Tonight I heard one of our esteemed educational elites say, "We don't teach people what to think. We teach people how to think."
I couldn't disagree more with that statement. I am glad that I have had people teach me what to think. They have taught me the Scriptures, by which we think God's thoughts after Him. They have filled my mind with the Truth as it is revealed by God Himself. From Scripture we learn the truth about God, man, creation, salvation, work, education, art, commerce, government, and every other subject under the sun.
Scripture is not just there to guide our thoughts, it is there to fill our thoughts and be the substance of what we think, do, and say.
Beyond that, we cannot understand how to think if we do not know what to think (i.e. biblical doctrine). He who does not know the scripture, is described as a "fool." And for good reason! His mind runs off into shameless folly and all kinds of absurdity.
Ethically, he is hapless and blind. His thinking is debauched and he will steal, kill, and enslave. Theologically he will invent or follow whims of any spectacular imagination.
All in all, his critical thinking skills are lost. As Isaiah condemns the idolators of his day and mocks their train of thought: They worship what has eyes, but cannot see; they've forged it from wood, and also made their dinner from the same. In sum, their powers of rationality are broken and utterly debased.
Truth is only found in Christ and logic is an outgrowth of His nature. They cannot be divorced, inverted, or reversed.
A number of years ago a man of a certain church had been put under discipline. He had been having an inappropriate relationship. When the elders confronted him initially, he demonstrated no concern about it. Since he continued to remain unrepentant, the elders had to take more drastic steps. They banned him from the Lord’s Table.
But it didn’t get that far. A month or two later the man requested a meeting with the elders. And in that meeting he broke down. Tears of remorse poured forth as he confessed his sin. In the midst of his sobs he told the elders that he had broken off the relationship. And he asked if the elders would restore him to table fellowship.
He went on to explain that being barred from the table was too much for him. Not being able to commune with Christ in the Supper was to him an unbearable thing, and that it got him to realize the error of his ways.
Since it was obvious that he no longer justified himself or took a flippant attitude towards his sins—since it was clearly evident that the man had true remorse for his actions, the elders moved to restore his right to the table.
It is not very often that you see true sorrow for sin. In today’s world, where there is such decadence and apathy, you expect sin to be indulged or treated more as a joke.
But Jesus said, “blessed are those who mourn.” And he wasn’t talking about just being unhappy. He was talking about sin and what really is the heart of a repentant attitude.
We often think of godliness as perfection. We think that a good Christian is one who is immune to sin. But the reality of it is a good Christian is anything but good. What makes a good Christian is his repentance. And part of that means being disgusted, truly troubled, by his wayward actions or the waywardness of others.
That’s certainly what we see in the passage that is before us this morning. In this passage Ezra hears a report of great sin. And Ezra, it seems, becomes almost paralyzed by the news. He bewails it by casting himself down before the Lord, and out of that same pain he prays a prayer of confession. He is a man who shows us what it means to be burdened by the woeful weight sin.
This morning we are going to meditate on this passage, and it is my hope that we’ll become a bit more cognizant of what makes for a godly reaction to sin. If we are going to react appropriately, the first thing we must do is understand the nature of sin. If we do not grasp what sin is, then we will not respond appropriately too it. So it is important that we come to terms with its true identity.
And we see identified for us in the first two verses.
I. The sin is identified [1-2]
The chapter opens with some of the officials coming to Ezra and reporting the sin. And when Ezra hears of it he is thrown into hysterics. What is it that causes ezra and his chums to fly into such hysterics? Well, two things really.
On one level it is that the people have taken wives from among the peoples of the land. Verse 2 says that they have taken some of the foreign daughters for themselves and for their sons. And in verse 1 the various people groups are listed for us. They have intermarried with “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.” These, of course, are the ungodly and wicked nations that inhabited the land of Israel prior to the conquest. They were the ones who were to have been driven out, and the Lord had commanded that the Israelites not to intermarry with them or become otherwise associated with them.
But I'm going to suggest that this was a secondary problem. It was incredibly evil, for sure, and I'll have more to say about it in just a second. But I believe the real problem is their failure to be distinct. Look at what it says in verse one. Note the language that is used. It says, "The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands.”
The word that is used here, the word separated, is the same word that is used in the opening chapter book of Genesis. In the creation story God is said to separate the light from the darkness. He separates the waters so that one is the sky and the other becomes the sea. Then he separates the land from the sea.
This separation is what is the focus of the passage. This is what is important to Ezra and the people: The Jews were to be separate. As God's people they were to radically different from the rest of the world.
The real problem wasn't so much the marriages per se as it was their not being separate. The Old Testament laws permitted you to marry foreigners, so long as they devoted themselves to Yahweh. Think of Modes’ wife or Boaz’s marriage to Ruth the Moabite. So marriage isn't what is really the main problem. It is the compromise that is demonstrated in the marriages.
Israel was called to be holy. They were to be set apart from the world and be noticeably different. God had given them his commandments and, as a result, their lives were to be unique. And their uniqueness was to be a direct result of their devotion to Him.
So the problem is much deeper than some mere marital vows or who they connected with on eharmony. The problem was what we may call the sin of similarity. It was their wholesale turning away from God and becoming indistinguishable from the world.
And this gives us a much broader understanding when it comes to application of the text. You might be sitting here thinking, “I'm married and I'm long past the dating scene. So I don't have anything to worry about here.” But the passage does apply to you in that this has to do with any capitulation to the standards of the world. It isn't just about who you date, but it has to do with how you talk, how you think, and how you act in regards to anything.
A few weeks ago we meditated on the third commandment and what it meant to blasphemy God's name. A number of you spoke to me in the days following about how far reaching that is. And some of you mentioned the ordinary kind of conversation that is used among your coworkers.
When we speak ill of life’s events or grumble against God's Providence, what are we doing? We are speaking the language of the unbelieving world. We are failing to be the separated people God has called us to be.
Now, I do not want to downplay the specific form of sin that is mention here. The unholy mingling is very much a serious thing, and we need to recognize it as such. But we need to understand what really is at stake. To enter into a relationship with an unbeliever is to (essentially) become an unbeliever.
We could (and perhaps should) recognize the harm it does to one’s spirituality. It can only dilute your faith and it will make for troubles down the road in one's walk with Christ.
But there's more to it than that. To enter into such a relationship is a capitulation. God's standard says that the chief quality in the person should be their faith in Christ. Pretty much everything else is a matter of liberty. But if you start a relationship with someone who is not a believer, your standard for the relationship is something else; it ends up being a standard of the world. Perhaps it is their looks that initially attracts you. But physically attraction and good looks are worldly basis for relationships. Or it may be something deeper that attracts you. It may be that you have fun with the person or you enjoy the level conversation you have with them. You may even say they understand you and enjoy support you in incredible ways.
