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The Good Fight (Sermon September 25, 2016)

1 Timothy 6:6–19 (NRSV) st_timothy_the_apostle_hand-painted_orthodox_icon_1

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

The Good Fight of Faith

11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 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, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

 

The life of a Christian is not always an easy one. So often we are caught in a struggle between what scripture says and what makes sense in the world. In many cases our faith can seem like foolishness to those outside these walls. This is the very reason why it is nearly impossible to argue someone into a life of faith. To those outside of the faith things like loving your enemies, the meek will inherit the earth, and blessed are the poor not only sound crazy they are contrary to everything the world stands for.

 

Working for a larger corporation I meet many of these struggles daily, particularly the concept of the meek will inherit the earth. In our business culture we are told to be confident, even arrogant. It is even acceptable to lie as long as the untruth gets the sales. This poses a problem for many people of faith. When I worked for a different company my manager was upset with me at one time because I would not promise to things that were not possible to deliver because the delivery time would be too great.

 

These concepts are not new, these business concepts have been around since business has been around. But there has also been an opposing perspective as well. When Jesus taught us that the meek will inherit the earth, he is not saying that we need to be weak, instead he is saying that we need to be honest and to live with integrity.

 

These are the same concepts that Paul is encouraging his apprentice Timothy to consider. In religious communities there have always been people that sought to exploit the faithful for personal gains. This is the main reason that the people of Israel wanted a king to rule over them after the Prophet Samuel died. Samuel was a very godly man, but his sons used their positon as priests for profit. Samuel made his living serving God in the tabernacle but there was a difference. Samuel’s sons were not content. The same could be said about those priests from various polytheistic religions, often the priest would withhold the blessings of their cult until they were sufficiently paid. These ideas were also factors that prompted the protestant reformation. Paul tells Timothy, there is gain but this should be tempered with contentment. Meaning that those that serve God and are godly in their dealing will be blessed, or God will take care of them, but through this we as participants both in pastoral ministry and those whose vocation may be outside the church, should be content as long as our basic needs are met.

 

Have we ever really considered what this is actually saying? The early Quakers made a point to live a simple life. To live this way they looked for goods that would not need to be replaced frequently, they also did not spend extra on luxury items because they were content with little. They chose this lifestyle so that through their simple living they were free to help those in need as they were led to do so, and they were not tied down by the things of this world if they were led to minister in other areas. This lifestyle put many early Friends in unique positions, for some their simple lifestyle allowed them to invest in business, for others it allowed them to take or finance journeys for the Gospel. But in whatever the case might have been for them personally, they kept one thing in mind. I will live simply so that others can simply live. Those Friends in business, would run their businesses with great integrity making sure that they were not taking advantage of their customers. And for those that found it necessary to hire laborers they took on the responsibility to provide wages so that person would be able to satisfy their basic needs. I have mentioned before that Cadbury the famous Quaker chocolatier not only included housing as a benefit of employment, but made sure these structures and lots were adequate for families and even guaranteed enough space outside for a garden. Several Quaker businesses followed similar ideas, and Friends became leaders in several industries.

 

Wealth is not sinful, profit is not sinful, a salary is not sinful, but when these things become the focus of our lives there is the temptation that these things will become a distraction to our faith. This is what Paul means when he says, “The love of money is the root of many kinds of evils.” When we are too focused on money to participate in the things that God calls us to do, we become worthless to the kingdom. This happen at any income level, those that cannot afford to finance their basic needs become so focused on how they are going to afford to live that they often neglect their spiritual conditions, and those with great financial holdings are often so busy managing their investments that they fail to listen to the voice of God urging them to be generous and enable the continuation of Christ’s mission.

 

I do not like speaking about money in a Meeting for Worship, because often we are on one side of the other, we feel as if we can barely make the ends meet or we might be fairly comfortable in our income and actually have investments that allow that comfort to continue. But this is important because money is a large distraction of faith. It is also one of the primary focuses of those outside in the world. So Paul urges Timothy to learn to be content, to not complain if he might not have enough in his own mind and to continue to walk in faith. He goes as far as to say shun this lifestyle of financial pursuit, and instead focus on a spiritually disciplined life.

 

Shun the pursuit of worldly standards and instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Let us consider this list for a moment. Righteousness. This word is loaded with religious overtones, but at times our understanding of this word might be slightly skewed. When thinking of the word righteousness I challenge you to think of it as right relationship. To be righteous in this sense is to be honest with God and mankind. To pursue justice and confront injustice wherever it might rear it’s head. To live a lifestyle of righteousness it requires that we take a step outside ourselves and look at things from a different perspective and consider what would be best in as many cases as we can imagine and responding accordingly. Righteousness is not about being right, it is about being relational.

