Fight the good fight
- How to keep going?
What dangers do you see in the world around you, which might threaten your faith in Jesus? Worldly ambition – driven by a need to succeed or prove yourself? Money and greed – must keep earning more and more, changing jobs, moving houses, investing wisely? Sexual immorality in the age of raunch? Relationships with non-Christians? How will you keep going as a Christian in the face of such dangers? 1 Timothy is very helpful place for us to turn.
- Paul and Timothy
As we start this series, let’s put 1 Timothy in context.
Sometime around 46-48AD Paul undertook his first missionary journey. One of the cities he visited was Lystra, in what know as Turkey. It was the home of a young Christian man called Timothy. A few years later, around 50AD, on his second missionary journey, Paul again calls into Lystra, and asks Timothy to join his team. Timothy does, and so for a number of years Timothy works with Paul spreading the news about Jesus around the Mediterranean. Timothy became one of Paul’s closest friends and helpers.
Sometime much later, around 65 AD, on his 4th missionary journey, Paul went to Macedonia and told Timothy to stay in Ephesus. Paul himself had spent a few years in Ephesus establishing the church there, now wanted Timothy to care for Christians there.
Having left Timothy in Ephesus, and arrived in Macedonia, Paul now writes to his very good friend, to encourage him in his task.
So 1 Timothy is a letter. Not dissimilar from a letter you might get in your letter box (if indeed you still get letters, rather than sms or email). It is a letter from Paul the great apostle. And it is to his very good mate Timothy. It’s a personal letter, addressed to Timothy, and his central concern in 4:6 is that Timothy will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, because of the central position of Timothy’s life and teaching. But it’s not a private letter. It’s not even just a letter for church pastors or elders. As Paul writes to Timothy he has in his mind’s eye all the Christians in Ephesus. Because there were problems in the church in Ephesus.
- The church in Ephesus - problems and solutions
We get some hints of the problems in the church right up front in the letter. Look with me at vv1-2, and think about what strikes you as I read them – READ.
3 themes stand out -
a) There seems to be an issue with Paul’s authority – Paul has to remind the church, that he is indeed an apostle. Apostle means ‘sent one’. Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus, sent by Christ to the Gentiles to tell them the gospel, at the command of God and Christ.
b) Secondly, with Paul’s authority at issue, comes the problem of true and false teachers, and followers. Paul is a true apostle and a true teacher. Timothy is called a true son in the faith. There are some however who are in, or have been associated with, the church in Ephesus, who are not true sons in the faith; who are false teachers and followers.
c) And thirdly the distinction between Paul and these false teachers is a salvation issue. It shows in what is taught and practiced, but these stem from how one understands salvation. The bottom line is salvation – intriguing isn’t it how Paul refers to God as Saviour. We are used to calling Jesus our Saviour, and that is true, but the salvation Christ won for us is ultimately sourced in God. And true salvation brings forth fruit and blessings in the lives of Christians – hope, grace, mercy and peace.
That’s a quick summary. Let’s look a little more closely at how these themes play out in this first chapter, and the solutions Paul puts forward? Let’s look at the 3 issues.
a) Paul’s authority?
In v3 Paul reminds Timothy of his command to Timothy to stay in Ephesus to deal with the problem of these false teachers – READ.
But who is Paul to decide who looks after the church in Ephesus? Does Paul have that authority? Doe she have any authority? Look at v12 – READ. Paul’s authority as an apostle, Paul’s authority for ministry, Paul’s strengths and gifts, are all from Christ Jesus. Jesus has given Paul authority over the Christians in Ephesus. Paul has already exercised it in tossing out 2 of the false teachers in v20. And now Paul is passing on this charge to Timothy, entrusting the gospel to him.
OK, but why Timothy? God has also been at work in Timothy’s life. God has called Timothy for the task. Look at v18 – READ. These prophets, whoever they were, had somehow revealed God’s will for Timothy to be involved in Christian leadership.
Paul’s authority is under challenge; and Paul must re-assert his authority under God over the church at Ephesus, and to encourage Timothy that he now has that authority as well.
b) True and false teachers, and followers?
Secondly there are others who don’t have that authority, yet want it. They are the false teachers, look at vv3-4 – READ.
These men are teaching what is not true. Teaching myths and endless genealogies. They build up far-fetched stories based on obscure characters in OT history. I think of recent books like the ‘Prayer of Jabez’, and wonder if it was something similar back then. Then in ch 4 they are forbidding people to marry; and ordering them not to eat certain foods. They claim to teach the law, but look at what Paul says of them in v7 – READ. These people are not teachers by God’s command, but self-proclaimed teachers. Yet they are ignorant, arrogant and unintelligent. They don’t know what they are talking about. They cause controversy and futility rather than promote love, which Timothy is to do.