Now these may be good things. I'd even say they are wonderful things. But they are alternative standards for the relationship.
As God's people we must be distinct. That’s what we are called to be. We are to be a people who are different—separated from the world. And recognize how serious a thing it is when we fail to do so.
Which leads us to the next part of our passage. In the first two verses we see how the sin is identified. The next two verses show us how the sin is grieved.
II. The sin is grieved [3-5]
Notice how Ezra reacts to the news. Verse 3 says he tore his clothes and pulled hair from his head.
Now, let’s recognize these as some pretty extreme gestures. Ripping one's clothes may not seem like a big deal today. Athletes do it all the time. In our day it is actually fashionable to wear clothes that look like they’ve been produced in a Swiss cheeze factory. We turn clothes over to the Goodwill or local thrift shop without much of a thought.
But back then you didn't have a large wardrobe. Clothes were a much more precious commodity. They weren't cranked out in mass production like our factories do now and they weren’t cheap. Some of you in the older generation may remember patching clothes because you just didn’t run out and buy new jeans. Some of you may even remember getting in trouble if you tore your pants.
Back then, tearing your clothes would be like tossing out the contents of your dresser and closet, leaving you with virtually nothing else to wear. You ladies recognize that you'd have to be pretty upset to do something like that.
I don't think that I have to make a great deal of comment on tearing out one’s hair. That's just painful. You have to be pretty exercised to do that kind of thing.
The passage repeats the fact that Ezra was “appalled” (v.3,5). The word there can mean astonished, but it is interesting to note that the word can also be used in reference to a city that has been be decimated by its enemies laying siege to it. Ezra wasn't just a little distraught at this. He was downright horrified. It was like he had just been run over by an army.
Some might think that this is a little over the top. You can hear people maybe say, “Why is he so judgmental?”
But, as Dale Ralph Davis says, we do not typically understand a genuinely holy reaction to sin.
Ezra is violent in his reaction because he understands sin better than we do. As a man who was steeped in God’s word and God’s ways, he has a well developed doctrine of sin. He saw the sin from God’s perspective. He recognizes it for the atrocity it is and it truly grieved him.
Of course, the outward actions were representative of what was going on inside of him. Ezra tore his clothes because he was himself torn up over the sin. He pulled his hair out because it pained him and put him in a state of anxiety. He sat down because he was paralyzed by the shame and distraught by the evil of it.
And, as Dale Ralph Davis goes on to sin, if we find Ezra’s reaction to be a little over the top--if we do not understand the excessive manner and violence of it, then that probably says more about us than it does Ezra. It really shows how flippant our view of sin really is.
I once heard a story about a man who saw the old Looney Tunes show about the Road Runner for the first time. He was from a foreign country. If I remember right, he had come to the states with a missionary. The Road Runner show is steeped in the old time slapstick humor. The coyote sets up a trap and then it ends up backfiring on him. This man happened to watch one of the scenes from an episode, and a rock fell on the coyote. Do you know how he reacted? He ran out of the house and threw up in the back yard. He was sickened by it. You might say he had a pretty weak stomach. But maybe there’s another way to look at it. Maybe he had a much higher regard for life. Maybe he was much more sensitive to how distressing the destruction of life really is, so much so that he couldn’t even take it from a cartoon.
Now, my point is not what you should watch on TV and if you should turn off the Loony Tunes. My point has to do with godly grief and whether or not we tremble at God’s word.
You’ll notice that those who gathered around Ezra, didn’t have exactly the same reaction as Ezra. Their outward demeanor was much more subdued. But they did have the same heart as Ezra. They were men who “trembled at God’s word.” (v.4)
Remember that this is what God says through Isaiah. God says, “This is the one to whom I will look: the one who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at his word.”
If we really stand in awe of God, we’ll understand the grief. As a matter of fact, there will be evidence of it in our own lives. We might not put our wardrobe through the shredder, but we’ll understand what it means to truly mourn sin. There will be times where we grieve it and are sickened by it too.
The last portion of our text is the longest portion. It records for us the confession that was made for the sin.
III. The sin is confessed [6-15]
It wasn’t enough for Ezra to hear about it and to mourn it. Ezra took these things to God and openly acknowledged their sins before him.
And this is an important part of the flow of the narrative. It reminds us how important it is to confess our sins. This is a step that is often overlooked (or rather avoided). We should confess that confessing our sins is a rather difficult thing for us to do.
I once knew a church that had as part of its service a confession of sin, like we do. But it always seemed like they were confessing the sins of others. It never felt like they confessed sins that were specifically theirs. It was easy to talk about the sins of the culture or the sins of other churches, but it was not frequent that you heard anyone admit sins that were common to that particular group.
Confessing sin is important because it is a demonstration that one is truly repentant. It shows that you are willing to cut through the shame and pride of your heart to acknowledge the evil of the thing and seek real restoration.
In verses 6-15 Ezra confesses his sin. And it is interesting to examine Ezra’s prayer and note the different parts to it. He begins his prayer by lamenting the sin—lamenting the greatness of the sin.
A. His lamentation of the sin
Ezra does not downplay the sin in the least. He readily admits and decries its evil. In verse 6 he acknowledges the magnitude of their guilt. He says that their iniquities have risen higher than their heads (as if they are drowning in sin). And he says that their guilt has mounted up to the heavens.
Then he goes through a little review of their history and he recognizes that they should have known better. Really, the sin is so great because it is an abuse of God’s grace. He admits that God had granted them a little reviving (8-9). In verse 13 he admits that God had punished them less than their sins originally deserved. He allowed them to live, and, more than that, he gave them the chance to return. He recognizes that God should had sent them to hell and never looked favorably upon them again after that.
That’s a point to keep in mind. Every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life and the life to come. But God is typically merciful and does not punish us to the degree that he should.
But he not only laments the sin, you notice that he also owns the sin.
B. His ownership of the sin
Ezra doesn’t point his finger or say, “These people are foolish.” As he makes this prayer he includes himself. In verse 7 he says, “We have been in great guilt.” In verse 10 he says, “We have forsaken your commandments.”
Now, Ezra had not intermarried, but he sees this as a sin that he is himself included in and certainly responsible for.
And we need to be aware of corporate sin. Sometimes we are guilty by association. We might not have committed the sin per se, but it is part of our heritage. It is around us and there’s a sense in which the seeds of the sin live in our hearts.
If anything, Ezra is not putting himself on a pedestal. There’s true humility that he shows in identifying himself with the corporate complex of the covenant people. We are all in solidarity with one another and we should recognize that the sin of one affects us all. We are all complicit in some way, whether we turn a blind eye to it, set a bad example for it, or do not do our part to keep it from happening.
