THE GOOD SERVANT
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The thing to remember about this letter to Timothy is the reason it was written. We’ve been talking the last two weeks about the household of God. We’ve been talking about God’s grace, God’s mercy. Paul always starts with the foundation and that is also where we always must start. The thing is though, that over 2/3 of the letter has to do with why the letter was written. This was a problem in the church at Ephesus. I know it’s hard for us to imagine problems in the church.
However, this was the case. Paul plainly states that he wants Timothy to remain in Ephesus. Paul wants Timothy to combat bad teaching that is going on. We’re not told a lot about what this teaching is. Some have said that it’s gnostics. People who taught that there was some secret knowledge to the faith. We have Paul writing against people engaging in myths and genealogies. Not because he was against ancestry.ca or anything like that. There were biographies written about OT figures, and people studied them and made up endless speculation about them.
There was much disputing. To the point where people were praying angrily. To the point where women were teaching in such a way as to hold sway over others, to domineer. There was a problem with women which you’ll hear more about in this series. People were leading because they were looking for material gain. At the beginning of chapter 4, we have Paul quite pointedly pointing out what some of this teaching was about. Some were forbidding people to marry. Others were saying that one had to abstain from certain foods in order to follow Christ.
The Spirit has predicted this. In later times (in other words, the time we’re living in now – the same time as the people of Ephesus in this letter) some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. Lies.
So Paul lays down a series of things for the Christian leader. You don’t often hear this passage outside of an ordination service, in fact. These things are not just for the Christian leader – though they provide a means by which to measure your leadership for sure. We believe in the priesthood of all believers, and as I like to say, it means more than just decisions are shared. It means we are all called to share in the task of being a servant, in one way or another. Let us look at Paul’s instructions and hear what God has to say to our hearts.
“If you put these instructions before the brothers and the sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus...” Right off the top, we have the idea that being a Christian leader is not about stoking one’s own ego. It’s not about having your way or lording it over others. It’s about being a servant. It’s about helping others grow in their relationship with God. It’s about helping others be formed in the image of Christ. It’s about helping others be aware of the Spirit’s work in and around them.
I’m going to go with a sports analogy since Paul uses one here himself. I was watching a couple of soccer teams recently and there was a discussion about the two coaches. Of one coach it was said, “Wherever he goes, he makes players better.” He helps players live up to their talent and potential and have success. Of the other coach, it was said, not so much. The other coach was more about having players buy into his system. You can tell which one was modelling the kind of leadership Paul describes here.
This leadership is not all about telling others what to do. “Put these instructions before the brothers and sisters” is what Paul writes. William Barclay in his commentary on this letter describes the word for “put before” or “lay down” like this – “It does not mean to issue orders; it means rather to counsel, to advise, to point out, to suggest. It is a gentle, a humble, and a modest word. It means that the teacher and the leader must never dogmatically and pugnaciously and belligerently lay down the law. It means that he (or she) must not issue his instructions with the dogmatism of a dictator or the arrogance of a tyrant. It means that he must act rather as if he was reminding men (and women) of what they already knew…The guidance which is given in gentleness will always be more effective than the bullying instructions which are laid down with force.”
Reminding people of what they already knew. I often like to say that the things I’m speaking of are not something we didn’t already know. How well do we know them, is the question. How well do we know them in our hearts? For the truths of the good news of Christ to be planted ever more deeply in our hearts. This is that for which we pray, isn’t it? In order for the Holy Spirit to work this planting in us, we need to be reminded.
We need to be reminded constantly of course. I need to be reminded. These are words to a Christian leader, yes, but they’re words to all of us. You’ve been nourished in the faith, Paul writes to Timothy. You came up in it through your mom and your grandmother. Wonderful! Don’t sit on your Christian laurels. We were talking recently in one of our Bible studies about how one of the ways we might drift is to never move beyond what we learned in Sunday School as a child. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives tales. What might these things be today? Endless speculation about the end of this age? Questions about the divinity of Christ? Preachers standing at the pulpit and telling people how they should vote, or where to get their news? How do we avoid these things and hold fast to our calling?
Training. Train yourself in godliness. This word that’s been translated godliness here is also translated piety. It’s also translated religion. I know we hear things like “It’s not about religion man, it’s about a relationship.” It’s about a relationship with Christ, this is true. The thing is we need to nurture relationships. We need to tend to relationships. If I say to you “You know I really treasure our relationship” and make no contact with you or effort to see you, it might seem that it’s mostly talk on my part.
