Friday, June 21, 2024
Friday, June 21, 2024
HomeAll The NewsGo To The Word (1 Timothy 1:1-7)

Go To The Word (1 Timothy 1:1-7)

Executive Editor’s Note: This is the President’s Message that was preached in the opeing session of the national meeting on April 25, 2023.

Our world is in a perpetual state of acceleration. It is dizzying attempting to keep up with the latest trends, fads, techniques and technology, just in the world of ministry. And in a world of fast-paced change, we can sometimes think we need to keep up, which, in effect, will always leave us being out of style, 2 or 10 steps behind the curve.

We must remind ourselves of the core essentials of who we are as an association, and what our task. That is the goal of these next three days. In other words, “Who are we as the BMA, and to what must we be committed?”

I must give credit to Eric Johnson. In discussions with him over the last couple of years, he said, “Baptist tells us who we are, Missionary tells us what we do and Association tells us how we do it.” I like that. It is clear and understandable. So, I have taken those three divisions, and that is our outline for our main sessions. As BMA Baptists, we are people who go to the Word of God, go to the world and go together. We must be committed to “Go” to the Word of God, “Go” to the world and to “Go” together.

In the world of acceleration and change, our first steps, our foundation, must be to those realities — doctrine that feeds mission, which compels and necessitates association. So, there is a core to us that we must not forget or walk away from — some ancient truths. But there are also some present-day issues we must address, and that is what we are attempting to do with our breakout sessions. We are seeing depression among pastors and church members in numbers like never before. What do we do? We are seeing the exposure of sexual abuse within the church. What can we do? We have a leadership vacuum. What can we do? I encourage you to go to those breakouts.

As the next few minutes pass, each pastor, preacher, missionary and Bible teacher will be facing a dangerous situation, myself included. The task I have assigned myself tonight is to plead with you, as pastors, missionaries, preachers, as brothers and sisters who have committed ourselves to this association, to make it a hallmark of your ministry, a hallmark of our ministry that our first priority, our first move is to go to the Word of God. As we think about and dream about our churches collectively fulfilling the Great Commission, as we work together, our first work together would be to drive one another to God’s Word for our directions, our blueprints, our motivations, our commands and our marching orders.

In other words, brothers — doctrine matters. It mattered to God in the beginning, it mattered to Jesus in His ministry and it matters to the Holy Spirit that we go to the Word He inspired. Doctrine matters!

Now… I said there is a danger, a real threat among us this evening. The danger is that you might say in your heart, “Same song and dance. All we talk about is how important the Word of God is, but we never talk about doing the work of God. When will we get there, huh, Clif? When will we talk about methodology?” An ever-present danger lurking in our hearts is to want action before or even more than conviction; to do something without standing on something.

There is reverse danger as well, in that we will hoop, holler and amen when a preacher comes down strong for the Word of God. The danger is that we never trust this actual Word that we hoop and holler about, to the extent that it shapes our lives and churches and ministries, that it never crushes us and rebuilds us. We can be too content and lazy to sit on how we have done it in the past, with no consideration as to what Scripture actually calls for. Or we can whine and cry out for the “good ole days,” and how God moved in those days, and how we long to return to those days, which is a slap in the face to the doctrine of the omnipresence of God. He is here today, moving today according to His Word.

The danger for me is to preach to itching ears. I know I can gin up a group of preachers, and it would be easy to tickle that itch.

So we are all on the hook to sit under this Word that we read, study, preach and teach, and to do so with anticipation, knowing that this Word, no matter how many times you have heard it preached, no matter how commonplace this forthcoming Word may be, to listen well and heed these words, in all their enduring splendor, in all their indicatives and in all their imperatives.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (I Tim. 1:1-7 ESV).

Timothy has been left in the city of Ephesus to pastor the church there. There is some turmoil present within the church, and matters need to be set straight. Paul has given the task to Timothy. Paul is going to appeal to “doctrine,” or “the faith,” (meaning a set body of doctrine) or “the good deposit” (referring to what Paul has taught Timothy) several times in his pastoral epistles. Timothy must go to these, guard these and teach these things. Today, we have the completed testimony of God in this Bible, so we go to the Word.

