1 Timothy 6:6–19 (NRSV)
6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 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?
1 Timothy 2:1–7 (NRSV)
Instructions concerning Prayer
2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Reading through the books of the New Testament, we are exposed to many letters. Most of these are written to churches, but there are a few that were written to individuals. I find this interesting because it shows the intimacy and friendship of the early church leaders and members. A couple of weeks ago we discussed the letter to a man by the name of Philemon, and now we are looking into the letter written to Timothy. Timothy traveled with Paul on his missionary journey for several years, he worked directly with this Apostle and saw many things. Eventually Paul made his way to the city of Ephesus where he went about the work of planting a church. When Paul left this city he encouraged the young disciple named Timothy to stay, to continue the work that was started. This young man was a gifted individual who stayed to encourage the believers to continue their walk deeper in Christ.
Like Philemon, who was from the city of Colossae, Timothy received this personal letter but the general church also received a letter. So many of the things mentioned in the general letter to the church are similar, but the difference in these personal letters are that they give advice to the people that Paul sees as being weighty individuals within the community of faith. There are differences in these personal letters as well, they are not necessarily things that pertain to the greater community of the church, but an encouragement to the leader in how to bring about the ideas mentioned in the larger letter. In the case of Philemon, the letter dealt with the return of a fugitive slave, not only to the house he ran from but as an equal in the church community. This is a personal issue, but it is also an issue that Paul encouraged within the larger church because he does mention how the wealthy within the community should treat those whose lives and livelihoods depended on them.
Timothy received a letter from the apostle to give him encouragement. I am sure like many leaders within a church Timothy felt greatly discouraged; rightly so Ephesus was a tough town to be a Christian in. During the Roman rule this city was the third largest of Asia Minor. This city was also contained the largest temple to the goddess Diana. This particular goddess in mythology was one that refused marriage and sought companionship among men as an equal. Only one man caught her greater attention, Orion. She was often seen as the goddess of light (moon goddess), the hunt, and nature. The actual cult practices of Diana are not really known, but she is most commonly attached to the succession of kings and issues surrounding childbirth. What we do know about this cult is that it was part of a celebration circuit meaning people would make pilgrimages to this city to participate in celebrations to this goddess, so the cult was very important to the city.
This city was also home to a large Jewish population, and many of which came from the tradition that drew a great deal from the teachings of the Essenes. And some believe that the opening portion of the letter to the church of Ephesus was actually written to the Jewish faction of the church to remind them that according to their own teachings all people are equal until they are brought into the family of God, so they should be more accepting of the gentiles among the faithful.
But this clash of cultures does prove to have tension. The gentile population was one that offered great freedoms to people. Ephesus was seen as one of the most liberal places in the empire for women. Because there was such a high honor given to Diana, women were often found among the artisans. It was also the site of a major theater that could house 25,000 people at one time, a great library, and several roman bathhouses. Since there was a great emphasis on hygiene it is not surprising that the Essene tradition of Jewish faith took off in the community, since their practices primarily revolved around ritualistic bathing. But many of the Jewish people were also artisans so there were cultural clashes within their business dealing that posed issues especially in regard to gender roles.
This is why it is important to know as much as we can about the background of the communities that the letters were written to. If we read through both Ephesians and Timothy we begin to see that many of the things that Paul speaks with such passion are not necessarily hard rules for the church in general but are localized issues where certain cultural norms are causing distraction from the core of the gospel. It also gives us some understanding as to why Paul uses certain wording to illustrate ideas.
As we walked through the book of Ephesians last year, I said that Paul was writing to a church that was advancing to a spilt between the Jewish and gentile factions of the faith. I believe that this was also why Timothy received the letters that he received because as a leader within the church community he was given the charge to encourage unity among the faithful as he encouraged them all toward Christ.
In the first chapter of this letter Paul give is testimony, saying that he is the foremost of sinners, but due to the grace and mercy of Christ he was given a place and ministry in the kingdom. He then connects that to the person of Timothy, saying that Jesus gave him a task as well that was confirmed by prophetic words and the commissioning of the elders. These are the sorts of things that is always important for people to hear, especially from those we respect. I have failed and am not perfect yet God saw it fit to use me, and He wants to us you as well. Those words encourage us all who feel like we should just give up because God cannot use a broken person like me.
Then Paul gives practical advice. Timothy you are given the task to unite this divided church. Unite this group of believers that come from extreme Jewish faith and liberal Gentile traditions and mold them into children of God. If this was my charge, I think I would hand in my resignation, it is a task that is not possible in our own strength. To unite people under one banner that have radical views and encourage them to love one another. It would take a miracle. Which is exactly what Paul is getting at. You cannot do it in your own strength. So you must rely of the strength of God. So first of all, Paul, urges you to pray. He urges us along with Timothy to pray for all people, all kings, and all leaders of prominence.
