The world needs to hear simple truths. What message do we want the City of Sumas and the Nooksack Valley to hear/to grasp/to feel/to sense? "God loves you" is needed, so that people truly hear it, more than a good idea, a living and transforming truth.
Paul writes 1 Timothy to a younger pastor Timothy, and there is fire, passion and a call for a renewed spirit. Paul has been at this missionary business for perhaps 30 years. This is the seasoned mentor advising the young student to regain a renewed passion. Today there is a need for mentors and learners. Paul’s lesson to Timothy is to reclaim the simple truth of the gospel, don’t get sidetracked by secondary issues, remain firm in a simple truth. The simple truth of the message of Jesus Christ is not about head knowledge, nuanced beliefs, special insight into the end times or other complicated ideas, but it is a matter of focusing on that which is foundational and expressing the truth through our lives by loving our neighbors, caring about others. The Christian who thinks they have a higher grasp of biblical knowledge, even if what they believe is true, but don’t live out the love of the gospel to others, is missing the heart of the gospel. The simple truth: 5 The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. May we not get sidetracked in fighting with others, superior attitudes, but remain focused on the simple truth of the God and live out the gospel. The most profound message all of you will preach this week is the act of kindness for your neighbor.
Timothy is struggling…1 Timothy 1:3. Paul is urging Timothy to stick it out…whatever was going on, Timothy appears to be about to pack it in, that’s why Paul urges him to stay. Paul senses the time is right for Timothy to stay in Ephesus. Paul believes Timothy has what it takes, the right gift mix, the right personality. Maybe timid Timothy felt like he could not handle those with stronger personality who were getting sidetracked in the teaching, but Paul comes alongside him and says stick it out. There are many times when that’s what we need to hear. Keep on keeping on. Paul doesn’t just say to Timothy, try harder, he says, refocus yourself on the simple gospel, do not play the same game, but go back to the foundational teaching the gospel with your hands and feet.
Here is the game the false teachers are playing: 1 Timothy 1:4, 6-7.
Nobody knows for sure, but commonly it is thought the false teachers are not bad people/blatant heretics. probably men from the congregation who, in many ways, were good teachers, but they were beginning to introduce ideas that were from human philosophy. perhaps Jewish fables, myths and genealogies, in the church at Ephesus. That would be like introducing extra books beyond the Bible to fill in the gaps. Today, I fear some get caught up in speculation about the details of the end times. The discussions are fine only if we not lose sight of the simple gospel message. People come to know the Lord through the cross, through the love of God, not through a nuanced explanation of the 5th broken seal of revelation and the world empire of which it corresponds. The truth is that in the Bible there are gaps in our questions. I believe the Bible answers everything we need to know, but not every speculative question… One of my professors in Seminary once said that the most profitable three words a pastor can learn: “I Don’t Know.” I.e. there will be questions of which you won’t know the answer and you aren’t required to know everything.
Studying the Bible is fascinating. The details are wonderful. When I was a teenager, I liked math, and I remember getting out a piece of paper and sketching out Adams age, and his lineage and figuring out how many generations were alive at the same time… you can do that, and you can answer that question, but by itself not real useful information, speculative, I doubt anyone ever came to the truth of the gospel by knowing that information… Questions are good. But not all questions are edifying. God lets us in on that which is important. When you have questions, if the answer is not clear in the Bible, in all likelihood its a question that can/should remain on the back burner. Here’s two tests to know if your questions are speculative. From the bible (1 Timothy 1:4): a) does it result in meaningless speculation? b) is it unhelpful to living a life of faith. The teachers were getting sidetracked…
People need to know they are loved. I need to hear that God cares. The simple truth of the gospel, has its highest expression in love: 1 Timothy 1:5
You know you are being sidetracked if you have endless arguments with people that really don’t make that much difference, they seem so important, but the answer somehow does not result in living a life of faith. You know you are on the right track if you are getting to the heart of what people need to hear: love, acceptance and forgiveness. A life of faith. A simple truth.
