Our study of Church 101 has carried us through a varied landscape from defining the faith to defending the faith to dwelling in faith. From the Call to prayer to the Call to preach. From the Call to care for every church member, including it’s leaders. We’ve seen God’s design for a biblical church polity, and God’s design and desire for his people to submit to his word, and the proper use of wealth. And now we turn to the final lesson in Church 101 a lesson which forms as much a closure as it does a framework for all of Christian living. The final lesson is prefaced with a call to faithfulness and is completed with the prayer to dwell in grace.
So for what is likely to be the last time for a good long time, I would like you to open your Bibles please to the last chapter of 1 Timothy and read with me 1 Timothy 6:20-21.
Guard the Gospel
At least in terms of this letter this is Paul’s last word to Timothy and you would expect his final statement to be important. Above all things he instructs Timothy to guard that which has been entrusted to him.
When something has been entrusted to you it means that whatever it is does not belong to you so that you can do whatever you want to do with it, but rather means that you are being given responsibility to faithfully keep it untarnished.
Think about young parents getting ready to go out for their first date after the baby’s birth.. They carefully select a babysitter whom they believe they can trust and yet even when that trusted individual shows up I can almost guarantee you that mom is going to give her a long list of requirements or rules or general guidelines even if that babysitter knows full well what she’s doing. What are all the extra instructions for? It’s not because that sitter isn’t at all trusted, but rather because the baby which she’s being entrusted with is incomprehensibly valuable to the mother and she has every right to expect that at the end of the date that babysitter will hand over the (hopefully sleeping) infant completely unharmed.
What is it that has been entrusted to Timothy? Most recently it is this letter or more specifically the contents of it. Secondly it is the ministry entrusted to him and to which he is is urged (1 Timothy 1:3) to remain steadfastly at. Primarily however it is above all things the gospel message which Timothy has been left in Ephesus to guard. The language of the entire letter has been focused on Timothy guarding that which he has been entrusted with.
Fight the good fight is the first charge given to Timothy in 1:18 and it is the final charge given him in this closing sentence. He is called to be a guard it’s a military sense in view here. A guard basically does one of two things
- He prevents unauthorized access – but since the gospel isn’t to be held back we must move on to the second task of a guard.
- He prevents any harm to the item he is guarding.
In this sense then Timothy is called to protect the gospel from any assault. He must defend it righteously and vigorously. Attacks upon the gospel come today from every direction.
There are attacks on the scriptures themselves as well as on their origin, or their meaning. There are attacks on Christianity itself, attacks on Jesus and his identity. Some are fierce and others try to deftly slip falsehood under the radar.
In this world we must be ready to guard the deposit which we have all been entrusted with. We must be ready to defend the pure word; and to defend the gospel when those around us attack our Lord or his gospel.
This is the reason why on Wednesday nights we’ve been looking at Issues of holding a Christian worldview. In every arena of life we’ve been learning to defend the faith first by knowing what it has to say regarding politics, origins, Philosophy, Theology, Ethics, Biology and more. Each one of those terms represents an aspect of God’s word that is under attack and it is meet for Christians to truly learn what God’s word has to say about these issues so that we can both recognize error and correct it first in our own lives and then by extension correct it in others as best we may.
When someone at work disparages Christ or pokes fun at the church we need to be ready to explain what the truth of the matter is and to correct the misconceptions. This is what it means to guard that which has been entrusted to you.
But it’s not enough to simply be ready to defend. Timothy’s task is our task and it has two components. First to guard the truth and then to avoid the lies.
Avoid godlessness the antithesis of what is being guarded. In addition to guarding the good… avoid the evil! Many times it seems in the Christian community that we are really good at guarding or really good at avoiding evil but we seldom do both well. Engaging in worldly and empty talk are the antithesis of guarding the deposit.
