THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD
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Not long ago I was speaking with a nurse, talking about the job and generally being in the caring professions. We talked some of the importance of self-care. When one is exposed to so much suffering, so much sickness, how does one make sure that it doesn’t become too overwhelming? There are many different ways that one goes about this of course. The important thing to remember is that unless one is paying attention to the care of oneself, there will be less and less to give when it comes to caring for others. I was reminded of an analogy that I had heard at a conference. When you’re on an airplane and they’re going through the safety procedures, they always tell you to make sure you put your own oxygen mask on before you assist anyone else. Make sure that you’re connected to what is vital, in other words.
We need to make sure we’re connected to what is vital. What is life-giving.
We can take the same idea and incorporate it into the life of the church. We need to make sure that we’re looking after the church in order for the church to be the salt and the light that we’re called to be. What does self-care for the church look like?
For an answer to this, we’re going to be looking at Paul’s 1st letter to Timothy over the coming six weeks. Along with 2nd Timothy and Titus, it’s part of what’s known as Paul’s pastoral epistles or pastoral letters. Letters which were not written to churches, but to individuals in church leadership – Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete. By this time, Christianity was settling in. We’re into the third generation now. Timothy found himself heading up a group of churches in a large, cosmopolitan port town where, while it was settling into an established order, Christianity was very much on the margins, its future uncertain. Paul is getting toward the end of his life. He spells out the reason for the letter very clearly in 3:14-15 – “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar, and bulwark of the truth.”
That is if you take it that Paul wrote this letter. I must mention that there is much debate over the authorship of these letters. I don’t want to take the time to get into the details, but you can talk to me about it if you like. For our purposes, know that I’m ok with the idea that Paul wrote these letters to the people named. If not then they were at least written by someone familiar with Paul’s writings and teachings, familiar with his relationship with Timothy and familiar with the situation in which the church in Ephesus found itself. A sort of Pauline cover band, if you like. I’ll be referring to Paul and Timothy throughout, though.
Paul never wastes any words. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus. Paul begins by reminding Timothy, and us, of his ground. An apostle of Christ Jesus. A messenger of Christ Jesus. An ambassador for Christ Jesus. The one to whom he devoted his life after meeting him on that road to Damascus. Our link back to Christ. An apostle, though one untimely born and not part of the original twelve. A messenger. Our link to our common ground. Like Paul, we are rooted and grounded in Christ. Like Paul, we are called to be ambassadors. A connecting link between our world and Jesus Christ, one writer puts it.
A messenger. The thing is, the messenger is always subordinate to the message. It’s by the command of God that Paul is a messenger. The authority of the message comes from God. The message that Paul brought is one that links us back to Christ. The message itself is contained in the opening. God our Saviour. God our Deliverer. An idea that goes all the way back to the OT. God showing himself to be a deliverer when the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt. There is salvation in God. There is meaning in God – ultimate meaning. We speak about the news of Easter – Christ is risen – new life – as the most important news in the world. The most important message you will ever hear. We put this up against the things that claim to save. In Paul’s day, it was emperors, gods, goddesses. There was a temple to the goddess Artemis in Ephesus – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. She was known as Artemis the Saviour.
Our message is in direct opposition to any claims to the contrary. Any claims that fill-in-the-bank will save us. What will be the thing that brings us together, particularly in the face of calamity? The strength of our community? The strength that we find in each other? These are not necessarily bad things but we need to look beyond ourselves for this saving thing.
We need to look beyond ourselves for our hope. “Christ Jesus our hope” is the title that Paul gives to Jesus here. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is how he put it in the letter to Colossae (Col 1:27). Christ Jesus our hope. This is a hortatory letter. It’s meant to encourage, to exhort. It’s why we should spend serious time with letters like this. Christ Jesus our hope. As I always like to say we’re not using the word hope here to describe an outcome that we think might happen but don’t want to happen as in “I hope it doesn’t rain on our picnic.” It’s the fulfillment of the promise “Surely I am coming soon” to which we respond “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” The fulfillment of the final promise of God. The appearing of Christ. The day of his appearing will come at last, because he lives. Christ our hope.
Our ground. Our solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm. Live in this. Rest in this as a community of faith. Paul is not talking about any need to reinvent anything foundational about the church at all, though we need to reinvent the ways in which we proclaim and demonstrate the good news of Christ. He’s talking about the foundation of the church which continues in a line back to the apostles, rooted in Christ Jesus.
