|RPM, Volume 12, Number 3, January 17 to January 23 2010|
...by warning them in the opening chapter about the danger of false teachers and false teaching...In relation to this last item, as Paul has gone about addressing various different groups - widows, elders, slaves, etc - he is led, inevitably, to deal one more time with a particularly nasty group - the false teachers and their teaching. So, when we look at chapter 6, verses 3-10, we see Paul addressing these teachers and, at the same time, dealing with a particular point of their false doctrine - a version of "godliness" that they were promoting and which encouraged people to pursue riches and to love money.
...by encouraging Timothy, their pastor, to remain faithful, at different points along the way...
...through discussing roles and relationships and how men and women were to relate to one another as a community of faith...
...by talking about leaders, and leadership structures and giving them criteria for recognizing elders and deacons...
...by refuting some specific false doctrines that were circulating among the Ephesians...
...finally, by addressing issues that were relevant to some specific groups of people within the Ephesian congregation...
In chapter 6, from verse 11 up to the end, Paul responds to both of these things. In response to the problem of the false teachers themselves, Paul addresses Timothy who is a true teacher - and encourages him in various ways to remain faithful. Alongside this, Paul offered teaching about money and godliness that countered the false teachers' views. Paul's approach, in contrast to theirs, kept God at the center, and, if followed, would discourage the Ephesian people from nurturing the idolatry of money, and thus would keep them from wandering from the faith.
We'll have more to say about that in our next study. This week, however, we will finish looking at what we started looking at last Sunday - Paul's final challenge to Timothy.
In verses 11 and 12, we saw how Paul charged Timothy to flee from the sort of false godliness that we've just been speaking about. In place of that, Paul wanted Timothy to pursue a godliness that was true to the faith. And not only did Paul want that but he wanted Timothy to do these things in faith and by faith; by fiercely taking hold of the eternal life which had become Timothy's present and future possession - ever since he first confessed Christ.
All of those things in verses 11 and 12 we could call the content or substance of Paul's final charge to Timothy. In verses 13-16 we see at least two further things related TO that charge - the motivation or incentive for it AND how long Timothy should be prepared to faithfully keep that charge. Those are the sorts of things we will be concentrating on this morning. Before we do that, let's pray.....
(Pray and read)
Now the first thing I want you to see here is the motivation or incentive that Paul provides for Timothy's faithful adherence to this charge he has given him. Very simply, Paul reminds Timothy that he lives his life in the presence of God - and he specifically cites here God the Father and God the Son. It is they who are the constant, unblinking, unflinching, never sleeping witnesses to the unfolding story that is Timothy's life - and, indeed, every life. And Paul has some particular things to say about both of these witnesses.
Here there is the witness that is God, by which Paul means God the Father. "In the sight of God", says Paul, and then he goes on to qualify that statement with the phrase "who gives life to everything." Now, that's an interesting phrase. I mean, of all the countless truths about God that might have been singled out, Paul chooses this one to highlight.
If you were to flip back to the first chapter of this letter - and verses 15-20 - you would find a passage that has a lot in common with the one in front of us this morning. In chapter one Paul also takes time to challenge and charge Timothy to remain faithful and, in that place he uses a pretty negative motivation to get Timothy going - the example of 2 men who had "shipwrecked" their faith and were under discipline as a result. But we don't have that sort of negative motivation going on here. What we have here is something much more positive. But what about it? What might be behind this emphasis on God as the Giver of Life?
Well, while I cannot say for sure, it seems to me that one reason for highlighting this particular attribute - in Timothy's particular circumstances - is because in calling Timothy to be faithful to keep his charge - Paul wants him to remember who it is that has the power of life - and by implication, the power over death. It is God who ultimately holds Timothy's life in His hands. God was responsible for Timothy's first birth - his natural birth.
Then, later on, God was also responsible for his second birth - his conversion. It is God who WAS and IS responsible for both of these things - and for everything before and since. God alone is the giver of life - and that is a very great power and a very great truth to consider.
I think I've shared with you before the story (as told by Os Guinness) of General Charles Gordon, a 19th century officer in the British Army who was a committed Christian and who, during one of his many military campaigns, found himself a prisoner of war in Abyssinia. After his capture, he was taken before the king of that country - a man known for his cruelty - and he was questioned.
At one point, the king got into General Gordon's face and asked, "Do you know, General, that I could kill you on the spot if I liked?"What was that all about? Simply this: General Gordon knew that, in spite of this man's pretensions to power, the one who truly had the power over his life was not King John of Abyssinia, but the King of the Universe, in whose hands General Gordon's life and eternity were firmly grasped.
"I am perfectly well aware of it, Your Majesty," Gordon replied. "Do so at once if it is your royal pleasure. I am ready."
"What.....you are ready to be killed?" answered the astonished King.
"Certainly", said Gordon, "I am always ready to die."
"Then my power has no terrors for you?" said the King.
"None whatsoever!" Gordon answered. At that, the King left him, speechless and amazed.
Paul reminds Timothy that the God who is the giver of life, who alone can create and sustain life - THAT God is the one before whom he lives out his days. And he is to fear Him, and to honor Him, above and before all others. Because others might take his life.