Of course not that the law is wrong, it is a wonderful part of God’s revelation. But it must be used properly in v8. In fact the phrase is really the law must be used lawfully, as a nice play on words. These men say they teach the law, but don’t even teach the law lawfully. They seem to be suggesting the law is what saves people. But this is a gross error, in fact it is deadly. Which is why Timothy must take such a strong stand against them.
c) How are people saved?
So our third theme then is salvation - how are people saved? In fact why do they need to be saved? If the law doesn’t save then why did God give it?
Paul writes in v8 the law is not made for good people, meaning those who have been saved because of their faith in Jesus, but the ungodly. The law is there to define and restrain evil. It is there for the lawbreakers, v9, and rebels, and ungodly, and so on. Categories of behaviour which reflect the very opposite of the 10 Commandments – killing parents, killing others, sexual immorality and adultery and so on. In fact for whatever is contrary v10, to the sort of behaviour which conforms to the gospel.
So what is Paul saying? He is saying that the law doesn’t save people, but rather shows us our sin. The law declares me guilty, but doesn’t forgive me. The law doesn’t make people righteous, nor give them a good conscience.
And in vv12-17 he uses himself as an example.
Before he was converted so dramatically, Paul thought he was a law-keeper, and legally righteous. But, when he came face to face with the risen Lord Jesus, he realized his sinfulness. Look at v13 – READ.
How was Paul forgiven for such things? Not by keeping the law. But v14 – by the mercy and grace of the Lord. Mercy and grace which were poured out on Paul abundantly. Overflowing grace.
And this is why Jesus came to earth. If you remember anything from tonight, remember v15 – Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Here is a 1-line summary of the gospel. Tell it to your friends if they ask you what Christianity is about.
What the law could not do, Jesus did. Save sinners.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to start a new world order, or to found a new religion, or to make us better people. Those things flow from his work, but he came to save sinners. (Communion) (why we do outreach service in a few weeks)
And Paul says when it comes to sinners, he was the worst. And if Jesus could save him, by grace, then Jesus can save anyone. Paul writes in v16 that he is an example of God’s amazing grace. And so no wonder he breaks into praise, he can’t help it. Look at v17 – a wonderful doxology to the glory of God – listen to it and feel Paul’s excitement and wonder, his marvel and joy. ‘Immortal, invisible, God only wise’ – the great hymn tries to capture something of this excitement. Isn’t that awesome, after 30 years of being a Christian, Paul is still overjoyed at what Christ has done for him in saving him. If you have been a Christian for a while do you still have that same sense of joy and wonder at God’s grace to you?
And if you’re not yet a Christian, is it because you think you are too sinful for God to forgive? You’re not. Paul was worse. And God forgave him. God will forgive you too if you ask him. Jesus’ death is more than enough to pay for all your sins – past, present and future. You’re not too sinful for God to forgive. There is nothing you have done which is too awful for God’s grace to cover.
On the other hand, if you’re not yet a Christian, is it because you think you’re too good to need forgiveness? You’re not. No one is - except Jesus. And if you ignore what Jesus offers, then where else will you go for forgiveness?
Friends, no-one except Jesus can save you. And if we ignore Christ, or seek to add to what Jesus has done, we are in clear and present danger. So v19 – some have wandered away from the faith.
The false teachers showed they were not Christians by their actions. They were only interested in controversies, in arguments, in meaningless talk, in showing how right they were, and using their position for financial gain. So skip forward with me to 6:3-5 – READ. Those sorts of actions are not the marks of godly, saved people.
No, those who have been truly saved will show love – love, which comes v5 from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Without such things there will be no love. And these 3 only come from the gospel – the death of Jesus wipes away our sin, thus purifying our hearts, cleansing our consciences and bringing forth faith. Some however had wandered from the gospel, and their hearts had become impure, their consciences going bad, and their faith insincere.
And so v19 – Paul urges Timothy to fight the good fight and not to wander from the faith. The letter ends the same way 6:20-21. What will keep Timothy going? Holding on to the gospel; and acting in love, knowing the forgiveness and love of God.
- How is our fight going?
3 great themes – Paul’s authority – false teachers – salvation. Timothy is to fight hard, and we must too.
But to fight we need to know where the enemy is, and who he is. So where do these 3 themes impact us today in 2006?
a) Paul’s authority
There are many today, even in the Anglican church, who deny the authority of Paul. Paul was homophobic - so we can discard his teaching on homosexuality. Paul was a misogynist – someone who hates women – so we can discard his teaching on the role of women in the church. More on this one in a few weeks.