I want us to consider this for a moment. The first and probably greatest missionary of Christian history encourages us to begin with one thing. Prayer. He does not start with theology, he does not start with a program or even ministry to the poor within the community. He says that before you do anything else pray. Pray for everyone, pray for the king, pray for the leaders within the community. Why should we begin there?
There is something about prayer. Prayer is the place where intimacy with God begins. It is where we converse and commune with the creator of the universe and the one who fashioned our bodies in our mother’s womb. Prayer is where we connect with the God, who loved us so much that He through Jesus came down from heaven to dwell among mankind, to teach us how to live lives in communion with the Father, and who provided the way and means of that communion through His sacrifice on the cross. Prayer is where we begin.
Jesus, Himself, began his ministry in prayer. After his baptism by John in the Jordon, he withdrew for forty days to fast in the wilderness. During that time he was tempted by the devil but that was not the only thing that happened in the desert. There was also prayers being lifted up. How was Jesus going to do the work that He was sent to accomplish. If you think about it, the temptations of Christ are very much connected to the work he was about to pursue. As Jesus prayed, Satan tempted him to focus on his own physical needs, a show of power at the busiest place of worship, and a kingdom without end. Satan tempted Jesus with His own mission, because Jesus was praying and discerning how to accomplish the mission before him.
Timothy is also facing a great mission. The only way to start is through prayer, so that we can live quiet peaceable lives in all godliness and dignity so that through us everyone can be saved and come to true knowledge of God.
God is calling us to the very same mission. We live in a city of great wealth and diversity. How can we bring the gospel to this city? How can we unite everyone and bring everyone into the kingdom of God? The first thing that comes to my mind is not how, but why me. I am a simple man from the middle of nowhere, why am I even here in a city to begin with. I do not know what city people do, think, need or even care about. How can I relate let alone encourage anyone to come into the kingdom of God? The truth of this is, I can’t. I can’t and neither can anyone else. There is no argument that is perfect enough that will convince anyone to change their ways. There is no service I can provide that would so touch the lives of anyone that they would leave the life that they have been comfortable living and pursue a life with God. There is nothing I can do, without the Grace of God. Because like Paul, I have failed. Like Timothy I am discouraged. Like every other person in this city and in this world, I am broken, tired, poor, wore out, and stretched to the limits. Yet God called me to be here. He called me to live here. He called me to live a life and lifestyle of faith. He called me here to live among you to encourage you and everyone else I encounter that maybe the lifestyle of God is worth entrusting their life to.
We are called first to pray. When we look at the life of Jesus we find that He lived a rhythmic life; he made it his custom to worship in the synagogues, He withdrew often to pray in the isolated places, and he ministered to those around Him. He loved God, He embraced the Holy Spirit and He loved those around Him. This is our mission. This is who we say that we are, and like Jesus that begins with prayer. It is through prayer that we commune with God. When I say prayer, I mean our devotional life. The reading of scripture and the reflection on scripture. Just as David says in the psalms he delights in the law of God, meditating on them day and night. This is prayer, it is allowing God to speak to us often through scripture as we consider how we should encounter the world around us. In those times of prayer we begin to feel and sense the where God will lead us and we meet Him there in the community, ministering to the needs of others. It is through prayer that we find the words to say to those around us that need encouragement, and often those words are simply our story of how God has been with us in our own journey. It is through prayer for the kings and leaders where we might see where many of the people around us have become marginalized by our society and how we might be able to encourage them and bring them to a place of glory with Christ. It all begins with prayer. And it continues with the humbling ourselves to respond according to the spirit’s leading. Entrusting our lives to God, so that we are able to go where He leads.
We often look at the world around us and we fear the future. We see corruption, we see terrorism, and we see war and natural disasters. It is easy to become overwhelmed and say come lord and take us out of this place. Yet He waits. Imagine Timothy in Ephesus. Imagine Jews on one side demanding that all the people conform to their ideas and the gentiles on the other side demanding that everyone live lives of liberty. Imagine the place he was trying to unite these people, many of whom believed that Jesus was truly the chosen one of God, and the salvation of mankind. As we consider that transpose that image to our world today, we can see that things are not all that different. There are culture clashes all around us, yet God continues to call us to live lives for Him, so all might be saved. Paul still tells us to begin with prayer. Pray for everyone that you encounter, you might even pray with them. Pray for our leaders and you might even let them know how you are holding them up to God and encourage them. Pray for the kings and leaders around the world and support the ministries and missions of those that travel to those areas so that they too will have people to encourage them to encounter the true knowledge of God. Then move from that prayer into the world and live the love of Christ with those we meet. Extending to them the very same grace and love that Jesus gave to us, because in His mind that person at the register or at the desk, that person cleaning your room or fixing your computer is worth dying for in the mind of Christ.