What do we see in this opening section that we might appreciate and apply to our own ministries? At least two truths unfold before us:

Go to the Word Because Doctrine is Not Optional

Paul begins in his customary fashion by stating his credentials — an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our Hope. And since this is his customary opening line, we can compare it to how he opens up other letters to other men and churches. And when we do that, we notice something.

• Romans — “an apostle set apart for the gospel of God”

• Galatians — “an apostle through Jesus Christ”

• I & II Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians, II Timothy — “an apostle by the will of God”

• Titus — “an apostle for the sake of the faith of God’s elect”

But when we compare the opening stroke of the quill from Paul to Timothy in this letter to all the other letters, this is the only one where Paul writes, “an apostle… by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” This is a rather forthright, even forceful introduction that Paul gives to Timothy, don’t you think? After all, isn’t Timothy his child in the faith? Isn’t there a father/son, endearing affection and relationship that Paul shares with Timothy? So why the strong and stern opening? One of the reasons I want to put forth is so that Timothy will know that these directives that are coming his way are not from a pushy Paul but from a commissioned Paul. He has been given a command, a decree, a mission from God to which he (Paul) must be submitted and obedient. Paul has been commissioned by God to make certain features of the church non-negotiable. So, Timothy (and we) are to understand that whatever directives come next, come from God.

Another feature of this customary greeting from Paul is that there is an element that is usually in his greetings but is absent in this one. In every other letter Paul wrote, except for Galatians, Titus and this one, Paul included a prayer or blessing of some sort. So why not in these three, and particularly in I Timothy? In each of these, Paul was in a hurry to get down to business. In all of them, there was an urgency from Paul to get to the matters at hand. This feature simply reinforces that whatever followed, it is not optional, it is crucial and vital.

So, what is it that comes in Paul’s letters to Timothy?

John Battle notes that 18 times in these epistles Paul encouraged and commanded the pastor, Timothy in this case, to study God’s Word and theology, so as to preach truth to the people.

Three times, Paul encouraged “negative study,” that is, keeping away from false teaching and scholastic distractions:

“keep away from foolish myths,”

“avoid foolish controversies” and

“refuse foolish questions”

The other 14 examples in this category encourage continual study, to master and guard the teaching Paul committed to him, and to prepare to preach them to the people:

“do not neglect the spiritual gift that is in you”

“take pains with these things”

“be in these things”

“give attention to yourself and to the teaching”

“remain in them”

“guard what has been committed to you”

“have the pattern of sound words”

“guard the good deposit entrusted to you”

“be diligent to present yourself, as one approved… rightly handling the word of truth”

“remain in the things you learned” and

“be ready in season, out of season.”

In baseball, there is an offensive strategy that is sometimes employed when there is at least one runner on base — a “Hit and Run.” The third base coach gives the hit-and-run sign, and the batter and the runner know what to do. When the pitcher begins his movement toward the plate, the baserunner takes off, attempting to steal the next base, and the batter’s job is to put the ball in play, no matter where the pitch is thrown. There is not an option on whether or not the batter will swing the bat. He will swing the bat. If it is a decent pitch, the batter is to do his best to hit the ball on the ground to the right side of the field, with the hope of that baserunner not only making it to the next base but also advancing to the next one. But there is not an option for the batter to watch the pitch go by. It doesn’t matter if the pitch is bounced to the plate or over the batter’s head. He is to swing and make contact at all costs.

Why is that? To advance the runner, but also to protect the runner. The hope is to advance the runner two bases, but even greater is to protect the runner from getting thrown out by the catcher.

Doctrine is not optional, Pastor. You are the batter, and your church is the baserunner. They are moving, they are attempting to advance in life, in ministry, in mission, in raising families and in marriage, and they need you to do your job of giving them doctrine in order to protect and advance them.

Not only must we go to the Word because doctrine is not optional, but we must go to the Word because doctrine is foundational.

Go to the Word Because Doctrine is Foundational

In other words, theology and sound doctrine are not to be sprinkled in here and there, every now and then. Doctrine is not to be a by-product, a secondary feature of your church. Doctrine is to be foundational, the root element of our missionary churches, and fruit springs from it!