But only One could give it back.
The other witness that Paul cites here - which is the same God but still a different witness - is God the Son - the Lord Jesus Christ. Timothy is to remember that not only is God the Father the eternal witness before whom He lives, but so too is God the Son. And, just as with the first witness, Paul qualifies his reference to Jesus with an interesting phrase: He says "Christ Jesus.....who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession..."
Now, once again, Paul might have said a number of things about Jesus here, but the one he settles on is this one. And the natural question is, "Why?" Well, in order to think about that a little better, let's recall the historical event to which this refers. If you remember, after Jesus was arrested - and placed on trial - there came a point where he was brought before the Governor - Pontius Pilate - for questioning. Now, we know from the various Gospels that Jesus did not say a whole lot, but he did say some things in response to Pilate. And there are two things in particular I want you to remember.
When Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews - i.e., was he the long-awaited, coming King - the Messiah - When Pilate asked that question, Jesus responded by saying that it was as Pilate had said. In other words, yes. But that is not the only thing that Jesus said to Pilate. Listen to these words from John 19,
The Jews insisted, "We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God. When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. "Where do you come from?" he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. "Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin....So, in the face of difficulty and danger, Jesus made this "good confession," as Paul says. He confessed, firstly, that he was in fact the long-awaited King - for which he would later pay the ultimate price. And along with that, he told Pilate that even the power Pilate had - which included the power to have Jesus killed - even that power was only his by God's permission - which points us back to the first witness - the God who alone has this kind of ultimate power over things - life, death, even pagan kings.
But the point is that the Jesus who would confess these sorts of things - who was obedient and faithful in the face of impending death - even death on a cross - as Paul says in Philippians - this is the Jesus that Paul holds up as a witness and a motivation for Timothy to be faithful to the charge and keep the command he has received. And there is a world of motivation to be found in such an example as that.
There is a boy in our neighborhood - I don't know his name - and I've never met him personally. But I see him on a pretty regular basis in the afternoons after school, and sometimes on Saturday mornings - out in his front yard as we come driving up the street. He looks to be about 11 or 12 years old. And every time we see him, while we are still too far away for him to notice that we are approaching, I see him playing on the lawn. He almost always has a long stick in his hand.
From the way he jumps all around and slashes and stabs the air with it - it is clear that the stick is a sword or a light saber which he is using to vanquish his unseen enemies. Now, as I said, I've never met this boy, but I can tell you that somewhere in that little boy's mind - behind all the jumping and spinning and slashing of swords - is the vision of a HERO. I don't know who that hero is. I don't know if it's Frodo, or Rohan, or Aruwen, or Aragorn. I don't know if it's Luke Skywalker or Yoda or King Arthur or Peter Pan.
But what I'm pretty sure of this: Somewhere behind his frequent front-yard battles is a hero. And every afternoon, he returns to the field of battle, and takes up his sword or light saber - and proceeds to pay his hero the highest tribute that can be paid to any hero. And that is imitation.
Paul, in charging Timothy to be faithful, and to keep fighting the good fight - in making that charge Paul reminds Timothy that he lives his life in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ - who in the face of Pontius Pilate - made the good confession.
Timothy, as verse 12 shows us, in imitation of his Lord and hero, has also made a good confession - before many sympathetic witnesses. However, the day may come when Timothy will be faced with making the same confession in much less favorable circumstances - like when Jesus was before Pontius Pilate. And if and when that day came, Paul wants Timothy to maintain the good confession, to keep his charge faithfully - just as the Lord Jesus has done - the same Lord in whose presence he now stands.
So, as motivation or incentive for continuing to fight the good fight, and keep the charge he has given him, Paul reminds Timothy that his entire life is lived out in the presence of God - Father and Son - or, as Os Guinness calls it "The Audience of One." And on this subject, Guinness has some very striking things to say. In his book, The Call, he writes:
Only madmen, geniuses and supreme egotists do things purely for themselves. It is easy to buck a crowd, not too hard to march to a different drummer. But it is truly difficult - perhaps impossible - to march only to your own drumbeat. Most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, do things with an eye to the approval of some audience or other. The question is not whether we have an audience but which audience we have....A life listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others - the Audience of One...In another place, and on this same subject, Guinness writes:
When asked once why he was not stung by a vicious attack from a fellow Member of Parliament, Winston Churchill replied, "If I respected him, I would care about his opinion. But I don't respect him, so I don't care about his opinion." Similarly, we who live before the Audience of One can say to the world: "I have only one audience. [And it is not you] Before you I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to lose." Needless to say, the modern world is light years away from [that]... We have moved away from the "inner directed" world of the Puritans - in which calling acted as an inner compass, to the "other directed" world of modern society, in which our contemporaries are our real guides....We see this in teenagers listening to their peers, in men and women who slavishly follow the latest fashions and fads, in politicians who assume whatever shape their focus group wants them to assume, and in pastors who anxiously follow the latest profiles of "seekers" and "generations." As one pastor of a large church put it, "I'm haunted when I look into the eyes of my congregation and realize they are always only two weeks away from leaving for another church."In the final analysis, Guinness says that "the Puritans lived as if they swallowed gyroscopes; we modern Christians live as if we have swallowed Gallup Polls."
