I ran across a poem recently by an unknown author called "A Perfect Church".
I think that I shall never see
A Church that's all it ought to be.
A Church that has no empty pews,
Whose Pastor never has the blues.
A Church whose Deacons always Deke
And none is proud but all are meek
Where gossips never peddle lies
Or make complaints or criticize
Where all are always sweet and kind
And all to other's faults are blind
Such perfect churches there may be
But none of them are known to me
But still we'll work, and pray and plan
To make our Church the best we can!
I suppose it's catchy but I liked another one just a bit more, it's author is unknown as well. I'm not sure why nobody ever seems to claim these things, maybe they're afraid of some repercusions or who knows what.
If you could find the perfect Church without one fault or smear For goodness sake, don't join that church You'd spoil the atmosphere! But since no perfect church exists Where people never sin Let's cease looking for that church And love the one we're in!
I'm very excited this morning to be beginning a new adventure walking through what is commonly called a "Pastoral Epistle" or letter — First Timothy. For many months now we've done a series of topical subjects, everything from Spiritual Warfare — to Marriage and Family. And yet there is a special place in my heart for methodically working through as much as we can grasp of a single book.
To help gain an understanding of each portion we need a grasp of the big picture on which to hang them.
The Book of Acts ends with Paul in house arrest in Rome — this would have been somewhere between 60AD -63AD. Apparently after his release, Paul traveled into the western regions again, preaching and teaching. First Timothy then would have been written right around the time of 63 AD, that is perhaps thirty years after the resurrection of Jesus, and during a time when the church had moved from infant to toddler and now was stretching into the first stages of maturity — complete with the growing pains of not quite knowing how to control itself.
1 Timothy was written in order to combat some specific heresies that were beginning to show themselves in the Ephesian church. There were men in Ephesus who were teaching false doctrines, mixing Pagan practices with Jewish legalism, and pursuing power and prestige. Beyond that as the Ephesian church grew and matured there was an increased need for adequate teachers and standards by which those teachers should teach and live by.
Just like children the emerging church needed standards to guide them into maturity in a godly way. So Paul sat down to write this letter which, unlike so many of his other letters, is not intentionally theological — but focuses on the practical. It's kind of a manual on "how to do church."
The Title Of This Series is taken from what Paul says in the third Chapter at verse 15. 1 Timothy 3:15 "…
I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.
Since the stated purpose of the book is to teach the church how to be the church I'll call this series "Church 101".
In the first chapter Paul starts with the authority of the leadership of the church and moves into the measure of good doctrine being that which conforms to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only the measure of Good doctrine, but the purpose of doctrine altogether. And while we're on the subject of doctrine in general How does the law figure in? Paul then moves on to his testimony which results in an outpouring of his love for God. He touches on the nature of pastoral Leadership. He teaches about the purpose and implications of church discipline.
While on the topic of Pastoral leadership Paul starts chapter two with the duties of everyone. Every man should be praying; Paul tells us who for and what for. What about the roles of women in the church? What kind of clothing is proper for Church? Paul answers these questions and explains the theological reasons in the second chapter.
Chapter three brings us further into the issue of Church leadership by defining Biblical Elders and Deacons, what are their qualifications and why? Is it a good thing to want a position of Church leadership and what are the ramifications of it? Once that's all been covered Paul explains his purpose in what he's writing: To teach how the people of the church should behave in the church (Being mindful that the church is never a building — but is always the group of people who belong to the Living God through Faith in Jesus Christ.)
So Paul talks about Worship, Prayer, Sound Doctrine, Authority, Church leadership and he talks about Godliness.
Then in Chapter four Paul moves into the warning phase: Apostasy is coming to the church, how do you recognize it? Where is it coming from? What do we do about it? How do we prevent it? And what should our focus be?
Chapter five brings us to interpersonal relationships in the church — how to make them pure and how to keep them pure. How should the church treat it's elders — Specific roles and ways to live out godliness for different types of people: Brothers and sisters in Christ, widows and Elders. It's continued in chapter six with the ancient model of Slaves and masters — but what about Employees and Employers? What about people who disagree with good doctrine; and what about money and everything we do with it?
Materialism: the false god we all battle comes front and center towards the end of the book with the familiar verse… NAU 1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. So how do we overcome it? The answer is in the book.
From beginning to end The entire book is flooded with timely practicality. If we were to walk through these pages with eager anticipation and a hunger for personal holiness we will be rewarded in the end by each one of us becoming together the church that God wants us to be. But why Strive to be the greatest example of God's church? Because the world has grown disillusioned with Christianity. Our culture is trapped in a maze of religious pluralism where quite frankly every religion looks and acts like every other; and they need to see what Authenticity looks like.
In the words of Phillips Brooks: "
Men are questioning now, as they never have questioned before, whether Christianity is indeed the true religion which is to be the salvation of the world. … It is for us, in whom the Christian church is at the moment partially embodied, to declare that Christianity… can do that for the world which the world needs.
You ask, "What can I do?" You can furnish one Christian life. You can furnish a life so faithful to every duty, so ready for every service, so determined not to commit sin, that the great Christian church shall be the stronger for your living in it, and the problem of the world be answered, and a certain great peace come into this poor, perplexed phase of our humanity as it sees that new revelation of what Christianity is.
We don't need to pursue a study of first Timothy simply so we can sit on our sanctimonious pews grateful that we at least know the truth, while all the world goes on without it. We pursue proper avenues for living out our faith so that people who do not know God will see him in our lives, and hear of him from our lips without having cause to point fingers at our own paltry example. But when it does we know that the proper church points never to self but always to Jesus who is our Hope.
We pursue Church 101 because it's in God's word and he has called us to know Him and knowing Him to follow Him, in following Him to lead others to Him.
So this week I invite you to begin praying. Pray that in God's word he will reveal Himself to us. Pray that He will use his word in our lives to correct, rebuke, teach and train in righteousness. Pray that He will find in you and in I, faithful servants who answer. Pray as you each read and study First Timothy this week and invite God to do the very work he is eagerly doing: continuing in you the creation of Christ-likeness and obedience to His word.