All of us pastors are very thankful when an author of a Bible book gives us a clear purpose statement as to why he wrote the book. Paul does that for us in I Tim. 3:14-15 (ESV) when he writes, “…I am writing these things to you so that… you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God… a pillar and buttress of truth.”

So, the intended outcome is right behavior, a right organization, a right administration and a right mission and ministry of the church. But what is it that prompts and develops the right behavior? At the root of that behavior is theology, which is why the first thing Paul addressed in his letter to Timothy was the unorthodox teaching taking place within the church and charged him to confront it.

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine …” (I Tim. 1:3 ESV).

This has apparently been an ongoing conversation between Paul and Timothy because it has been an ongoing issue in Ephesus. Paul urged Timothy previously to stay in Ephesus and was doing so again. Paul was urging Timothy to persevere in the ministry of building the church’s doctrinal foundation.

I want us to think of all the reasons Timothy had to change posts, to send out his resume to other churches in the area:

• Timothy was sickly and timid — maybe he wasn’t cut out for this gig in Ephesus?

• Timothy was ministering among fierce wolves — In Acts 20, Paul himself declared that fierce wolves would come in from the outside, and also rise up from within the inside, not sparing the flock, and attempting to draw away disciples. That sounds like a fight to me!

• Timothy was young — Who was going to listen to him?

So why should Timothy listen to Paul’s pleading to stay at Ephesus? Why should Timothy endure sickness, endure wolves and put up with remarks about his age? So that he may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine than what Paul had taught them.

“Timothy, there are people to protect, and people to correct, and the gospel to promote! Don’t leave this post! Stay there. Endure this!”

Since having a healthy orthodoxy is foundational to the church, we must work to guard our church against toxic, unhealthy, life-threatening teaching that leads us away from Christ. This zeal to guard our church must come from a loving place — a love for God, a love for the church and a love for people.

Here is the charge given to Timothy: charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine:

• What is the correct doctrine? Apparently, there was a group of teachers who were teaching a set of beliefs that were different than what Paul had taught when he was in Ephesus. Paul says in Acts 20:20-21, 26-27 (ESV) “…I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ… Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

All that was needed for the Ephesian church was given to them in Paul’s teaching when he had been there. The focus would be to learn the teaching and how it corresponded with the Old Testament, apply the teaching and pass on the teaching. But there were some who started deviating from the set doctrine Paul had entrusted to them.

So, Clif, are you telling me that no one had the correct teaching except for Paul? No. In fact, Paul told us in the book of Ephesians that the church is built on the apostles and prophets. The church is built around the teaching of the prophets (Old Testament) and the teaching of the apostles (New Testament), and that is what Paul had given them.

What was being taught in the church that upset Paul so greatly? We don’t know for sure, but the text does say that the teachers were devoted to myths and genealogies. The teachers would spend their time pouring over genealogies in the Old Testament to manufacture novel teachings and allegorizing texts from the Old Testament. And Timothy was to demand that the teaching stop. These false teachers wanted to be viewed as teachers of the law, so what it appears they were doing was making the Old Testament “happy hunting grounds,” as John Stott would say, for their own conjectures. 

This is still happening today. People want to be seen as novel, fresh, different, unique and have a niche, so they put a spin on the Bible’s teachings. And the reason teaching doctrine and theology is so important today lies in the fact that most deviations from sound doctrine today have already been attempted and defeated in days gone by.

Paul gave us at least two reasons why this type of teaching is toxic:

Notice what Paul said about the teachings and devotions — they promoted speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. Instead of the gospel of grace going forth from our churches, the gospel was gagged. It was choked off and stopped, and in its place was speculation after speculation, opinion after opinion. There was no spiritual growth, there was no truth, no spread of the gospel, there was no discipleship. Faith had been obstructed and in its place, there was controversy and questioning and doubt. Paul was not forbidding the honest questions that may come from people, he was demanding that the unfounded, unwarranted theories be silenced.

“Stewardship from God”

This phrase means that there is a divine design behind the gospel that has been given to the church, and the design is not based on myths, speculations, opinions, data polls or metrics. The design is that the gospel produces sanctification and holiness of life anchored in the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, not the shifting sand of speculation. The church’s task is to make sure the gospel is proclaimed clearly, boldly, compassionately and with conviction and that it is taught and embedded into the believers’ lives so those lives produce Holy Spirit fruit.