The difference between those two is the difference of living for the many audiences versus living consciously before the One Audience. It is the difference between ignoring Paul's words to Timothy, or taking to heart the things that are just as true for us, as they were for Timothy - that he lived his life, and was to continue living his life, with the conscious daily awareness that he did so in the presence of God - Father and Son - the Audience of One.
So, let me ask you: Do you know that you live your life before God - who is the very giver of life - and before Jesus - who remained faithful in the face of Pontius Pilate? Have you considered these things lately? Do you consider these things daily? Are you motivated by these realities, or are you instead motivated by countless "other", lesser audiences - whose opinion, in the end, will not mean anything?
However, not only the motivation or incentive for Paul's charge to Timothy, but also what Paul has to say about how long Timothy should be prepared to faithfully keep that charge. In other words, what is the "use-by" date for Paul's command?
The simple answer to that is found in verse 14: Timothy is to keep the command - that is, to faithfully fight the good fight of the faith until Jesus comes back. There are no exceptions to this. Timothy will either die in the course of keeping this charge, or Jesus will come back as he is keeping this charge - but either way - Timothy is to keep on keeping on.
To put it another way, what we see here is a call to persevere. And it is a call to persevere into an unknown, open-ended future. And the open-ended, unknown calls are always the most difficult, aren't they? It's the call to set out into open water, with no clue how far you might go before you see land, or even if you will see land. The open-endedness and uncertainty are a big part of what frightens us in these kinds of things.
That is the reason why some unmarried persons are paralyzed by the thought of marriage. It's the reason why some are terrified of becoming parents. It's why the very thought of ordination scares some potential elders to death. It's the open-endedness of it all; the relentless, ongoing, seemingly never-ending nature of it. It is because it isn't a line - with two points - and you know where it starts and where it finishes - but its more like a vector - it starts in one place, but then it just goes off in some direction - and you have no idea how far or how fast.
That is the feel that this statement has when Paul tells Timothy that he is to "keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Just when will THAT be? Paul's response is that God will bring that about in his own time. And he could have stopped there. He would have been perfectly justified in saying nothing more.
But he doesn't stop with that. Instead he goes on to add something to that comment - a statement about this God who controls the clock, who decides when it's time for Jesus to return. He says that the God who determines when enough is enough, when Jesus comes back is,
the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal, and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.In such a description there is both comfort and an invitation to humility and patience. The comfort is found in remembering the greatness and supreme majesty of our God. He stands above and over every other "king", every other "lord" - in short, over every other power that is recognized as a power in this world. He stands supremely before and before all of these things. He dictates to them, they do not dictate to him in any way. He sets their courses, they do not affect his course by a single micron.
At the same time, Paul's words paint a picture of a God who is a great Ruler, to be sure, but he is also an incomprehensibly great Ruler. Paul, after speaking about God in terms that Timothy can somewhat understand - Ruler, King, Lord - then speaks about this same God in terms that are much more difficult to grasp. He gives Timothy a list of God's qualities - not an exhaustive list, right? - but a list.
On this particular list, he mentions qualities that are unique to God, qualities that set him apart from all others - qualities like his immortality - which unlike ours is not a bestowed quality but is intrinsic to who He is. He talks about the unapproachability of God - due to the sheer splendour of His being. He talks about the invisibility of this God - whom no sinful human eye has ever seen, or can see.
In short, Paul lifts up here the transcendent character of God. Paul highlights here the God who will not fit inside any of your boxes, who blows all your categories, who defies all your attempts to define, and dissect him, who will not be contained by any of your analogies or inadequate illustrations, whom an avalanche of never-ending words would still fail miserably to characterize. That is the God that Paul holds up before Timothy at this point. Why?
Because the charge to fight - and keep fighting - the good fight of the faith is a call for Timothy, and for every disciple, to endure. And God's disciples have been called to endure for a very long time - for an indefinite period. And in the midst of such a long obedience, the temptation to doubt and wonder, and then to wander, will be great. And the temptation will be, at times, to question the wisdom of God, to wonder if he has lost sight of the clock, to think that perhaps he has gotten distracted and lost track of what is going on right under his nose.
You see, it is when you are the most doubtful about God that you most need to remember how little you know about Him, how poorly you understand Him. It is when you are convinced that He doesn't know what He is doing that you most need to remember that, relatively speaking, you have no earthly idea Who you are dealing with.
To be sure, there are things that you can know, and these are a great comfort. But sometimes, the thing about God that can comfort you the most, is the fact of his transcendence; that His ways are not your ways, his thoughts are not your thoughts, his perspective is not your perspective. And that at those very moments when you are saying to yourself, "This would be a great time for Jesus to come back" - that even in the midst of whatever it is that leads you to say these things - and we've all been there - but whatever it is, and whatever we have concluded in those moments, it is then that we need to remember that the God who controls the clock, who sets the timer, is a God that sees further than we do, that is unspeakably glorious, that cannot be fathomed by us.
To that God, be honor and might forever. Amen.
|This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.|
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