There isn’t any radical individualism in the Bible. And we should be ready to recognize the wide ranging interconnection that we have in corporate sin.
But notice how this prayer ends. In the last two or three verses Ezra seems to express a great deal of consternation.
C. His consternation over the sin
He ends with a string of questions and a declaration of God’s rightful displeasure. “Shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us?...Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.”
There’s a sense in which this prayer leaves you hanging. It doesn’t feel like there’s any real conclusion. It seems to end with a despairing cry where he recognizes that they deserve God’s thorough judgment.
All in all, Ezra seems to express a great deal of frustration. He seems to think that there’s no real solution.
And I think that is purposeful. For one, it is a recognition that he can do nothing to rectify the sin. Remember that Ezra is a priest. His job is being a mediator between God and man. But he recognizes that he is severely limited. He cannot stop history from repeating itself. He cannot do anything to stop the avalanche. Moreover, he cannot stop judgment.
It points us to the need for a greater priest. The cliffhanger of a prayer reminds us that we need a greater mediator: one who can not only stop God’s judgment but also stop the cycle of sin.
And maybe that’s why Ezra came to prayer when he did. Earlier in the passage it says that Ezra rose from his mourning and came to prayer at the time of the evening sacrifice. Perhaps it was the smell of burning flesh that brought Ezra before God in the first place.
As that animal was being consumed it reminds us of the Sacrifice of Christ. There was one who takes the wrath of God and he came to break the power of reigning sin.
But Ezra’s frustration should also be a reminder to us of our responsibility. As his voice suddenly trails off, it should put the fear of God in us. There’s a sense in which this is a rhetorical device to get us to remember that God is a consuming fire. If we continue in our sins, what should we expect but judgment?
Think about who you are. Think about how God has been gracious to you. You have not been treated as your sins deserve. Some of you have a rich heritage of grace too. You stand in a long line of people who have experienced the grace of God and been given many favors. If you want to capitulate to the world—if you don’t want to be distinct, and would rather run off and join in the abominations of the world—what do you expect should happen? Do you think you can stand?
Last time we were together we saw the opposition that arose against the people of God. We witnessed how the enemies of God shut down the construction of the temple and (essentially) impeded the growth of God’s kingdom. The men of Judea had been stopped dead in their tracks.
We must keep in mind that this is no minor issue. We have to keep in mind that this is the story line of the Messiah.
Next week we will be observing what is commonly known as Reformation Sunday. It is the day we commemorate as the initiation of the Reformation, where Martin Luther pinned his 95 thesis to the wall in Wittenberg.
(I bet it will be something of a Reformed "Year of Jubilee").
Most people think of the reformation as a time when doctrines of the church were reformed. But that is not the best way to think of it. It was primarily a reformation of the church. The Church of Rome had become plagued with all kinds of corruption. One of the great plagues upon the church was the rampant immorality of the priests. But a greater scourge was the corruption of its worship. It was run through with superstitions: images were venerated, there was no real reading or preaching of God’s word, the Lord’s Supper had all kinds of perversions, such that the people were only allowed to partake of the bread (only the priest was allowed to drink the wine). The list might go on.
As we’ve studied the book of 1st Timothy I have pointed out to you a number of its themes and distinctive points. We’ve noticed its stress on church leadership, false teaching, and (that interesting one) the care of widows. There is another theme that I want to point out today.
The word godliness is used 9 times in this epistle. Which is interesting because the word is used only 15 times in the whole of the New Testament. We’ve talked a lot about proper church order (church leaders, church discipline, church authority, church structure), but all of this was for one main reason: to promote godliness. That’s been the underlying theme. It is important to get the church straight, so that we might keep our lives straight.
But this theme of godliness becomes much more prominent in the passage that we are looking at today. For in this passage we find the greatest concentration of the word godliness. The word for godliness appears four times in these 13 verses. That is a third of the NT’s total use of the word right in this tiny section.
So that certainly sets up our theme for this morning. The passage before us calls us to godly living. And when we read this passage, what we find is that godliness involves the whole notion of stewardship. If you want to be godly, you must be a good steward of the three most important things that God could ever give to us.
Now we usually think about stewardship in terms of dollars and cents. Financial stewardship is something that we will certainly talk about. A lot of this passage has to do with money, contentment, and greed. There’s no overlooking that. But I want you to notice that there’s another kind of stewardship. As a matter of fact, there is a more fundamental stewardship that underlies godliness. And that is the stewardship of truth.
I. Stewardship of truth [3-5]
Paul addresses this in verses 3-5. You may notice that our passage begins by talking about false teaching and the importance of sound doctrine. It 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 with conceit and understands nothing.”
Notice that good theology is emphasized three different times in this one sentence. First he mentions those who are teaching different doctrines. Then he qualifies that by saying that doctrine is to agree with the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word sound there means healthy. It is the word from which we get the word “hygiene.” You’ve heard that cleanliness is next to godliness? Well, that’s kind of biblical, at least in the sense that good, clean, healthy biblical doctrine is what underlies godliness.
And that’s the point that’s made in the third mention of doctrine in verse three. He says that this teaching is what accords with godliness.
So the point is that if you want to be godly, you have to be a good steward of Biblical doctrine. Godliness flows out of and is in accord with biblical truth. If you are not in accord with what the Scripture teaches you are not going to be in accord with godly living.
And that is exactly what we find fleshed out in the rest of verses 4-5. To show you how godliness is directly linked to godly doctrine, Paul gives you a profile of someone who is not a good steward of truth. Paul describes for us what a false teacher is like and he says that a false teacher is anything but godly. Paul spares nothing in describing how corrupt a false teacher’s life is.
He says that the false teacher is puffed up with conceit. He is a proud man. As a matter of fact, he is inflated with arrogance.
It goes on to describe how destructive he is. It says he has an unhealthy craving for controversy and quarrels. He is a ticking time bomb in that wherever he goes he produces envy, dissension, slander, and constant friction among people. Paul basically says that he is like a Tasmanian Devil within the church: he comes flying in and tears it all up.
Most of all, he is greedy. He is greedy because he imagines that godliness is a means of gain. (You could also say he’s a hypocrite too because he’s posing as a godly person in order to get the payout.)
What it comes down to is that the false teacher is a cancer in the body of Christ. He attacks the corporate unity and destroys its peace. And that is because he has no inclination to the purity of the church. He is not a good steward of biblical doctrine. And because his beliefs are polluted, he becomes a toxin to the rest of the church.
Again, the point of what Paul is saying here is that to be godly (and if you want to maintain the peace, purity and unity of the church), you must first be a good steward of Biblical doctrine.
