1 Timothy: Encouraging Disciples

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on June 13, 2004

1 Timothy 1:1-2

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to I Timothy, chapter 1. This is the first of three letters often referred to as Paul’s pastoral epistles, or pastoral letters. They are written to individuals, but they’re meant for congregations. And they’re not simply meant for the original individual and the original congregation to whom they are addressed: they are meant for us. Because as the Apostle Paul tells us, all Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for reproof and correction and training in righteousness, and so Paul is not simply sharing his opinions in these letters, he is telling us God’s word for the church today. And so, we’re going to be looking at especially what these letters teach us about the church. 

What is the church supposed to be like? We all have our opinions. You may have some things that you would like First Presbyterian to be different than are. You may be here at First Presbyterian because you didn’t like another church and the way it was, and you found certain things here to your liking. Oh, we’re not talking about matters of taste or matters of opinion. We’re talking about matters of the principles of God’s word. And so, we’re going to be asking some questions about what the church should be like. Does the Bible say anything about how the church should be? Does God say anywhere what the church ought to be and do? Yes! All through the Bible God is telling us these things, but especially here in these pastoral epistles. God directs His word through Paul to the pastors of these local congregations that were in existence within thirty years of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and He gives to us timeless principles which are just as applicable to us today for how the church is to be and do. 

The pastoral epistles give us both a description and a prescription of the pattern and the life of the local church. They give us a description of what it would have been like to have been in a local Christian congregation in the days of the Apostle Paul. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be part of a congregation pastored by Paul, or pastored by a pastor who had been sent to that congregation through Paul’s missionary work? Well, you get a good description of what it would have been like here, but you get more than a description. Paul is not just tickling your historical interest here. He’s not just giving you some interesting information. He’s actually instructing you how it is supposed to be.

Let me demonstrate that for you by asking you to look back to II Thessalonians, chapter 3, verse 14. You should be able to look back across your page, or maybe just turn one page or so back in your Bibles from I Timothy. In II Thessalonians 3:14, Paul says this to the Christians in Thessalonica: “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that man and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame.”

Now look, every preacher has wished that he could write a letter like that! But we can’t! But Paul can, because he’s an apostle. Jesus called Paul to his office. Jesus invested Paul with his authority. Jesus told Paul how he wanted his church to be, and so Paul gets to say, ‘Now, take special note of what I’ve written to you. And if anybody doesn’t like it or disagrees, that’s fine. Just kick them out of the church.’ Now, he’s not being mean. He’s making it clear that the church belongs to God, and therefore, the church is going to be done the way that God wants the church to be done, not according to human opinion.

You see this as well, if you turn back a little bit further to I Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 13, where he congratulates the Christians in Thessalonica for their attitude to the message that he is bringing. In I Thessalonians 2:13, he says “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is: the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”

In other words, Paul is saying, ‘We thank God that when you heard our message you recognized that this was not our opinion, this was not of our making. This was God’s word, and you received it that way.

Now Paul in I Timothy, and II Timothy and Titus is not writing his “Best-Seller on Helpful Hints for a Healthy Church.” This is not the wisdom culled from years of pastoring to give you tips on how to be better Christians in the local congregation. No. This is God’s word for how it is supposed to be in the local church. Let’s bear that in mind as we turn to I Timothy 1:1,2. Before we read God’s word, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His blessing on the reading and preaching of His word. 

Lord God, since You created the church, You alone can tell us how it is supposed to be. Grant that as we come under the hearing of the word, we would submit all our opinions to Your holy Bible. Grant that we would hear with faith and understanding, and get for Yourself glory, even in our hearing and harkening to the word of God. We ask it through our Lord Jesus, the Messiah. Amen. 

This is the word of God: 

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, to Timothy: my true child in the faith. Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

If you enter into a Christian bookstore just about anywhere, chances are there is going to be a large section on “How to Do Church.” Seems like every successful pastor of a large church feels obligated at some point to write the story of how he did it. “How I grew my church from three to 38,312, and how you can do it, too, in five easy steps.” They’re everywhere! Models for how we ought to do church. I don’t want to make fun, there are lots of good common sense ideas to be found in many of those books. I’ve read a few myself, from time to time. But it seems to me that when you look at the church today, especially in our part of the world, the United States, there are in fact three basic models of approaching how to do and be the church. 

