20 August 2020
Friends, in a couple of weeks, we’ll commence a sermon series in 1 Timothy. It will take up most of the rest of the year, and will feature at all congregations (including Livestream), in whatever forms they take under a wise response to changing COVID19 restrictions.
It’s the first letter we have from the Apostle Paul to his ministry apprentice, Timothy, and I thought I’d take a little time to orient you to it in advance. You would do well to read it in advance too.
Of course, Timothy is really a graduate minister by now, a trusted lieutenant, one of Paul’s best trouble-shooters. Chapter 1:3 says he’d already left Timothy to combat an outbreak of false teaching in Ephesus (whose ruins you can see on the west coast of modern-day Turkey).
In chapter 4:13, he gives a hint as to why he writes: “until I come” here’s what to do. He speaks in this section of public reading of Scripture, preaching and teaching, of setting an example, even though young, in godliness. I think the heading for this section comes in 4:6, “be a good minister of Christ Jesus”. And in many ways, it’s a key theme for the whole book.
This has relevance not just to a minister appointed to shepherd a church, but to voluntary church leaders: Bible study and youth group leaders, teachers of kids church and SRE, and so on. Some of you are young too. But you have highly significant responsibilities. Listen to this letter with interest!
Note references to God as King, immortal, invisible, and worthy of all glory near start and finish (see 1:17 and 6:15-16). It’s in this only true King’s weighty presence that Timothy is charged twice to “fight the good fight” (1:18; 6:12). That responsibility remains the same all through, and today too!
But through the letter, it’s like Paul imagines Timothy growing up. He calls him “Timothy, my son” in chapter 1 (vv3 & 18), but “man of God” in 6:11. Again, a challenge for us to keep growing in the Lord.
But actually, 1 Timothy is not just about ministers of the word. It’s for the whole church. The clearest purpose statement comes in chapter 3:14-15:
Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. [NIVUK]
That introduces our series’ title: “Keeping God’s House”. House-keeping has taken on added significance for many of us forced by Coronavirus to study and work from home. We’ve had to tidy up corners and rearrange spaces. I decided to move from make-shift equipment of portable plastic table and old kitchen chair, to a proper office chair and a sit-stand desk. And the investment is well worth it, says my back!
1 Timothy makes clear parallels between managing your household and managing a church (3:5.) But are two thousand years’ old instructions, e.g., about slavery and gender relations and widows’ welfare and appointing elders and facing false teachers still relevant? Ye, I certainly believe so!
For in this letter Paul identifies the church – i.e. the people gathered together by Christ – as central and foundational to God’s purposes in the world. So well done to all who have adapted, to our present restrictions on church, still gathering in small groups of family, or neighbours or retirement village friends, coming to the Livestream and Zoom, using the phone more and venturing out (where your personal circumstances permit) as some gathering begin again. Let’s recognise ourselves for what we are: God’s house, which we need, and which he will keep together in Christ.
Warmly in Christ,