This is something that we need to take to heart, and I really want you young people to take note of this. If you are adverse to studying the Bible or learning more doctrine, then you have to understand that you are putting a godly life on the sacrificial alter and readying it for the slaughter.
There are some people who are just adverse to studying doctrine and really getting into biblical teaching. But there are other people who just aren’t all that motivated. Maybe they think that listening to sermons is boring and they would rather be off playing video games or playing Frisbee. But take heed, godliness begins right here. It begins with this book and the sound words it contains.
So, to have a godly life you have to be a good steward of the truth of the gospel. But its not just doctrinal stewardship that you should be concerned with. Godliness is also undergirded by financial stewardship.
II. Stewardship of money [6-10]
Verses 6-10 remind us that if money management is more than just making sure that the balance in your checkbook is on the up and up. Proper fiscal stewardship includes a whole demeanor—an attitude. It consists in a spiritual condition we call contentment. And what I want you to see is that this has a direct bearing on the life you live before God.
In verses 6-10 Paul contrasts contentment with the love of money, which is greed. And he shows you that one who has a proper attitude towards money (and is a good steward of what he has) will be a godly person. As a matter of fact, he will excel in his godliness. He says in verse 6, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Now, does he mean that someone who is content is going to make millions of dollars? Is that the kind of gain to which he’s referring? No. Because he goes on to say that if he just has food and clothing, that’s enough. Just possessing the basics of life is sufficient for someone who finds his satisfaction more in his God than he does in his wallet.
So the gain that he is talking about here is spiritual gain. It is the gain of godliness. He’s going to gain by virtue of the fact that he will enjoy what he has. It is the gain of grace that he experiences. He will gain the riches of eternal life and gain the benefits and comforts of it. He is going to gain by virtue of the enriched relationships that he has. He will be more godly because he will be able to share what he has and do many other good works.
But look at how the greedy person is described in verses 9-10. These two verses talk about the love of money and they show you just how detrimental this idolatry is to one’s life.
Now it can be detrimental to one’s physical well-being. That may be what Paul is talking about in verse 9 when he says that these people can be plunged into “ruin and destruction.” Greed can destroy a person’s life and take them to the grave.
There’s an old African fable about a tiger that was once walking through the jungle. As he came through the brush he spied on his left an antelope. He began to salivate and lick his chops as he anticipated the tasty dinner he was about to have. But as he crouched and prepared to pounce, he spotted on his right side two African children playing together. So he had a deer on one side and two children on the other. He stood for a moment gazing at both options, flummoxed as what to do. Then he split in half, one going to the left and one going off to the right.
The moral of the story is this: Greed kills.
And there are a lot of tombstones in many a graveyard that mark the plots of people who have died just like that tiger because they could never be satisfied. There was never enough.
But I believe that these two verses have a lot more in mind than one’s physical harm or death. These two verses are talking about how this desire for riches destroys one’s spiritual well being and makes godliness impossible.
Look at the language of 9-10 again. It starts by saying that those who desire to be rich “fall into temptation.” They fall into many senseless desires—harmful desires. These are descriptive of deeper inward issues that a person experiences. It is talking about how the soul becomes more and more depraved and entrenched in ungodliness.
Then in verse 10 it says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. Now, mind you, it is not money itself that he’s talking about. Money in and of itself is a neutral thing, something that can be used for all kinds of good. Rather, he’s talking about the love of money. And what does this love of money do? It is the root of all kinds of evils. It gives birth to other sins and leads to other corruptions. In other words, it may start as a deranged inclination lodged deep within the heart, but it eventually manifests itself as theft, extortion, oppression, envy, gossip, Sabbath breaking, marital infidelity, malic, and a world of other degenerate deeds.
So again, Paul is showing you that greed and godliness cannot walk hand in hand. Materialism will devour a man’s soul and suck every last drop of godliness out of it. It is a vortex that pulls you deeper depths of sinfulness.
It is important that we come to grips with where our heart’s true affection is. If we are going to be godly, then we must make money management something that first starts in the soul and not in our account books.
This leads to our last point. Godliness is found one more time in our passage. The last occurrence in the book is in verse 11, where Paul commends the stewardship of the most important thing: our souls.
III. Stewardship of soul
In verse 11 Paul says, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
This is rapid fire exhortation and it is all about how we take care of our souls. Paul tells us that we must protect our souls from falling into an ungodly living, and the way we do that is by following these exhortations.
Look at the words again and notice the intensity of them. Paul tells Timothy to flee, to fight, to take hold and to pursue. These are, what you might call, power words. They stress urgency and intensity. When you flee something, you don’t just take your time & swagger off. It demands robust vigor. The same is true for fighting and grasping.
Why does Paul use such language? He knows what is at stake. It is Timothy’s soul that is on the line. If we are languid when it comes to dealing with sin or if we take a laisse-faire approach to developing Christian virtue, then what does that say about the value we put on our soul? What does it say about our interest in spiritual things? It says that we do not much care what our spiritual standing is.
If that is the case, we are poor stewards of the most precious item we possess.
But how do we treat our physical bodies? Many of us go to great lengths to preserve our physical welfare. We stay away from things we know are going to be harmful. Many of us take pains to pursue proper nutrition and exercise. We want to best maintain our health and welfare. If this is how we treat our bodies, how much more should we take the proper steps to preserve our souls?
What is it that we must do to ensure that our souls are eternally secure? We must flee these things. False teaching and greed are things we must run from and have nothing to do with. We need to fight temptation and grab hold of the eternal life to which we were called.
In other words, we must demonstrate the same discipline with our souls as we give to our physic.
Those of you who have been with us for a while you may notice that verse 12 brings us full circle. We began this series 3 months ago with this verse. We talked about making the good confession “in the presence of many witnesses.” We studied this verse when we all took the vows of membership together and we talked about how important such a thing is in the life of a believer and in the life of the church body.
But the emphasis today is the first part of that line: “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” Again this is a power word. It means to grasp. It means to clutch in such a way that there is no possible way to tear it from your hand.
Obviously, this is a metaphorical way of talking. We cannot physically grasp eternal life. So what does it mean?
It means this: When we die we will enter our eternal dwelling place. When that happens, we will be perfected. Sin will be a by word. It will be anachronistic because we will be forever freed from it. This is what Paul is referring to. Take hold of that. Embrace the fact that we are freed from sin and are to live as the angels do now, in all godliness.
And that is how we might summarize all that has been said here. Being a godly person is ultimately about being a steward of the eternal life that we now possess in Christ. May the Lord bless us to that end.
This morning we come to a subject that you kind of wonder about. The passage before us is dealing with slaves and the issue of slavery. And this is one of those passages that I wondered whether or not I should address.
