, Paul shares his own testimony as one of those sinners who has fallen short of the glory of God. Even though Paul was once a “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (v. 13), he was “shown mercy… and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant.” (v. 14) And even more than being shown mercy, Paul was “considered faithful [and put into] service” (v. 12). It’s the same story we just studied with Moses back in the winter. God was pleased to use a sinful, self-serving, murderer (yes, Moses and Paul were complicit in murder!) and not only show them mercy, but redeem them into God’s own service. Do you understand how enormous and extravagant God’s grace is?! It stretches the limits of my understanding. And that is the Gospel, the Good News of Grace.

And so Paul restates this Good News Grace more theologically, for all who will hear, believe, and trust it:

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…

Do you really believe that? … or that Jesus loves you because you deserve it? That’s not the Gospel; that’s a lie. The Gospel is that… “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in him for eternal life. (vv. 15-16)

This Gospel is trustworthy, deserving full acceptance. That is the Word of Truth AND Grace. All have sinned, and Jesus has come into the world to save sinners. No exclusions, from the sin list or from the reach of God’s grace. Truth and Grace – the Gospel. 

Being the Church

Many of you know that I was privileged to speak to our presbytery this past week. I was speaking to the particular issue of sexuality and church leadership, but more importantly I had the opportunity to share this Gospel message: that no one is excluded from “all have sinned”; but no one is excluded from the reach of God’s grace. I did not go to presbytery to share Law or bad news or church politics; rather, to proclaim the Gospel of Truth and Grace. That is what Paul spoke to the struggling church in Ephesus and it is the same Gospel we need to hear, know, and live today.

So, with Ephesians as our case study, we must ask what we can learn about being the church. Paul has been consistent and clear that we must hold together truth and grace. The internal issues described in 1 Timothy make it abundantly clear that truth and grace must also be lived out in community as well as in mission. I commend you for being a community that understands this and lives it out. And yet there is so much more we must learn as we continue to be built up, built together, and built out in the name of Christ.

I love how Paul concludes this chapter, drawing our focus back off ourselves and to the Lord:

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (v. 17)

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