As we read Paul’s letters we need to realize that in the mercy and wisdom of God, they have been kept for us. As we read them, we need to remember that through them God is speaking to us. They are not just the words of any old man, they are the words of the apostle to the Gentiles. Our apostle. But even more than that, they are words of our apostle inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that we can say this is the word of God. The word of God which has authority over us.
‘Authority’ is a dirty word to many in Australia; but it ought not be to Christians. God is our authority, and he institutes authorities on earth – we will see some of them in coming weeks; both inside and outside the church. How do we respond to authority is a very important question – for people will be watching us as Christians to see what we do.
b) False teachers
Secondly, false teachers, and you would think that after 2000 years we would have sorted out our doctrine, and everyone would be in agreement. No. There are still false teachers in the Christian church; and there always will be until Jesus returns. And of course there are many outside the church who teach error regarding the Lord Jesus and salvation.
So I think of ‘The Da Vinci Code’; which sadly has led some people away from the truth, through its many errors of church history and theology. Or the Bible Code-type books, which claim to give fresh, new insights into the Bible. Other religions – book ‘Where did Jesus die?’ written by Muslims to persuade people Jesus didn’t die on the cross as the Bible says.
But we can usually cope with those. Far worse are those false teachers inside the church. Here are a few quotes from an article in 2003 by the Anglican Dean of Perth.
- on Scripture: it is ‘disingenuous (that is, insincere) to imagine the Scriptures convey literally the word of God.’
- On miracles: ‘there is no need for a miraculous event like a virgin birth, a symbol of God’s authority incorporate in Christ, to be believed in as though it were a literal occurrence.’ ‘Or that miracles.. lame walking…blind seeing…deaf hearing; … stopping the storm at sea, … walking on the water, were anything more than stories which symbolised Christ’s affinity with the Father.’
- On Christ’s resurrection: ‘It is similarly not necessary to believe that the resurrection appearances are literally true.’
- On judgement: ‘Nor is it necessary to Christian faith to believe that Jesus physically and literally ascended to heaven after 40 days…or that there will be a final judgment where the righteous will be accepted into a so-called heaven, and sinners will be condemned to everlasting damnation.
- On atonement: ‘It is not necessary to believe that Christ’s death was required to pay the price of human sin to God. So the proposition that Christ died for our sins can only be contemplated in such a highly symbolic way that it is to all intents and purposes useless.
- On the uniqueness of Jesus: ‘It is not necessary to believe that Christianity is the only way to God.’
This is an Anglican minister in Perth. And he is not alone. David Rowbottom was not accepted for ordination to Anglican ministry in Perth, because his views clashed with such views as those I’ve mentioned.
Sometimes it can be much more subtle – a desire to hear new teaching; bored with the old, old story of Jesus and the cross. Or those who promise material blessings will follow conversion automatically if you do or say the right things.
Taking action against such teachings, is loving. Of course we must do it in love, but we must do it. Our world says be tolerant, there is no such thing as truth or error, it is arrogant to say you have the truth; but to keep quiet is the very essence of un-love. If people are being led away from God it is not good. Love sometimes must be tough. False teaching ruins lives, sears consciences, dispels hope and enslaves people.
True teachers know the gospel and refuse to tamper with it. Is that what we are teaching and listening to?
Finally our 3rd great theme. Salvation.
I remember before I went to Moore College, walking down the street in Randwick on my way home, and being stopped by a lady who asked me if I would like to join a home group to study the Bible. I explained to her that I was already in one, with my local church. After some more discussion, the thrust of her argument was that unless I was in a group with her church I wasn’t really a Christian. She was with the Sydney Church of Christ - a very dangerous sect. Dangerous because salvation is then seen as gospel-plus. Faith in Jesus isn’t enough. You have to go the right church. You have to be in the right Bible study group. Others say you have to be baptized. You have to be rich. You have to speak in tongues. You have to knock on so many doors. You have to read some other book as well as the Bible.
Always something else. Always some sort of law that has to be kept. That isn’t Christian freedom. That is going back to slavery. Jesus died to free us from that. To think otherwise is to insult and blaspheme Christ. The heart and soul of Christianity is forgiveness not law-keeping. Non-Christians keep thinking Christianity is about keeping the law, we must show them it is about forgiveness and love. We must show them that as we meet them, or as they see us here on Sunday nights, at Macca’s, in our mid-week groups, that love and forgiveness are the essence of our relationships, because we ourselves have been forgiven by God.
Friends, time to finish. We live in a world where we will face difficulties and struggles as we wait for Jesus to return. Troubled by false teachings, struggling with relational issues. How will we keep standing? Only by fighting the good fight. Fighting for the authority of the Bible, and living out what God says. Fighting against false teachers who will take people into hell with them. Fighting for our Saviour - Christ Jesus, who came into the world to save sinners. Don’t give up and don’t give in! Let’s pray!