This is the second time I have preached through 1 Timothy, and the first time I went through this letter I passed over these two verses. I didn’t feel that I knew enough about them and I didn’t really know how they would be applicable to our day and age. So I ignored them and went on to verse 3.
I will admit that this is still a passage that continues to baffle me for modern day relevance. And I will leave it to you to determine at the end of the message today if I should have skipped it again or not this time around.
But we do hold the conviction that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, rebuking, and training in righteousness. And this is part of the reason why we preach consecutively through books of the Bible. It is so that we cover the whole counsel of God and do not skip certain teachings.
So, I felt obligated to study this passage and speak on it this week. I felt that I would be cheating Scripture if I skipped it again. And I hope that the words I have to day may be a blessing.
As we jump into the text, I want you to know that we will be looking at the passage under 4 headings this morning. Each of these headings starts with the letter D.
For our first heading we are going to use the word Despotism.
And I use this word because that is the Greek word that is used in verse 1 which we have translated “master.” The word for “master” is the Greek word “despot.”
Now we usually think of a despot as a tyrannical leader, like a communist or fascist. But the Greek word despot simply signifies someone who is in charge. For example, Jesus is called a despot in 2 Peter 2:1. Peter says that there will be false teachers who deny the “despotes” (the Master) who bought them.
We usually define despots as people who abuse authority. But, biblically speaking, a despot is simply the one who has lordship or mastery due to ownership.
I want to begin with this idea of despotism because it is important to realize that this concept is something that is virtually extinct in the Western, Christianized world.
I recognize that slavery still exists in many parts of the world. And there are indications that some forms of slavery (such as sex slavery) are experiencing something of a resurgence in our day. But, on the whole, slavery is something that is highly uncommon, at least in the west—that part of the world that has been the most influenced by the truth of Scripture. It may have taken a long time, but it is true: Slavery is virtually extinct.
And I want to start with this because when you come to a passage like this you may be a bit confused. We read here that Paul commands the slaves to be obedient to their despots. It would seem that Paul is commending or condoning the whole idea of slavery.
But we need to remember that this passage comes with a context. It comes in context of the whole letter, the whole teaching of Scripture; not to mention a historical context.
As you read this passage, the first thing you need to recall is that Paul has already condemned the involuntary enslavement of people. In the very first chapter of this epistle Paul lists several sins that he says are contrary to sound doctrine. Along with murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice homosexuality, and those who strike their fathers and mothers he lists enslavers (or man-stealers, as some versions have it).
Paul is very clear that kidnapping someone and selling someone into slavery is a great evil. And, by implication, anyone who participates in the act by buying a slave is an accomplice to the sin of kidnapping. To anyway indignity human life by equating it with some form of property is an evil thing in the eyes of God. It goes against the 6th commandment, which has as its core the need to preserve, respect, and promote life.
So when we see that Paul here commands slaves to submit to their masters, we need to keep that in mind. We need to keep in mind that it comes in the context of this whole letter. We also need to keep in mind the fact that there is a whole historical context in which it is set. There are other issues at stake here. Remember that Paul is speaking in the context of the Roman world, which was essentially built and operating on the backs of slaves. It is said that a third to almost half of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves. And slaves, if they revolted against their masters or tried to run away, could be killed on site without a trial.
There is a sense in which Paul is seeking to preserve social order. Paul knows that involuntary slavery is not right, but he does not want to cause any unnecessary shedding of blood or let the good order of society be disturbed. He recognizes that these things need to change, but they need to change in God’s good time. And the best way that they can change is through obedience at this time.
Now, someone is going to say to me, “Well, doesn’t the OT promote slavery?” And we will readily admit that it does provide regulations for it. But we need to think about the kind of slavery that it promoted.
First, in the OT Jews were not allowed to enslave their brothers. Israelites were never to be forced into slavery. You could sell yourself into slavery. If you became poor, and needed to survive, you could become a voluntary slave. And even then it was only for a period of 7 years. Every 7th year you were to be freed. If you didn’t want to go, you could make it permanent. But it was still voluntary, and it was much better than the alternative, which was dying of starvation!
The only time forced slavery was permissible was when it was a foreign nation with whom you had gone to war. The captives that you had taken could be enslaved and forced into labor. And again, that is better than the alternative: death. But you should see this captivity in terms of the land and covenant promises. When these foreigners were brought into Israel, they would be circumcised and given the right to participate in God’s covenant. So, in all reality, that enslavement was a form of evangelism back in those days.
Today we don’t have the enslavement of captive nations. That law was one that we believe passed away with the ceremonies and the land. So the only kind of slavery that may be permissible in our day would be the voluntary kind. And, I believe, our constitution still allows, even to this day—despite having abolished race based slavery—indentured servitude. That’s because it promotes life.
That being said, we as Americans don’t really practice that kind of servitude. We seek to help those who are homeless by enabling them to live on their own and use their gifts and graces as freemen.
All that is to say, this idea of despotism—i.e. being someone else’s master—is a concept that is essentially dead in the water in the west. And we give God and His Word all the credit for that. Wherever Christ does not reign and wherever His footprint is not felt, there you will find despotism. Slavery, unfortunately, exists wherever Satan rules. Under the Humanistic reign of communism, people are enslaved. Islam continues to this day to be the biggest proponent of slavery. But not so with Christ. He declared that the truth will set you free, and you will be free indeed. And everywhere you find His fingerprint—wherever the truth of Scripture has had a large influence on society—there you will find a tombstone devoted to despotism.
Now the second word that we want to look at is the word “doxology.”
From time to time we will sing the “Doxology.” The doxology is a song of praise. The Greek word doxa means “praise” or “glory.” So doxology has to do with giving God honor and paying tribute to the excellency of His Name.
And that is a good heading for what we find in the rest of verse 1. Read the verse with me. It says, “Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.
One of the reasons why Paul says these slaves need to be submissive is so that the name of God and the Christian faith as a whole are not given a bad reputation.
You can imagine how this goes. Slaves start realizing that they have been liberated from the bondage of sin. They have been made servants of Christ. They have a new Master and new status as a new creature in Christ. They read these stories about how their God has freed his people from the bondage they had in Egypt. Add to this the fact that slaves and masters are starting to worship together. Maybe some of these slaves are even being made elders (the section that we dealt with last time). So these slaves have some authority over their masters!
All this is a recipe for these slaves to start something of a revolt. They may not want to submit to their masters anymore. But Paul puts all this to rest. He says that they are to submit, and the reason is ultimately an issue of doxology. If you slaves begin to revolt, people will look at Christianity as a religion of revolution. They will see it as a subversive religion and people will think that this Christ is nothing more than a trouble maker.
So, part of the reason why these slaves still need to submit to their masters is so that the glory of God will not be impeded. If these slaves are rendering proper obedience then the word of God can continue to spread and more people will end up giving praise to God.