There is what we might call the Liberal Model; there is what we might call the Modern Evangelical Model; and then there’s a third model—and I’ll not title that until we’ve explained the other two. You see these models, all three of them, here in Jackson. If you’ve looked around at the churches, you would find examples of churches that fit into one of these three models if you visited Jackson. 

The Liberal Model says that the Gospel needs to be rethought in contemporary terms if we are going to be able to effectively reach out to our culture. The Liberal Model says, “Look, the Gospel as it was written 2,000 years ago is just not very appealing to modern men and women. It needs to be updated, it needs to be rethought, it needs to be reformulated. We need to take away certain parts that are offensive to the modern mind and intellect, and we need to bring it up to date.” The idea is that the key to the vitality of the church is an updated message that will really meet the needs of people around us, and will really grab their attention and attract them to the church. And you can find churches in Jackson, around Mississippi and around the United States that essentially bought into that model: that in order for the church to meet this culture, the message needs to be updated. The leaders of this congregation took a stand against that very model of church life. They said, “No, we believe the Bible message. We don’t believe that it needs to be updated. And we’re not going to affiliate with folks who believe that that message needs to be changed.” It was an act of faith, and it was an act of courage. But you can find that particular model just about everywhere in the United States.

The second model I call the Modern Evangelical model. It’s evangelical because, with us, these friends would agree that the Gospel does not need to be updated. The Gospel is just fine. It’s true. It’s historical. It needs to be understood and proclaimed. But these Modern Evangelical brothers and sisters who would agree with us on the Gospel message also believe that our methods need to change. They would say, “the Gospel message is fine, but the old methods aren’t working anymore. The message is great, but we’re going to need to update our methods if we’re going to be able to reach the lost.”

The third model is the Biblical Model.  The biblical view believes that God’s message and method always accomplish what He intends. The biblical view of the church says that the crucial task of the church is not to update the Gospel or to find new methods that work, but to always be striving to be faithful in believing and living out both God’s message and His method.

Those are the three views, basically. Everything that you see out there can be dropped into one or more of these categories in terms of church life today. And I want you to see the Apostle Paul here, in I Timothy and Titus and II Timothy, calling us to both God’s message and God’s method. Let me say that one more way. Liberalism says that the Gospel won’t work unless the message is changed. Modern Evangelicalism says that the Gospel won’t work unless our methods are changed. The Bible says that the Gospel works, and that God has given us both the method and the message to build the church. 

Think of it. In Galatians, Paul defends the message. Remember what he says in Galatians, chapter one? If someone else, even someone who claims to be a messenger from God, comes and tells you a different Gospel than the one that I have preached, let him be eternally accursed. In fact, Paul says, “even if I were to come back to you and tell you, ‘oh, by the way, I’ve improved the Gospel a little bit, here’s the new improved version’—“he says, ‘reject me!’” Because God authored the Gospel, it doesn’t change. So he’s defending the message in the book of Galatians, but here in I Timothy, and then later in Titus and II Timothy, he’s defending the method. Paul is concerned both about what we believe and how we live together as Christians. And in this book he gives us instructions on how to live in the local congregation in accordance with His method and message. Even here in this introduction—all we’ve read today are just Paul’s words of greeting—I want you to see four things that we can learn by example and reminder about how the church ought to be, what the church is supposed to be like. Just from Paul’s dear, kind, blessed words of greetings to Timothy. 

The Ministry of the Christian Church is According to the Commandment of God.

The first thing I want you to see is that Paul draws attention to a God-appointed ministry. It’s vital for Timothy to understand that it is God who has appointed Paul, and it is God who has appointed Timothy to the task of ministry. It is not the church, ultimately, that appoints us to ministry. Although, in this congregation every officer—every elder, every deacon, and even myself—is voted upon by the congregation. You affirm God’s calling to us to serve you, but you do not call us. God calls. He uses the church to call, but God is the one who appoints to ministry. And Paul is pointing that out. Look at the very first words of verse one: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus.” Paul is stressing that the ministry of the Christian church is according to the commandment of God.

Now this is a strange way for Paul to open a letter. He loves Timothy. You’re going to see that in the very next verse. He has a very close relationship with Timothy. They are dear, dear friends. They have worked together intimately. They have been through thick and thin. You would think this is a fairly stiff and formal way to open a letter to a dear friend in the Gospel ministry: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God….”  You might be thinking, what about “Dear Timothy, How are you?” You would think it might be a little warm up front. But Paul has a method to his madness.