 

Godliness is similar to that of righteousness, but often righteousness pertains to the right relationship or just dealings with humanity. Godliness deals primarily with a right relationship with God. To be Godly our objective is to respond to the divine properly. The whole premise of the “What Would Jesus Do” movement dealt with righteousness and Godliness, but to be Godly is to contemplate or to consider a response based on our understanding of God. These first two concepts that Paul mentions to Timothy deal with listening to those outside ourselves. They take into consideration the perspective of those within our community as well as considering the perspective of God. In both cases we must stop what we are doing and listen.

 

To be righteous and Godly we must make it our custom to study scripture and to meditate on them, to let the words that we read sink into the very core of our being. These first two aspects of the life that Paul encourages Timothy to pursue firmly fit within the realm of Prayer. Faith is a bit different. Faith is a response of trust. As we consider our relationship with God, we then step out entrusting that God will provide the way forward in a given situation. It also means that we become the trustworthy ones to those outside our community of faith. Again it is based on our relationships between God and mankind. Letting our yes be yes, and our no’s be no’s. Saying yes to God, and living firmly planted in that yes. And ensuring that when we say yes to those around us we follow through to the end, even if it cost us.

 

Love. What does it mean to pursue love? This form of love is Agape. This type of love is the active bestowing esteem to the undeserving in the face of disappointment and rejection. This is the type of love that God has for us. They type of love that provided Jesus joy even when He face the pain of the cross for us, even while we still lived lives rejecting him. If we are to pursue a life with Christ, walking in his pathways this is the type of love that we should have for those around us. Giving them esteem thinking of their welfare even though they reject what we do for them. Honoring other even when they despise our positions and our way of life.

 

Paul speaks to Timothy through the idea of training as if for an athletic competition when he says fight the good fight. Endurance to me always has an athletic feel, this is probably because I ran. (Ran is in the past tense, I no longer run because I no longer have endurance). Endurance is long suffering, steadfastness, and patience. To pursue endurance is to stay. To love as God love we need this to withstand constant rejection. This requires strength that is beyond our own ability, if we pray for patience we better start seeking God because we are about to enter into a time of trial. And to love as God loves we will need His strength to continue honoring those around us who constantly reject our efforts.

 

Paul concludes this list with gentleness. Gentleness is meekness, it is humility, and right relationship with ourselves and others. This list like the holy rhythm of life that Jesus taught us cycles back to the beginning. Gentleness like righteousness encourages us to take into consideration those around us, looking at things from their perspective as we encourage them to take steps toward Christ.

 

Paul tells Timothy to fight the good fight, take on the lifestyle of Jesus and live that out in view of others. Continually cycling through righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. One step at a time. Moment by moment encouraging. This lifestyle is contrary to that of the world. The world seeks oneself, the world seeks their own desires, the world seeks to reject those that reject them, and the world does not wait and is not humble. Everything about the Christian life is opposed to the ways of the world, even within a nation that claims to be a Christian nation. But if Timothy and if we are going to encourage our community to live for Christ, we need to fight the good fight. Just as Christ fought that fight for us. He left His throne in glory to live among mankind. He lived a full life from a fetus in the womb of Mary to an adult. He ate with his family and with his friends, he worshiped in the sacred places of His culture, He withdrew often to pray, and he taught his disciples to do the same. He came into a community and he ministered to their needs; healing those needing healing, teaching those that needed understanding, encouraging those who needed encouragement, feeding those that needed fed. He endured the rejection, and shame, he even endured the Cross of a criminal for us. He did this all not because we deserve it but because he loved us. He did this all because he does not wish anyone to be left out but wants us all to be saved and reconciled to God and know the truth. What is that truth? God loves us, he created this world for his and our pleasure, but in our selfishness in our pursuits of money, power, fame, and glory we have rejected all the goodness of God and have turned our back on him. Yet He loves. We can continue to pursue the things of this world or we can repent and turn back to God through Jesus Christ. We can either continue to pursue our own ways which lead to destruction, or we can pursue God which leads to glorification.

 

Paul urges Timothy to shun the things of this world, and to pursue the things of God. As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends, I ask and encourage us all to consider where we are; Are we discouraged like Timothy or are we confident in Christ? Are we distracted by the world or are we focused on Christ? Are we simply living so other can simply live or are we pursuing our own desires? Do we trust God?

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