So Paul points out how much the glory of God should rank in our lives. He wants us to put a premium on the propagation of the gospel and be willing to sacrifice our priorities and privileges so that the name of Christ might be lifted up among the heathen people.
Perhaps you have heard the story about the two young men who desired to preach the gospel to a certain enclave of people. But the nation to which they wanted to go was closed to the gospel. Missionaries were not allowed to enter. But these two men were so intent on seeing Christ exalted among these people that they sold themselves into slavery. They gave up their freedom so that they may be able to begin to preach the gospel and influence the populous for Christ.
That’s what Paul is calling these people to do. The first principle is that our freedom and our personal standing is a secondary matter. Christ should rank first in our lives in everything and we should do everything in our power to keep His name from being defiled.
And this, remember the very embodiment of the gospel. Jesus Christ was one who was willing to deny the freedom He had. He gave up the high and glorious status He had as the Son of God and He, in his incarnation, became what was nothing more than a slave. He submitted himself to the will of His father. The whole focus of His life was the glory of God’s Name and the spread of the faith. You today are able to enjoy the fruits of his saving grace because he was willing to submit to some pretty harsh despots.
The comforts of life were secondary things for him. And we who follow in His footsteps are called to the same kind of doxological life. We are called to make the Honor of his Name and the reverence of it among the nations our highest and chief calling. As our Shorter Catechism says, “Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Now the third thing that I think we can glean from this passage can fall under the heading “dominion.”
AT the very beginning of Scripture, we find the dominion mandate. We are to rule over the earth and subdue it. That is God’s call to us to work and to be productive in our lives.
That’s essentially what you find being reiterated here. The essence of this subservience is work. The passage says that these slaves are to consider their masters “worthy of honor.” Now, we’ve talked these last two weeks about what this word “honor” means. It carries the idea of compensation. It is to pay someone or support them with wages. Of course, the slave’s form of compensation is his labors. The form of payment/honor is his work.
So, there is a sense in which this passage calls us to be men and women who take dominion over the earth.
That’s important, and we could all take a lesson to the fact that we are all called to dominion. My children think doing the dishes after dinner is a form of slavery. So here is a way to think of it in better terms.
But there is more to the idea of dominion here. The dominion that Paul talks about is not just a dominion over the earth, but there is actually dominion over the master.
What do I mean by that? Look at the passage again. Look in verse 1. Paul says, “Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor.” The word “regard” is an interesting one. It has a double meaning. It can mean “to consider or to think,” but it also can mean “to rule over, or to govern.”
The thinking process here is a form of dominion. You are to rule over your master by considering him worthy of honor. Now why is that important? It may be that he isn’t worthy of it! He may be a real despot in the modern sense of the word. He may be a cruel man and a tyrant. But you are to exercise power over him by counting him worthy of your labors.
In a sense, you are imputing worth to him. He may have be a rascal. But you are to demonstrate dominion over him by recognizing him to be worthy of your works.
Now, this may sound completely absurd. Why would you give to someone your hard work? Why would you suffer and do all this on behalf of someone else when they are not in the least bit worthy of it?
Well, if you want to know the answer to that one, you can ask Jesus Christ. This is the essential character of the gospel. This is exactly what Christ has done for us. Are we not dirty little despots who have forfeited the right to anything good? We are the rascals that are not in any way worthy of any good treatment? But what has Christ done for us? He has demonstrated his dominion over us. He has taken rule over us by regarding us in a much favorable light.
And this gets at the whole thing we call the “doctrine of imputation.” Jesus gives us this honor that is being talked about here. He gives to us all of his works. The merit of his righteousness is paid to our account so that we stand before God as perfectly justified.
So what Paul tells these slaves to do is embody the gospel. He tells them to apply the doctrine of imputation and grace through this exercise of dominion.
The last “D” word that we can glean from this passage is the word diligence.
In verse 2 Paul says that those who work for Christian masters should “serve all the better.” Some slaves may have been tempted to be a little less diligent. But Paul says that the fact that you are a Christian means you should be even more diligent. You should serve all the better.
In other words, being justified, you should now become more sanctified.
And this is important because I’ve heard stories of how employers do not want to hire people who profess to be Christians because they’ve had a number of bad experiences with Christian employees. I’ve heard complaints that Christians are constantly late to work, they cut corners, they don’t have good attitudes. They are less thorough, less obliging and so forth.
This is a scandal on Christ. The work that you do now should be energized by the fact that God lives in you and you have a whole new standard by which God expects you to live.
And this is a good reminder to us. As people who have been blessed by the grace of God—as people who have had the works of Christ imputed to us, we should be ready to work “all the better.”
Throughout our study of 1 Timothy we have seen that leadership is one of the main themes of the book. Back in chapter 1 we talked about false teachers & so we saw how there were some leaders in the church who were a nuisance.
And of course, the whole epistle is laying out instructions for Timothy on how to be a good leader. So this this idea of leadership is key for this epistle.
In our passage this morning we return to the whole idea of leadership. In this section he talks about how we should treat those who serve as elders.
But as we read the passage, you probably noticed that it isn’t all ponies and rainbows when it comes to those who serve as elders. There are good leaders and there are bad leaders, and we are not to treat them the same.
Perhaps you even saw the structure of our passage. It begins by talking about those who are good elders and how we are to honor them. Then verses 20-21 talk about how we are to treat those who are poor leaders. Then the passage wraps up by talking about those who we might consider to be candidates for elder, and it tells us that even these guys need to be screened and given a time of probation so that we don’t disgrace the office or ruin the order of the church.
But all that is said here is for that purpose: it is for preserving the right order of the church. And so, let’s take a few minutes this morning and reflect on that.
The passage begins by telling us that we must give honor to those who are doing a good job as elders. As a matter of fact, verses 17-19 tell us that there are two ways we can give proper homage to good elders. The first way we honor our elders is by paying them the wages that they are do.
I. We must honor our elders [17-19]
A. By paying them the wages they are due
Look at verse 17. Paul says that the elders who rule well should be considered worthy of double honor.
Now, as I mentioned last week, the idea of honor here is the idea of monetary compensation. Widows were to be honored in that they were to be supported financially by the church. And the same word for honor is used here. Moreover, the whole idea of an income is reinforced by verse 18 which talks about not muzzling the ox and the laborer deserving his wages. Both of these are quotes from the OT that support the idea of just wages for work provided.
And this principle is applied to the elders; the men who labor in and for the church.
