Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
One of the world’s great passions is sports. And there are a huge variety of sports played in every country of the world, with all sorts of elite, professional leagues for all those sports. So here is a question for you: Statistically speaking, in terms of their win-loss record, which elite sports team is the most successful sports team in human history? It is actually our All-Blacks. Over the last 100 years their win-loss record is over 75%, a record that is not matched by any other elite team, in any sport.
So the question is: Why is this? And I am sure there are many reasons. TV documentaries have been made about this. PhD papers have been written about it. But one of the reasons for their success, which many have identified, is one of the All-Black’s core philosophies, which is that every All-Black has to leave the jersey in a better place. So if you get selected as an All-Black right wing, for example, you will be presented with the No. 14 jersey, and whether you play one test or 80 tests, you have to pass it on to the next All-Black right wing in a better place than when you got it. And what that means is that everything that that shirt represents – NZ, past players, mana, team values, etc, must be better for your contribution.
And I want to suggest that we see something like that in 1 Timothy. As we have seen, Timothy was the minister in Ephesus and there was a big problem with false teachers there. So as an apostle of Christ, Paul wrote to Timothy and gave him theological and practical instruction about the false teachers, and theological and practical instruction about Timothy’s ministerial duties. And there is something very beautiful in how Paul communicated all this instruction to Timothy.
- He began the letter by describing Timothy as his true child in the faith.
- And he used the same language in 1:18, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child.” And then he called on him to hold the faith.
- In ch. 6 he says, “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach” and “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.”
- And later on, in 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul says to Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
So like that All-Black philosophy, you can picture Paul presenting Timothy with the body of sound doctrine and calling on him to preserve, protect, and promote it, and pass it on to the next generation. And that is how it is always to be in the church of Christ; this is how members of the church are kept from departing from the faith and equipped for works of ministry, and unbelievers hear the gospel. So in summary, 1 Timothy is about How receiving and passing on the true gospel guards and grows the church.
Well, we see more about what this looks like in ch’s 5-6. For here Paul provides more instruction about false teachers. And he does this with specific comments about various groups and issues that were part of the false teaching problem. And with many of these comments there is a ‘Do this’ and a ‘Don’t do that’ aspect. And if you look at the end of 6:2 for a moment, Paul instructs Timothy to teach and urge these things, and then he says, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up…” etc. So that means that the ‘Do this’ and ‘Don’t do that’ comments about these groups and issues agree with “the words of the Lord Jesus and the teaching that accords with godliness.” And what this means for us today is that the gospel has positive and negative implications for every part of church life. So let’s see this in relation to what Paul says about Faith destroyers in 5:3-6:10 and Faith Builders in 6:11-21.
- So first of all, Paul’s positive and negative words about Faith destroyers in 5:3-6:10.
- And he
begins, in vv3-16, with words about widows. So what was the widow problem? Well, back in ch. 1 we saw that as Paul
introduced the false teacher problem, he said, “Charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” And we noted that his use of the word
‘persons’ made it clear that the false teacher problem involved males and females. And this became plain at the end of ch. 2
where Paul said, “Let a woman learn
quietly with all submissiveness. I do
not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is
to remain quiet.” Well, what we
begin to see here in ch. 5 is that the problem included some young widows. Turn
over to 2 Tim. 3:6-7. There we find the same sort of language that
is used here in reference to the young widows of ch. 5, and we see how they were
being sucked in to wrong thinking and behaviour. After Paul’s warning in vv1-5 about how in
the last days there will be those who present themselves as godly but who are
actually quite wicked, he says, “For
among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened
with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to
arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just
as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men
corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” So male false teachers were ‘hunting’ young
widows and enlisting them for their cause.
And this was the young-widows-as-false-teachers-problem that was
troubling the church in Ephesus. So now
that we understand that, we can briefly consider Paul’s positive and negative
instruction about the widows:
- Positively, we see in vv3-5 that true widows are to be honoured. And they are true widows only if they do not have living children, because children are supposed to care for their parents. So a true widow was one who was truly alone, without family to care for her, who was content to remain a widow and who trusted in God and constantly prayed for the Lord’s people and the progress of the gospel. And then in vv9-10 we get a list of qualifications for true widows that is very much like the list of qualifications for elders and deacons in ch. 3. So widows who were over 60, who had had only one husband, and who ticked the v10 boxes were enrolled, which probably means that they were financially supported by the church and assigned serving roles within the congregation. And just as an aside, the many references to deaconesses from very early church history probably have this group of enrolled widows in view. So these true widows were a great blessing in the church of Christ.