Sermon shared with friends at Emporia Friends Church
1 Timothy 1:12–17 (NRSV)
Gratitude for Mercy
(Cp Acts 8:1–3; 9:1–19)
12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
How many of us have for a moment considered how we have gotten to where we are today? Looking back on my life, it actually seems like a miracle that I am standing here. I say this because I know my history better than you do. In fact I have the luxury of standing here in a place where most of you that know me or know of me only know the good things about me. You know that I am a pastor, that I am a friend of your pastor and her family’s, that I happen to be the elder of the north east area of Friends, and that I am a mediocre to decent parent (I can honestly say that that is a gift from God because I still do not really know what I am doing). But most of you do not know the deeper things of my life that brought me here today. Those deeper things are usually not spoken about in regular conversation because those pains and struggles, those personal vices that I have are often the things that tarnish a reputation and if we are honest would actually keep me and every other pastor that has and does exist from being seen as a leader within the assembly of Christ. So I keep those things quiet, I do not mention them unless I am around the closest of my friends. Why do I do that, why do we all do these sorts of things?
We often look back on the ancient church as being something to emulate today. They were people that lived their faith and saw the hand of God working all around them, and no matter what happened in the world they stood firm through increasingly terrifying persecutions. But this golden age of history was not as pure as we think. To be honest it could have been a scary time to be a part of the church, not because of the persecutions, but because there was nothing to fall back on. There was no creeds to say, this is what I believe. There was no set formula as to what the meeting for worship would look like. At times it might be difficult to even know for sure where the church would gather at any given moment, or even who would be there. All these unknowns and yet the church grew. It grew to such a degree that as we flip through the pages of history we can see it emerged to be the largest religious expression in the entire world.
These people would joyfully find their meetings, they would sing, pray, listen to teachings, and would break bread with one another. They would go out into their communities saturated with the spirit of God and would boldly speak when lead to speak, they would offer hospitality, they would anoint the sick with oil and pray for healings (and sometimes they would see their prayers answered), and they would care for those that would have no one to look out for them. At times when I cannot sleep I will read about that church so long ago, the church that started it all and wonder what it was that allowed this to happen.
Today we read a portion of the first letter to Timothy. These letters are unique in many ways but one of the most striking is that this letter was not written to a church as most of the letters Paul composed were. It is one of the few letters that were addressed to individuals within the larger assembly. This is important to remember because some of the issues raised within the letter may not necessarily be commands for the larger body, but are word to encourage just one family or person. Timothy is a young pastor living in the city of Ephesus. Paul went to this town and began to preach and teach among the people and when he left that city he encouraged Timothy to stay to encourage the members to continue to walk along the pathway of discipleship. It is a personal letter. Written to encourage one leader, as he encouraged the others within the community.
Timothy was a young man compared to the others in leadership. I am sure if we really wanted to figure out what his age might have been we could probably find a good explanation somewhere, but that is not the point. Timothy was a man; a human just like us. A man that was discouraged because life just was not working out the way he imagined it was going to work out. He was a companion of Paul, he had seen the miraculous feats that can only be described as divine guidance, but he was no longer on the missionary journey. Now he lived among the people, one man in a community filled with people who of various gifts, his vocation was assist in the development of this community as they all worked to advance the kingdom of Christ.
The issue is that Timothy was discouraged, he began to wonder how did I get here, and why am I here? Paul steps in to help Timothy work through these struggles and to redirect his focus. There is one thing that we know for sure about this church on the coast of Turkey, they were very devoted and religious people. They were known by the resurrected Christ as being a people devoted to correct teachings, and Timothy appears to be feeling a bit insignificant possibly saying like so many of us, “If they really knew who I am they would never listen to me again.”
Paul writes to Timothy, reminding him of who the apostle is. “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecute, and a man of violence, who acted ignorantly in unbelief.” This is not the first time that Paul reminds people of who he is, in pretty much every letter he wrote Paul reminds people just who the person is that God called to participate in such an important quest. This is an important discipline that Paul shows us, he confesses, he lets people know that he is not a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination. He reminds all who is willing to listen that he is not qualified to do what he does in himself.