Now, there is a belief that has been held by some in the church that all work done in and for the church should be based in volunteerism. There is a segment of Christians who believe that there should be no paid ministerial staff. Rather, everyone should contribute freely to the church and gain their income through work done outside the church. Yet this stands in stark contrast to what the Spirit lays out here. To be sure, I appreciate the sentiment that they have. Everyone should use their gifts and be willing to contribute to the furtherance of Christ’s church. But, as the Scripture says here, those who are laboring—those who are putting in excessive amounts of time and doing work that would prevent them from having another occupation—they should be esteemed seen as worthy of being compensated.
And, I might add, that this applies to all the elders. We see that Paul singles out those who labor in preaching and teaching. But he says that all elders should be compensated (I will let you exegete what double honor is!).
I always like to point out that even ruling elders should be given some reimbursement for their investment into the church. I am a strong advocate for this. I have heard that John MacArthur’s church does this. All the elders essentially have a part time job working as elders. And if you think about all the work that goes into being a ruling elder, you can understand why.
What all is a ruling elder called to do? What all is involved in his work? They are responsible for doing visitations and they help with the leading of worship. They meet together to plan and conduct business regularly. They do evangelism, they disciple people, they do counseling, and are involved in one on one mentoring. Let’s not forget that elders are pastors too.
They may not be the one’s who are standing up front week to week doing the preaching; they may be working more behind the scenes. But there’s still a significant amount of work that they are doing. One of the things that we hear from ruling elders is that they don’t have enough time to do this or that.
I think there would be a lot more ministry being done if we began practicing this whole idea of honor that is spoken of here. And I think it is worthy of something for this church to consider as we develop and grow as a church.
But, as you know, money isn’t everything. Honor for elders may come in terms of payment, but we can’t forget that it also comes in the form of protection.
B. By protecting them with due process
Look at verse 19. Part of the honor that is due to an elder is that we “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” What is this talking about? It is talking about due process.
As the church’s leadership elders are going to be targets of gossip and slander. People are going to say things about them that are not true. Or maybe, there are some who just want to gripe about what the leadership has done, and they only have half the story. You know, there are some things that an elder just can’t talk about because it is sensitive or is required to remain private. Some of the situation may be known, but not all of it.
For instance, someone may be put under discipline by the elders. And that part is public. But the reasons for it may need to be withheld. That can cause people in the church to get angry. And they may say things about the elders.
What happens then? We need to put the squash on this kind of thing. Unless real evidence can be brought forward and witnesses can state a solid case in a true judicial process, we are not to tolerate these kinds of things.
What Paul is saying here is that we need to protect good elders. We need to protect them by not allowing their good names to be ruined by false accusations. And the way that is done is by having the church act as a court.
These are the two main ways we honor our elders, we pay them and we protect them. Any church that is worth its salt will seek to abide by these principles. We want to make sure good elders are being treated with the highest possible regard. They are acting as Christ’s servants, after all. Christ put them here to rule and to teach. These elders are upholding the prophetic and kingly offices of Christ. And if we want to honor Christ, we must honor those who he raises up to lead.
But what if an elder is not doing what he is supposed to do? What if an elder is in sin or is beginning to be a shame to Christ and to his office? Or, what if we bring an elder to trial with 2-3 witnesses and it is proven that the charges are true? What do we do then? Well, our passage tells us what we are to do if such circumstances arise.
Verses 20-21 talk about unruly elders. And these verses tell us that we must rebuke them. And this rebuke needs to be both public and impartial.
II. We must rebuke unruly elders [20-21]
A. Publicly: not letting the church suffer
Look at verse 20. It says, “As for those [elders] who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
Again, you’ll notice that this rebuke is not hidden behind closed doors or tucked away in a back room. This is a public rebuke, in the sight of all. And it is because he is persisting in sin.
Last week we saw that we are to exhort those who are older as fathers. There’s to be a gentleness and a discreetness to it. And that’s because the sin isn’t all that serious and it is one that they are willing to repent of. But here’s a guy who is persisting in sin. He’s not demonstrating a repentant attitude. This guy is not to be exhorted, but publicly admonished.
I know that this does not sit well with a lot of people. Public rebuke is thought to be one of the high, heretical crimes of our day. If you speak out against someone’s public behavior, then you are probably going to hurt their feelings. And that is the one of the worst possible sins that you can commit in our overly sensitive, “everyone-gets-a-trophy” culture. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say that we should not say anything against anyone at any given time.
But that is not biblical. When someone is committing public sin, then their rebuke should be public. If an elder is in sin and other people know about it, then a formal, public rebuke needs to be issued.
And the reason is so that the rest of the congregation may “stand in fear.” That is to say, it is so that they do not follow his example.
A while back there was a fellow who had been involved in some infidelity. It was proven to be such, and he had to be removed from his position. And the elders were required to make a public statement to the congregation, in which they offered a formal rebuke and declaration to the congregation of his error. Now, it wasn’t anything indiscrete. But it was enough to make sure that everyone in the congregation knew that they shouldn’t follow his example.
Or you might think of the instance that occurred between the apostles Peter and Paul, which is recorded in the book of Galatians. Peter was a leader of the church and he was doing a good job for a while. But Paul says that some Jews came to town and Peter began to withdraw from the Gentiles. He ceased ministering to them and holding fellowship with them solely for the fact that they were Gentiles. And Paul had to rebuke him. And it says that Paul did it publicly and to his face. And he did it this way because there were several in the church who were following Peter’s example. Paul’s rebuke was to help them all stand in fear.
And that’s the point of the public rebuke. It is to safeguard the purity of the church. People in positions of leadership can have a large influence on the congregation. And if their sin is not dealt with properly, then it can have wider repercussions.
And that’s why they need to be dealt with impartially too.
B. Impartially: not letting your favorites skirt by
You’ll notice that is exactly what Paul mentions in verse 21. He says, with the utmost solemnity, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”
You understand why Paul says this. You might be tempted to show favoritism to certain people, especially leaders or a person of prominence. We see this all the time with famous people. People who have a big name are often given lighter sentences for their crimes. It is all just because they are popular and are thought to be worth a lesser punishment.
But what if we show that kind of partiality to elders in the church? What will happen if we do not follow through on the guidelines that Paul outlines here? What happens when we skirt the system and give special protection through a private admonition? We know full well what will happen. Their sins will begin to be reproduced by others in the congregation. It will spread like a bad virus.
And this leads us to the last point that our passage makes. We need to honor good elders and rebuke bad elders. But, in order to keep things kosher in the church, we also need to screen potential elders
III. We must screen candidates for elder [22-25]
Verses 22-25 tell us how important it is to take our time in selecting our leaders. It begins by saying, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” In other words, don’t rush when it comes to ordaining a man as an elder. Relax, take your time, and allow the Lord to work.
And you will notice that Paul gives two reasons why we should have this probation period for those who may be candidates for the ministry. The first reason is that time is the best revealer of character.