- But this was clearly not the case with all the widows. So there is the negative instruction also. In v6 we see that these widows were self-indulgent. Me – me- me! And typically these widows were young widows, which from the context means under 60 and probably considerably younger given the command that they marry and bear children. And what these young widows wanted was to be supported by the church and to be upfront in public worship, and they were going around peddling their false theology and gossiping and accusing and causing no end of problems in the church. And things were so bad that Paul says in v15 that some of them had strayed after Satan. So he lays down these rules: Only enroll the over 60s, one husband, no children to care for them, devoted to Christ, and godly. The rest? They must marry and bear children and be looked after by their own family.
- So here is a question for you: Does Jesus Christ say anywhere what Paul says here about widows? 60 year age limit. Young widows must re-marry. Enroll them, etc? No He does not. And do you get the impression that Timothy could have read all this and said, Well, this is just Paul’s opinion. These are just man-made rules. I can take them or leave them. Let me remind you again about Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6:3:“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness.” You see what he says? There is teaching that comes directly from the mouth of Christ (The Bible), but there is also teaching that accords with godliness. And while we sometimes find it hard to do even what Christ commands, what can really yank our crank is teaching that accords with godliness. When you hear preaching or your elder comes to you with instruction about relationships or parenting or employment or hobbies or spiritual disciplines, is your attitude, Nah! It doesn’t explicitly command that anywhere in the Bible!? or is the attitude of your heart, Is this teaching that accords with godliness? Is this instruction from the elders that Christ has given me that is for my good?
- Well, Paul’s
next words about faith destroyers have to do with Elders, in vv17-25. And that
is not to say that all elders are
faith destroyers J but
that a bad one can be.
- So positively, from v17, elders who rule
well are to “be considered worthy of
double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.” And the OT quotes that Paul supplied in v18
about not muzzling an ox and the labourer deserving his wages helps us
understand that what Paul is saying here is that elders who rule well should be
respected and recompensed with money.
- Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” So we members work hard to make it a joy for our elders to do their work. We welcome their counsel. We don’t engage in ‘elder roasting’ conversations.
- But this verse is also why, in the RCNZ churches, every congregation is required to pay their minister a full-time stipend so that he can be 100% devoted to preaching and teaching. And of course, congregations can afford to do this because they don’t give the other elders one cent, right? J they have to do it in their spare time! Or should we do more to recompense the ruling elders, perhaps?
- But negatively, while there will be elders
who rule well, some will not. And Hymenaues
and Alexander in 1:20 are probably examples of elders who were false teachers,
and perhaps even among the men who were capturing weak and younger widows as we
saw in 2 Tim. 3. And bad elders is what vv19-25 are about.
- And Paul’s first instruction is a safeguard against good elders. Paul realizes that the nature of the work of eldership is such that people will have strong opinions about them. And how better to undermine or attack them than to make something up about them or murmur against them– He did this or he didn’t do that. It may well be what v13 is about and the references to gossip. So Paul sets a high benchmark to protect good elders – “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” And this means that if anyone comes to you and says, Elder so and so did this or said that, you say, Have you spoken to him about this? Were there witnesses? And because there may not always be a witness, Are you prepared to take this matter to the session for them to carefully investigate? And if these things are not so, then out of respect for the office of elder and for the honour of Christ and for the well-being of His people, you say, I don’t want to hear it!
- But elders can sin as elders. And if there are witnesses and/or the elder has been approached, and/or the person is willing to bring it to the session for investigation, then for the sake of the office of elder and for the honour of Christ and for the well-being of His people, the matter must be investigated.
- And v20 explains what happens if guilt is proven and it is inappropriate for the elder to continue to serve or he just keeps doing it – he is to be publicly stripped of the office, as a lesson to all.
- And in v21, Timothy is warned against prejudging or showing partiality in such cases. An obvious danger when an accusation is made is that we can make assumptions about guilt or innocence based on friendships or family allegiances or theological like-mindedness or other factors. And this does not serve justice well.
- So then, in v22, both as a general rule, but probably when a bad elder has been removed from office, Timothy is warned not to be hasty to ordain a new elder. So with Hymenaeus and Alexander, for example, there might have been the temptation to quickly get two men in to replace those false teachers. But while H&A sins were obvious, the sins of others can sometimes be hidden for a time and only come out later.