What a tall order for the church. God has deposited His truth into our hands, and it is our responsibility to protect it from compromise, guard it from savage wolves, send it out to the uttermost parts of the world, live it in front of the world and to deposit it to the next generation. We are not to back down from the gospel. We are not to make excuses for the gospel. We are not shy away from the gospel. We are not to hide the gospel. We are not to supplement the gospel, and we are not to depart from the gospel.

Our churches are to be places of teaching and instructing in the Word of God. They are not places of entertainment or novelty. As a pastor, preacher, evangelist and missionary, you have the wonderful privilege and opportunity to be a steward of the gospel. Promote the gospel with your life and promote the gospel with your tongue. Let your life be an advertisement for the beauty of the gospel. The truth that we manage and are stewards of is that salvation for every tribe, tongue and nation, comes through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, according to the Scriptures, and to the glory of God.

Doctrine is important. Paul used the word “doctrine” or one of its variants at least seven times in the book of I Timothy. Doctrine is the need of the day. You may say, “No, Clif, we need practical teaching. Marriages are falling apart, teenagers are walking away from the church. Church attendance is declining. Everyone is de-constructing.” Exactly! And the first question needs to be, “What do you believe about God? Is he Holy or is He like a vitamin pill I pop every morning?

What do you believe about Christ? Is He my best bud, or is he my king to whom I owe all my devotion and life?

What do you believe about the Holy Spirit? Is he active and alive, pressing His inspired Word into my actions and attitudes?

Marriages fall apart because of weak doctrine in people’s lives. People de-construct because of weak doctrine. Churches decline, sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, because there is no doctrinal foundation.

I assure you that today, now more than ever, people are looking for some type of solid ground to build their life upon, something that makes sense out of this crazy world. It is not that we have a viable option — we have the only worldview that makes any heads or tails out of this life.

The reason Paul is calling on Timothy to confront the toxic teaching is because it leads to a toxic lifestyle. Listen to how he describes the false teacher in 6:4-10: “puffed up, unhealthy craving for controversy and quarrels, envious, dissension, slanderers, causing constant friction, lovers of money, irreverent babblers.”

I want to make an application in three areas for you tonight:

• Doctrine is not only the need of our churches to course correct, it is also the need of our personal lives. If there is an attitude, a habit, if one area of your life is out of alignment with holiness, then you must ask yourself, “What am I not believing about God, or what lie am I telling myself that goes against God’s Word?”

• Pastor, waste no Sundays. Waste no Wednesdays. 

• Perhaps God has called you to a difficult place, and the urging is for you to remain and set things in order according to the Word of God, for the sake of future generations that will grow up and come to your church.

As we finish up, let me point out our strength for the endeavor. Notice with me as well the rich Christology that is present within this customary introduction. Now this part is not unique to I Timothy. In all of Paul’s letters, his introduction is full of rich teaching and declaration as to the person of Christ. Do not rush through these introductions when you are preaching men.

We notice that Jesus commands, but not only that Jesus is to be our hope and our Lord. I might arrange it this way — He is the commander; He is our confidence; He is our King.

Whatever follows in the letter Timothy, know this — that Jesus is the one who commands, we can put full confidence in Him and we owe complete submission to Him because He is the King.

Think about that for just a minute in terms of what we know was to come in I Timothy. Paul was going to call on Timothy to confront some people, to set some things straight within the church, to call out certain men who should be leading and serving and to guard those positions with certain qualifications and hold men to these standards. And all the while, Timothy, remember this — Jesus is our Hope for all things. Our hope is not in heads nodding in affirmation from the pews, although that is encouraging. Our hope and our confidence are not on the metrics. Our hope, our confidence, for whatever you are called to do in the remainder of this letter, your hope is on Jesus Christ.

Isn’t He worthy of that? Hasn’t He proven Himself as the Resurrected King to be worthy of our devotion, our lives? Doesn’t He deserve our submission and trust? Absolutely!

My brothers, as we dream and pray about going to all the world together, let’s make sure we have something strong, sturdy and unshakable to take to them.