In verses 24-25 Paul says, “The sins of some people are obvious, but the sins of others appear later.” A lot of people complain that nothing can get done quickly in the church. But what most people don’t realize is that that is a good thing! Time is your friend when it comes to examining who will be the best candidates for leadership. Because time will expose whether or not their character is fit for the office.
People can be good at hiding their true identity. I heard a story about one church where this was the case. This church had a man who seemed to be a great candidate for leadership. Everyone thought he had all the qualities, and they moved kind of swiftly to put him on the leadership team. After he was installed, they started having all kinds of problems. Here they came to see that the guy had an agenda. There were all kinds of things he wanted to change in the church and now that he had power he thought he could push his will on the church. What everyone came to find out is that he had been masquerading as this meek and mild guy. He first appeared to be so gentle and kind, but that was just a façade that he was using for his power grab.
So that’s one reason we have to be careful not to rush things. If we take our time, we can become a witness to sin. Another reason we should take our time is because we can become infected by their sin. What you need to know is that sin, especially when it is committed by the leadership, can be contagious.
Look at the later half of verse 22. It says, “do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” And then it adds this verse, which seems to hardly fit in Paul’s line of thinking, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach).
Paul was warning Timothy that if he ordained these leaders he may be induced to take part in their sins. He would be led astray and begin participating in the same sins.
And I believe that is what the whole thing about drinking wine is about. Back in chapter 4 Paul said that these false teachers were teaching people that certain foods & such were taboo and that they should abstain from certain drinks. Here, we find that Timothy had become a Teatotaller. It is likely that he had been caught up in this whole teaching that was going on. He had been infected by their teachings and Paul was trying to set him straight.
So he gives here a good reason why we should be careful to examine candidates thoroughly through a time of observation. If we put someone in a position of leadership we may come to find that they have some serious defects and they can end up leading people astray.
The best way to preserve order in the church is to simply take our time and make sure that those who are appointed to these positions are vetted with time.
Throughout our study of 1 Timothy we have learned a number of things. He has given us a number of directives that should mark us as a gospel based church. But in our passage this morning Paul acts much like a weatherman who forecasts a coming storm.
The passage tells us that in the latter times some will depart from the faith. The word depart there is the Greek word “aphistemi;” it’s the word we know as “apostatize.” So this passage is warning us that there is going to be a great apostasy in the church.
But what you need to understand is what kind of prophetic word this is. When you read this you see that it talks about the “later times.” And you can easily think that it is referring to some distant future event that occurs right before Jesus comes again. But that’s not what Paul is concerned with. He’s concerned with present realities. The later times are the times that we currently live in. It is the time period that extends from Christ’s first advent to his second.
Paul wrote this so that Timothy would be aware that apostasy is a threat that looms in every age of the church. He wanted Timothy and his congregation to be on guard and aware of the danger posed by false teaching.
And as we read this passage, we are to be reminded that it should be on every one of our radar’s too. If the forecast was so troubling in Timothy’s day, certainly we should demonstrate just as much care that we do not fall prey to the teaching of spiritual scoundrels that continue to lurk about in our day.
In this passage Paul seeks to impress upon us the fact that apostasy is an ever looming problem. And we on guard against it. And, in order to help us garner the vigilance that we need, he tells us 4 things about the false doctrine that leads to it.
The passage before us today is one that, in a lot of circles, is overlooked, reinterpreted, or outright denied. For that reason, it is one that has the potential to get me in a great deal of trouble.
It's about Biblical femininity, and that, of course, is something that is hated in our rabidly egalitarian society.
The woman’s liberation movement has so infected even the church that any mention of the idea of biblical patriarchy, submission and God’s order for Biblical manhood and womanhood can create a firestorm of opposition.
I have been opposed on it several times through my meager career. I have been rebuked by one of the leaders of the local Democratic Party. I have been opposed by virtually the whole of the local ministerial society. About 6-7 years ago I was kicked out of a church where I had been doing pulpit supply for almost a year because my “hermeneutical framework” did not comport with the denomination’s. That was just fancy talk for me being someone who holds to the biblical roles of men and women.
I’m thankful that I don’t have to worry about too much of that with this group. I commend all of you, and especially you ladies, for being faithful to study the Scriptures on these topics and most (if not all) of you already have a good grasp on what God’s Word says about Biblical femininity.
Nevertheless, some of what Paul says here can rattle the sensitivities of the modern ear. And we should remember that this is some rather controversial material. To be sure, it was just as controversial in his day as it is in ours.
And while there may be an absolute disdain for the truth all around us—and there may be multitudes express their outrage, we are building a gospel based church. And here in this passage we find that a gospel based church is not going to be a church that bends to the tides of popular opinion. A Gospel based church is going to devote itself to what God says no matter what. And in the passage before us, we find that a gospel based church is going to be one that promotes biblical femininity. And it is going to promote biblical femininity in whatever form it comes in.
And our passage lists for us three different ways in which Biblical femininity displays itself. The first of which is in a lady's attire. Paul tells us that one of the ways Biblical femininity is expressed in the clothes a woman chooses to wear.
A number of years ago I happened to go to the post office on April 15, Tax Day. As you may have guessed, it was quite busy. People were hustling in and out to get their taxes in before the deadline. For the convenience of those last minute tax payers, there was a hotdog stand set up just outside the post office.
If I hadn’t just ordered a pizza I would have picked up a few and brought them home for my family.
But as I looked around I noticed that there weren’t all that many people scooping up these free hotdogs. I wondered what was making people refuse such a good thing? It sure wasn’t because there was a lack of people. The place was bustling like a bee hive. Certainly there couldn’t have been that many people on their way to the pizzeria. For some reason, many people refused the free offer that was set before them.
Now whether or not someone takes a free hotdog is of minor importance. But there are other offers that are much more significant, and how you respond to them is of great significance. Take for instance the offer of an extension on filing your taxes. If you don’t take the government up on that offer you’re going to be in for a lot of trouble, perhaps even to the point where you are put in jail.
But there are free offers that are of even greater importance. As a matter of fact we find the most important one right here in our passage this evening. In verse 15 it says, “This is a trustworthy saying deserving of full acceptance, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This verse proclaims God’s free offer of salvation. In essence it says, if you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, God will forgive you of your sins and will give you eternal life.
But you know what? A lot of people don’t take advantage of that offer. The promise of eternal life is refused like one of those postal hotdogs. No matter how many times God offers to save people from eternal condemnation, people still refuse it.
You have to wonder, “What makes people do that?” Tonight I want to consider with you that very question. What makes us refuse God’s offer of salvation?
As I see it, and, as our passage puts before us, there are three ways we can refuse God’s offer of salvation. You can say, “I don’t need it” “I can’t have it”, or “I don’t want it
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.