Train yourself in this thing the same way an athlete would train. Physical training is of some value, yes. It’s good. It can become a faith in and of itself of course. A faith in our own strength, or how good we look or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with physical training unless you end up like the mirror guy from the Planet Fitness ad.
There is nothing wrong with physical training of course. Let it remind us that to grow in the image of Christ we need to be training in godliness - the thing that has value not only in the present life but in the life to come. Look at those who train for the Olympics. They’re important I suppose. The Olympics. In ancient times it was believed that the gods presided over the Olympic Games. Kind of how gods preside over them today (show Mcdonalds and Coke logos). Look at hockey. It’s important. Especially in Canada. Hockey players these days are training all year. When I was growing up watching hockey, players would kind of use the season to get in shape for the playoffs. They would come to training camp out of shape after having taken the summer off. Not so much anymore. It’s a year-round thing. We may think hockey is important but there are things that are much more important, things of eternal significance. Train ourselves in these things. Every day. Leave ourselves open for God’s Spirit to be at work in us. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. Another one of those “Truly truly I say to you” moments. For to this end, we toil and struggle. We toil and struggle in this together. Keeping an eye on the hope that is ours. “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.” In our living God, our hope is sure. It goes back to the songs that Paul broke into earlier. “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.” “He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up into glory.” Train ourselves to know what these things mean.
We need to be looking after ourselves. We need to be tending to our souls, to use a gardening image, which is apt for this time of year. We need to be ready when we’re called upon to be Christ to someone, in our deeds. In our words. When we’re called upon to speak a word from God into someone’s life. Every day we should be paying attention to this. At the start of this series, we talked about care for the church. How we need to be making sure we’re good before we’re able to help other people. This is how we can make sure we’re good as individuals – and what is the church if not a bunch of individuals? A body made up of many parts? Pay attention to our souls. Tend to our souls. Remember our foundation.
These are the things we must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, Paul writes. It’s thought that Timothy might have been between 30 and 40 years of age at the time of this letter. They lived in a culture which put a lot of emphasis on elders, particularly when it came to authority. Let your authority come from your experience of God. Let not a teacher be despised because of their youth, or their gender (we’ll look more at that next week). In our culture where youth is often valued above all else, it’s maybe the opposite. Let no one despise you for your age. Let us not despise anyone for their age. Set an example, rather, in speech and conduct. In what we say, in what we do. Hold your leaders to this, most definitely. Let us hold each other to this too. Let us not be at work on Monday morning telling people we were in church and then losing it on a customer an hour later. Don’t preach the good news, and be the bad news, as someone has said. Let our demonstration and proclamation be laced with love, in faith, in purity. Talk the talk, walk the walk. We know how damaging it is when these two things don’t jibe.
“Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching.” You know this material would be good in a pastoral evaluation! Is this happening? Pay attention to these things. Of course, we all should be paying attention to them by being at a worship service meaningfully and regularly. Paul gives an example of what went on in early church worship services. It’s not all that went on. We know they sang. We know they prayed. We know they gathered around the Lord’s Table. Paul specifically mentions the reading of scripture, exhortation, teaching. It’s why we pay so much attention to the reading and hearing of the Bible in our Baptist tradition (though we’re not the only ones by any means). Read the Scriptures. Exhort. Encourage. Remind. Teach. There is more to preaching than simply teaching of course. I wouldn’t call this the “teaching moment” or call myself a “teaching pastor.” There is more than a didactic element to preaching, though there is a didactic element. Exhort. Adjure. Encourage. Urge. Entreat. Invite. Invite to what? Well Paul wrote to the Corinthians – “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Which is an ongoing process. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. There is a much-loved book called The Pilgrim’s Progress. C.S. Lewis wrote a lesser-known book called The Pilgrim’s Regress. It’s either progress or regress in this Christ-following life. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. To be saved, to be reconciled to God is not just a one-time event. It’s a process. It’s lifelong. Someone once wrote of Paul that to him, he had been saved, was being saved, and would one day be saved. Let us continue to pay attention to these things together friends, so that we may be ever more fitted and equipped to be part of God’s saving plan and work.