Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sermon for the Feast of St. Timothy

                                                                                    St. Timothy
                                                                                    1 Tim 6:11-16

            I knew in first grade that I wanted to be a pastor.  As many of you know, it’s not like this came out of left field to my family.  Both my grandfathers were pastors and seminary professors.  My uncle was a pastor.  In fact you can go back six generations in my family and you will find pastors and seminary professors.  One of my ancestors came to Michigan from Germany as a pastor sent by the Lutheran leader Wilhelm Loehe, and half of the quad in St. Louis is named after relatives.  The reason I didn’t go to the Ft. Wayne seminary was because both of my grandfathers’ pictures were on the wall.  I went to St. Louis because the family history there was so long ago that nobody knew about it anymore.
            Yet while all of these things certainly played a role, the biggest influence was the pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Warrington, FL: Pastor Rupp.  We attended at Redeemer until we moved to Indiana when I was nine years old.  I went to the parochial school until the third grade.  At church and school I saw him all the time and I was deeply impressed by what a godly, caring and cool guy he was.  Watching him serve as pastor made me want to be like him when I grew up.
            Now I am not particularly cool – though perhaps as a pastor I appear that way to small boys like Eli and Colton, just as Pastor Rupp did to me.  I certainly do strive to be godly and caring like Pastor Rupp was.  It was a treat two summers ago to have a chance to visit Redeemer on our summer vacation and meet Pastor Rupp again – the pastor whose example made such a large impact on me.
            Today is the Feast of St. Timothy, pastor and confessor.  Since this day has fallen on a Sunday, we take the time to think about St. Timothy.  Yet to do so really leads us not to think about the man – after all, we don’t know all that much about him.  Instead it leads us to think about the office in which he served – that of pastor.  And we soon learn that to think about the pastor is also to think about how and why we are to live as Christians.
            Timothy was from Lystra, in south central Asia Minor, modern day Turkey.  The apostle Paul met him on his second missionary journey.  Timothy’s mother Eunice was of Jewish descent, and was Christian, as was his grandmother Lois.  His father on the other hand was Gentile.  Timothy had been raised as a Christian and when Paul came to Lystra the believers there spoke highly of him.  Paul took on Timothy as a helper in his ministry, and he became a dearly loved and trusted church worker.  Paul mentions Timothy as a co-sender of six letters in the New Testament. When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, he had placed Timothy in the important city of Ephesus where he was serving as the head pastor there.
            Our text comes from the end of the letter as Paul begins by saying, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.”  Paul addresses Timothy in a weighty fashion and urges him to “flee these things.” The things he has just been talking about are false teaching and greed – the love of money.   Throughout this letter Paul has emphasized that as the head pastor, Timothy must teach the truth and correct error.  He begins the letter by saying, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.”  In chapter four he tells Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”
            In this chapter Paul has also just warned about the love of money. He explains: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
            Timothy is to flee these things.  Instead, Paul tells him to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness. These are the things that are to be his focus – that are to characterize him.  Paul tells him, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”  The apostle’s words remind us that faith and salvation are a gift – they are something to which we are called by God.  But while God alone can create faith, we also must then pursue the life that clings to Christ and lives as what he has made us to be.  Like Timothy we have made the good confession and we must hold to it.
            At the end of our text Paul says, “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time.”  Paul tells Timothy to “keep the commandment” until Jesus returns.  Now it seems that “the commandment” summarizes all that Paul has told Timothy to do as a pastor.  He is to do this, always keeping the return of Jesus on the Last Day as the ultimate goal towards which everything is moving.
            Now obviously, you are not pastors. But in Paul’s opening where he says, “But as for you, O man of God,” and in his reference to “the command” that Timothy is to keep, you find yourself included.  Paul addresses Timothy as a man of God.  It is a reminder that at the most basic level, Timothy is not just a pastor.  He is a Christian.  And the instruction Paul has given to Timothy included these words: “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
            Timothy is to be an example to the Christians there in Ephesus as he lives out the instruction Paul has given to him.  Much of that instruction has included a word that occurs in our text: godliness. Godliness was Greek idea that has been “Christianized.”  In general it means to live in a religious, pious and faithful way. 
            Since the fall, we have been the very opposite of this.  If godliness is based on our actions, we don’t come out looking so good.  The very thing Timothy is supposed to focus upon in his ministry – teaching God’s word – is not something that occupies us the way it should.  There are things that interest us more – things to which we devote far more time. 
            Timothy is to flee from the love of money – to flee from a fixation on wealth and things; to turn away from coveting.  And yet, we want, and we want, and we want in ways that never satisfy.  The thing we desire – the thing that will make us happy soon becomes added to the list of things we think are essential and that we take for granted, as we go after that next thing that will bring happiness.
            In this letter Paul tells Timothy that the foundation of Christian godliness is instead what Jesus Christ has done for us.  He writes: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
            Godliness is a gift that comes from God. The Son of God was manifested in the flesh and died on the cross in order to redeem us from all the ways we fail to be godly. Yet then on the third day he was vindicated by the Spirit who raised him from the dead.  God has done this in his Son in order to give you salvation.
            At the beginning of this letter, Paul pointed to himself as a prime example of the amazing thing that God has done.  He writes, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
            Godliness is a gift in Christ.  And godliness is also always a way of life.  In chapter four Paul told  Timothy, “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
            Because God has given us this salvation in his Son the words that Paul wrote for Timothy the pastor are true for you.  You may not be a pastor, but as Paul says in this letter, pastors like Timothy are called to be examples for their congregations.  The word they are to teach is also the word they are to live.  And likewise the word that you learn is also the word you are to put into practice. 
            And so because of the godliness that God has given you in Christ Paul says: But as for you, O man of God; but as for you O woman of God flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.

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