I don’t have all understanding of the details of doctrine, this is not the church for you if you want to hear a long list of detailed subtleties of teaching from ecclesiology to eschatology, Christology and soteriology (see I can use big words) but I’m going to do my best to love the people of Sumas. That is what our church is all about. A few years ago I sat and watched in this church, not sure about my future, struggled with the idea of being the pastor of the church where my father served for 43 years. Undoubtedly, as a young man I could not have handled it, the pressure of being compared to a giant of a man of faith, but something changes through the years. Many are gone, of course, who knew my father, but that wasn’t the final affirmation. What got me really excited was when we went through the process of asking what we are about 4 years ago, and the final evalution: “Rooted in the word, focused on the cross, missioned to the world.” I believed the holy spirit was here guiding that process, and when we as a church talked about how that meant to go into the community, give ourselves away as a church finding out what we do well and just give ourselves away without thought about our own growth, and partner with others in the community. I remember telling Sally early on, that would fit me perfectly. The simple truth of the gospel, rooted in the word, it’s what Paul the mentor is telling Timothy, focused on the cross, the central symbol of our faith, God’s faith and love towards us… and missioned to our world… Paul says the gospel was committed to his trust (1 Tim. 1:11). We too have been entrusted with the gospel. It is a privilege for each one of us to have been entrusted with proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.
Take a closer look the need to love others, as Paul tells young Timothy. Where does sincere love come from? 1 Timothy 1:5: A pure heart, a good conscience, a sincere faith.
A pure heart… i.e. motives… I have learned to not be motivated to act in order for people to come to this church… maybe others can do it, but I am a perfectionist at heart and I have learned for the size of the congregation on Sunday morning not to be the motivating factor… I am learning to serve others for their sake and what’s best for them…not bigger numbers, not a feather in my cap, not a certain reputation, but God’s love. The elders are like minded, we are exceptionally blessed to have others that are likeminded and supportive…Every week I tell people about the other churches in town, because even though I do it imperfectly, I am striving to be motivated by a pure heart. May we be motivated to care more about the Kingdom than our own church. We want people to find a church home, a local expression of the larger kingdom, but it is the kingdom that Jesus talked about, for people to become a child of God, loved by God. I have resolved to let God take care of our little church and put together the people he wants… I am less than pure, I know that, I will still get caught up in performance, but I believe I am a smidgen closer to purity than I was 20 years ago. When you affirm others do it out of a motivation to affirm others, to want the best for them, to lift them up. A pure heart…
A good conscience. That came up a couple weeks ago. A good conscience is based not on what feels good, but rather having a standard of truth and acting according to what I know to be true. It turned out to not be a treasure, but earlier this week I thought I’d spotted a vintage book online locally, The Wizard of Oz, and when I first asked questions, the woman obviously did not know books, I was told basically it was a first edition, which I looked up and saw that it was worth about $30,000, and the woman only wanted $100. I was tempted to take the book and cash it in, if in fact that is what it was, but I talked it over with Leigh from the Lion’s Den and a few others, and I decided before I even knew that it wasn’t right…we are going to do wrong at times, but to strive for a good conscience, to use that as a guide to keep us on a path of love…to have standards of truth and live by those principles regardless of the consequences.
A sincere faith… go beyond outward appearance, integrity, doing what is right when others aren’t looking. I can probably fool you for a long time with an outward show of piety, but I will never fool God. He knows my heart.
The simple truth expresses itself in love. And love is tested by a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
I am not called to be a defender of the faith in Sumas. We are called to live the gospel with our lives. I’m not interested in arguments or quarrels, there are too many people that need the gospel, a helping hand, a kind word, a word of assurance, a measure of hope…that’s the gospel. The simple gospel truth is to know that God loves you, that Jesus died for your sins, and your life can be changed. The simple gospel truth is that you can be forgiven of your sins and you know longer have to be weighed down by the bad choices, the bad circumstances…
1 Timonth8-11 describes how the law defines our sin, but as Christians, our focus is on the gospel. Too much focus on everything we are not to do as Christians is another way to sidetrack from the simple truth. The fullness of the Christian life is not primarily about what we don’t do, it is who we are in Christ Jesus. The simple gospel is the truth of the new creation in Christ. The transforming power of Christ in us. May we strive to live out the simple gospel message by loving others with a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith. Amen.