- So positively, from v17, elders who rule well are to “be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.” And the OT quotes that Paul supplied in v18 about not muzzling an ox and the labourer deserving his wages helps us understand that what Paul is saying here is that elders who rule well should be respected and recompensed with money.
- Well, the next group to be put under Paul’s microscope is Slaves. And the problem here was that you might have a slave who was owned by a master, with that slave being an elder in the church! Imagine that dynamic! So this slave might have preached and taught catechism and led Bible study and done home visits, but at home when the master said, Clean my toilet, the slave had to clean the toilet. And this brought with it the temptation for the slave to be disrespectful and to demand better treatment from their brothers in Christ, which was a bad witness in the culture of that time. So the unsubmissive attitude of such slaves destroyed faith before it even began. A consistent message of the NT is that the gospel is not to be used as an excuse for being unsubmissive in any relationship – wife/husband, child/parent, member/elder, slave/master, citizen/king. Again and again in the NT the submissive attitude of Jesus Christ is held before us as the heart of the gospel living. It defined His earthly relationship with the Father and with ruling authorities, and it is what took Him to the cross. So we must imitate Him and be submissive.
- But the
last thing we see about the faith destroyers is that they craved riches.
- But first of all, Paul has some positive things to say about those who are rich in 6:17-19. For the fact is that the Lord is not against riches, per se. Some people inherit wealth, some are born into rich families, some are rich before they convert, and some may become rich through hard work and the blessing of the Lord. But the challenge for these believers is not to hold on to it or to attach their joy and hope to it. They are to be generous and share it with others.
- But the negative instruction in this section reveals that the false teachers saw position in the church as a way to get rich. Ch. 6:5 – they imagine “that godliness is a means of gain.” And the same thing is said in 1 Peter 5 where Peter exhorts elders not to see their office as a way to make money. Maybe this is why we don’t pay our elders a cent? J But this problem is still a real problem in the wider church today. TV evangelists and self-appointed mega-church Pastors have mansions and airplanes and fleets of vehicles, all off the back of their ‘followers.’ It is very wicked. v10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
- So that is a lot of positive and negative instruction about faith destroyers. But the letter finishes with Paul’s much briefer positive and negative instruction about Faith Builders in 6:11-21. They are words addressed to Timothy but they are specifically for all office-bearers and generally for every believer.
- And we
will turn it around a little and begin with the negative instruction. We see
it in the first part of v11, “But as for
you, O man of God, flee these things,” meaning the craving for riches,” and
from the last two verses of ch. 6, “Avoid
the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called
“knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.”
- And very briefly, were these words really necessary? Was Timothy, a minister that Paul himself had ordained and trained, liable to get caught up in irreverent babble and false knowledge? I mean, come on. Surely not?!
- But what did we hear last week? What does Paul say in Ch. 4:1? “The Spirit expressly says that in later times some will fall away.” And what did Paul say to the Ephesian elders when he met them on the beach at Miletus, just 1-2 years before he wrote this letter? “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
- So could Timothy fall away? Could I and other elders fall away? Could we all fall away? Yes. And I don’t say this to undermine the doctrine of the assurance of salvation or the perseverance of the saints. But we cannot see into another person’s heart and all of the ‘watch out lest you fall’ warnings in the NT are real warnings.
- Christ has given us elders to watch over our souls. And they need to keep a close watch on themselves and on the teaching, it says in 4:16, for by persisting in this they will save themselves and us. So we should expect our elders to be alert and watchful for themselves and the teaching and to carefully avoid anything that is false or unhealthy or damaging for themselves and us. We should expect them to bring the gospel to bear, both negatively and positively, in every area of church life and home life. And this is what we will hear from the pulpit and in our homes.
- So again, pray for the elders and welcome their counsel.
that brings us, lastly, to Paul’s positive
instruction for faith builders:
- It begins with vv11-16. Pursue righteousness … Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called… keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ… beautiful doxology!!! …
- And it continues with v20a: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.” Paul is pointing Timothy to the body of sound doctrine that he has laid in his arms and urging him to preserve and protect and promote it, and to pass it on to the next generation of office-bearers.
- And it concludes with the last words of the letter: “Grace be with you.” And those words are no thoughtless signature; they are crucial words. For if Timothy had read this letter, or if I and the other elders read this letter, and we thought that we now had the strategy that we can implement in our own strength that will guarantee growth and godliness, we would fools! It is all the grace of Christ! Amen.