Let’s look at what he says. Remember the context of the letter entails people all the way back to chapter one who are teaching strange doctrines and are focused on myths and endless genealogies (1 Tim 1:4). They want to be teachers but they really don’t understand what they’re teaching (1 Tim 1:7). Ultimately some of them are actually blaspheming God in their endeavor to teach (1 Tim 1:20).
The end result of all of their endless and mindless babbling is that they have turned aside to fruitless discussion (1:6) which Paul epitomizes here as chatter that is both worldly chatter and empty. But it is the result of it all that should give us reason to pause. Those who have professed this falsely named “wisdom” have “gone astray from the faith.”
The verb emphasizes missing something central. It almost sounds like if you aim at a target and miss the center you have missed the mark. However, this verb does not mean to miss something you aimed at, it means you aimed at that which wasn’t the goal! (Spiros Zodhiates, [amazon 089957663X inline] )
By failing to aim at the centrality of the gospel they have aimed at something entirely different and as a result they have missed the mark. I have to say that it sounds a lot like the ones who in the end will say to Jesus, “Hey we drove out demons in your name” or “hey we worked miracles in your name.” But Jesus will say to them, “depart from me, I never knew you!” (Matthew 7:21-23). What’s the story there? They had majored on the minor things and had ignored the core of the gospel which is turn away from sin, confess, and believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ the only Son of God. They had missed the mark.
The lesson for us is fairly simple: Don’t miss the mark. Don’t allow other than the gospel of Jesus Christ to be that for which you aim. Consider all that you make a part of your life and ask yourself the honest question, “How central is the gospel in my life?” My Brothers and Sisters Our task is not merely to guard it’s purity but to proclaim it purely.
Finally we move from prescription to prayer. Everything that can be said in the space of a brief letter has been said. All that is left is time for a simple prayer: The grace be with you.
Dwell in Grace
Normally Paul ends his letters in his own handwriting with something like, “may the grace of (our) Lord Jesus (Christ) (be with you)”
Here in particular there are two items worth noting. First, in the original language the word “the” is inserted just before “grace” so that it is not merely any grace but specifically “The Grace” which Paul is praying for here. Having already spent the whole letter dealing in the gospel it is not hard to recognize that he is speaking of the grace of Jesus Christ as displayed in the gospel.
Second I want you to see that the word “You” is not singular but plural. It might help to think more southern in your theology for a moment, “the grace be with y’all”. Even though this letter was written to Timothy it is evident that it was intended to be read to the entire church. In that sense it is not a personal letter which is publicly divulged but a public letter written to an individual.
It is Paul’s passion that we all live in Grace. How then do we accomplish that?
How do we dwell in grace? As 1 Timothy 3:15 indicates the letter was in fact written to clarify what it means for us as a church body to live in grace. It involves more than faith in Christ (though faith in Christ is the cornerstone). It also means living in compliance with His word.
It means guarding the teaching of the gospel (chapter 1) it means being people of prayer (chapter 2a), it means teaching the word (Chapter 2b), it means establishing Godly elders and deacons (as well as deaconesses) in the church in order to guide it and serve it (Chapter 3). It means defending the truth, and keeping the word of God central in our worship time together (Chapter 4). It means caring for the church members as well as leaders. (Chapter 5) and sometimes it means living as good workers and citizens in the world but not being so wrapped up in it’s values or in greed that we fail to remember that we are supposed to be living with our eyes and our hearts on eternity.
How should you live? You should live firmly entrenched in the grace of God so that what he has done in redeeming you bleeds into the way that you live day by day.
So finally and at long last we bring our study of 1 Timothy to a close. The class is over but the final exam is yet to come. The final exam will play itself out as we walk away from this lesson in Church 101. Will we now let ourselves be shaped by it as if it’s life lessons were considered worthy by us or will we pass over all that we’ve done as if our time here were simply a study hall used to pass the time?
Let this final word of exhortation both dwell in you and bear fruit in your life. Grace Be With You. Far from being a command, grace be with you is a prayer with which this letter finds it’s close. As we now close this book, I repeat the prayer on your behalf: The Grace be with you all.