“I was a blasphemer.” When we here this word today we often connect it to aspects of theological doctrine. Today we use this term primarily when speaking about those who teach error within the church. But the term could also be seen as severe slander. The purposeful statements made to cast doubt on the character of an individual with the hopes of removing the influence they might have over others. But this goes even deeper not only do blasphemers what to cast doubt on the character of others, they actually seek the prosecution of these individuals based on the lies they perpetuate. So when Paul says I was a blasphemer, he is not saying I taught a false doctrine, but he is saying I purposefully misrepresented others with the hopes of getting them killed.
“I was a persecution.” We in America have a skewed idea of persecution. We tend to get the idea in our head that if people do not agree with us and actively support ideas contrary to our own, that those in opposition are persecuting us. Persecution is active opposition, it is the reactionary physical reaction to blasphemy. In essence it is riots in the streets with the expressed intention to push ones beliefs on to others, and to quarantine the opposition from the community preferably placing the blame on the minority.
“I was a man of violence.” Not only did he use words to insight rage in others, not only did he seek to quarantine the opposition, but he actively participated in the physical removal of their influence. He led the charge, he cast the first stone, and he raised the sword and encouraged others to join in the cause. He did not see a problem with it because if you opposed his position it was war.
But these things are no longer who he is, because he was granted mercy because he acted in ignorance. Ignorance is another interesting word, because it is the lack of knowledge or error. Paul was not an unintelligent person by any stretch. In his own testimony he tells us that according to the world’s understanding he was off the charts a leader of leaders in his generation. He was destined to be great because no one knew as much as he did, yet he still did not have knowledge. He did not know. He did not know that in his blasphemy he was actually slandering the God that he claimed to love. He did not know that those he persecuted were the very people his God loved. He did not know that the violence that he was encouraging and participating in was actually killing those that were encouraging the followers of the one true God to live their belief in everything they did. He did not know.
Paul tells Timothy that it is not about being good enough, it is not about being smart enough, for the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven it requires that we let go of ourselves and allow God’s grace to reign. Paul says I was the worst of all sinners, yet through the Grace of God the one that would kill became the one to be killed. Jesus came to live among humanity, he came to show and teach us how to live a life in communion with God. He came to empower us to live that life directed by the Spirit. He came to provide the way and the means by dying on the cross removing at once everything that kept us from God. He was buried in the ground and rose again to give us victory through Him. And when we join with Christ, when we allow His life to flow through us amazing things happen.
Paul tells Timothy, and each of us that our story is powerful. The story that brought you to this point is one that is filled with mercy and grace, pain and struggle, doubt and hope. But that power flows if we are honest with one another. That power only flows if we are willing to take ourselves off of the pedestal and let Christ be seen through us.
So what is your story? What brought you here? I grew up in a Friends Church in North Central Kansas. I came from a family that I am very proud of people of great faith through many hardships. But my family cannot save me. I wanted to be smart. I did not really latch onto the faith of my ancestors because I loved science. Nearly nineteen years ago everything in my life changed. It began around Halloween when on an ice morning my brother and sister were in a car accident and my sister died. Every doubt I had about God seemed to be confirmed. I numbly went through life, seeking knowledge and playing the role of a good and faithful son. But I did not have comfort in my own grief. So I sought comfort elsewhere, the result of that is now a handsome senior in high school. I was a sinner. In my pursuit of knowledge I became ignorant of God, which led me down a path that resulted in an unplanned child to two parents that were too young. But when I held James the first time I heard God say yes that is how much I love you. And a new journey began. My life took on a new focus, how will I teach this child to be the man I failed at becoming? I realized that I needed God even though I did not know if God even existed. This new journey took me across the ocean to Odessa, Ukraine where God really began to work in my life. That is when God called me to take all that passion for knowledge and redirect it to Him, and it was confirmed in my mind the following fall while I sat in my pickup eating lunch between classes, where God seemed to ask me if I really loved him. This is where most of you begin to know me. You know me as the pastor, not the scared father of a son born out of wedlock. You know me as a pastor, not the guy who gave up on a dream for something different. It is God’s grace that got me here. Not my own self-righteousness. You only see part of the picture, but there is so much more.
Timothy like every one of us was a discourage leader in a community. He was not enough to meet the challenge before him. Of course he isn’t because he is human, just like us. Why do we try to act as if we can meet the challenge before us in our own power, when we can barely live our own life? But Paul took this discouraged leader and told him that may be who you were, but there is more to the story. God’s grace is with you. God’s grace strengthens and empowers you. God’s grace came down from heaven for the sinners of which you are the foremost. God’s grace came and is overflowing through us to splash onto those around us with the love and mercy of Christ.
We are all human, and everyone knows it. We all fail at times, but there is hope. Be honest with yourselves and with those in this community and love those we see as sinners because Jesus see them just as he sees you. They are all someone worth dying for.