The household of God. We’re a family you see. To Timothy, my loyal child in the faith. My true child in the faith. Timothy was a young man from Lystra in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. His mother was Jewish, his father a Greek gentile. Trained in the faith through his mother Eunice, and his grandmother Lois. He joined with Paul after Paul’s second trip through Lystra and was his co-worker for about 20 years. William Barclay in his commentary on Timothy describes the young man’s career like this – “He was sent as Paul’s emissary to Macedonia…He was there when the collection from the Churches was being taken to Jerusalem…He was with Paul in Corinth when Paul wrote his letter to Rome… He was Paul’s emissary to Corinth when there was trouble in that unruly church…He was with Paul in prison when Paul wrote to Philippi…Constantly Timothy was by Paul’s side, and when Paul had a difficult job to do Timothy was the man sent to do it.” Writing of Timothy to the Philippians, Paul told them “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.”
Because we are a family. You may be saying “Is not this a bit hierarchical with this father and son talk? What about all the lack of distinction there’s supposed to be among Christians. No slave nor free, Jew nor Greek etc, etc.” This is true but there’s a sense of family inherent in this that even Jesus spoke of when he said that those who do his father’s will are his mother and his brothers. There is a sense of looking to those who are farther along in their walk with Christ as we would look to an elder. The deeper meaning here I think is the relationality among members of a faith community. Make sure everything is right here so that we’re able to take this out from here. Quite apart from Paul’s authority as an apostle, he had a long-time and well-established relationship with Timothy. I look at our churches around the GTA and see how many pastors are so long established. You may think this is a good or bad thing depending on the pastor! I’m not talking out of self-interest at all here, I hope you know that. Long established and trusted relationships among church leaders and those whom they lead. I think this can only be a good thing. Apart from Paul’s apostolic authority, he may as well be saying “Timothy, you know me.” Martin Luther paraphrased the greeting like this – “My dear Timothy, you know me… You know my teaching. You have observed all of the many things I have suffered and the false brothers I have had. You have seen from how many directions spies have set up attacks on me. And you know, too, that I have no hope other than Christ. You have worked together with me in persecution, and you know that I trust in no man. So I write to you in a more familiar fashion, because Christ is our hope.”
The church as the household of God. Another great image for the church. A household founded on Christ the cornerstone. God our Saviour. We haven’t written the book on this here at Blythwood by any means and I don’t say this to boast. How wonderful it was a few weeks ago to hear our brother Bong talk about his experiences over the last 14 months. Going through some trying times. Losing his livelihood, being laid off. The family that he and his family have found here over the last 11 years. He talked about how our elders have a role in sharing what God has meant to them through the years. How those who teach our young people should know that the things of God they are passing on are taking root, are being established and lived out in young lives. We heard people speak about mutual blessing – mutual encouragement – mutual edification – because family relationships are never supposed to be a one-way conferral of benefits. We support one another. We carry one another’s burdens.
And so Paul writes to his loyal child in the faith.
And confers a blessing. We mustn’t ever underestimate the significance of a blessing. It’s why we pronounce a benediction at the end of the service, every week. I think to miss that in a church service is to miss something vital. It’s mutual too. I remember a child dedication service we had here not long ago, we had a lot of visitors that morning. I remember pronouncing the benediction at the end, I raised my arms as I normally do. Some of our visitors had their arms raised toward me! I thought – “Well that seems right and good!” Blessings are meant to be mutual in this household of faith. Paul ends his opening with a blessing.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you. May God’s grace be with you. May you be continually reminded of God’s grace. God’s unmerited love. May you be enabled to show this grace to others. May God’s mercy be with you. May God enable you to show the same mercy. Paul will speak of it the verses to come. “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence, but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” May we never take grace and mercy for granted. May they never be something we get used to. God’s loving-kindness to us. The same lovingkindness God will enable in us.
And peace. Peace not meaning simply the absence of conflict, or even peace of mind. As someone has put it, peace as the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Blessed assurance, I am Christ’s. May these truths become ever more deeply embedded in our hearts over the coming weeks friends. May they become ever more real to us as we gather around the family table, because this is what we are, the household of God.