You remember that Paul tells us elsewhere that Timothy was temperamentally gentle. He was wont to be pushed around by some in the church, and Paul wants to remind Timothy that Paul’s own authority comes, not from the church, but from God Himself, and that Timothy’s authority ultimately comes from the Lord Himself. Paul is drawing attention to the fact that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God. Paul is not an apostle because he knew the right people. Paul is not an apostle because he was ambitious and he worked his way up the ecclesiastical ladder until he got his purple shirt. Paul is not an apostle because he was smarter than anybody else, although he probably was. Paul is an apostle because one day he was on the way to Damascus to kill Christians, and Jesus met him, and said, “Paul, why are you persecuting Me?” And then He said, “Paul, I’m going to show you how much you will suffer for My sake.” 

Paul was called to the Gospel ministry by Jesus. Literally, by Jesus! All true Christian ministry is called by Jesus. I’ve never seen Jesus. Jesus didn’t meet me on the way to Jackson face-to-face and call me to minister. Though I’ve never seen Him, I love Him. But He is ultimately the One who has appointed me for service. And Paul is drawing attention to the fact that in the church, God is the one who appoints ministry. It’s not ultimately the local church, but God who divinely calls and appoints the Gospel ministry. All ministry in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is done according to that same appointment and directive. And the success of that ministry and success of the church depends upon that realization. It’s God’s church, and He appoints its leaders. The minute we begin to appoint those who are not chosen of God, we get into trouble.

Do you remember what happened after King Jeroboam set up the idols to worship in the northern kingdom in the Old Testament, and called a priesthood into the service of those idols whom God had not appointed—trouble. You know immediately trouble is going to happen. And sure enough, over and over in the history of Israel, that event in which people who are not called to the ministry, were called to serve in the ministry by man, not by God, was pointed to as a singular crisis in the history of God’s people. The success of the church’s ministry depends upon a God-appointed ministry. 

The Ministry of the Christian Church Depends on a Clear Apprehension of Who God Is.

The second thing you see is this. Look at verses one and two. You see a God-conscious ministry. Paul is exceedingly conscious of the One who has called him into service: who He is, what He’s like. The ministry of the Christian church, in fact, depends upon a clear apprehension of who God is. And Paul stresses four things about God: (1) God is Savior; (2) Jesus the Messiah is our hope; (3) God is Father; and (4) Jesus the Messiah is Lord. He tells you four things about the God who has called him into service.

First of all, God is Savior.  You see, we don’t just need to know stuff, we need to be forgiven. We don’t just need a God who is kindly and goodly, a great grandfather in the sky. We need a God who will forgive us of our sins. And so from the very first, Paul is conscious that he has been called to serve God’s people by a God who saves, a God who is a Savior. And I want to tell you right now, if you’re in a church where you don’t hear about sin, and you don’t hear about a God who saves at the cost of his own Son, the best thing you can do is get out of that church quick, and find one that will talk about it! Because Paul is talking about the very heartbeat of his ministry here. He’s called by the God who has saved him.

But not only that, he’s called by Christ, who is our hope. That’s a glorious phrase. And two thoughts immediately come to mind. One is, isn’t that an interesting juxtaposition? He’s called according to the commandment of God our Savior, and Jesus Christ who is our hope. Isn’t that interesting, that he groups together God our Savior and Jesus Christ? Somewhere, sometime, young people, there’s going to be a religion professor who tells you something like this: ‘Nowhere in the New Testament does the Bible ever say explicitly that Jesus is God. That is something that Christians only later came to claim about Jesus Christ.’

Well, by the way, there are in fact nine times at least, and perhaps twelve, when Jesus is explicitly called divine. He is God in the New Testament. But, even if those passages were not there, this passage alone indicates the divinity of Jesus Christ. Think of it, my friends. Paul says to Timothy, “Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now isn’t that an interesting way of speaking? 

What if I were to say to you, “Friends, I am called by God and by Billy Graham.” You might think, boy, that second level was a few steps down from the first one! I mean, Billy Graham’s a great man, but God he is not. Or what if I were to say, “I am called by God and John Calvin.” Well, you might say, “I always thought that he cared too much about Calvinism!” You would never think that I would group together John Calvin with the triune God. At least, I hope that you wouldn’t think that I would group together John Calvin on the par with the Triune God! But here’s Paul saying, “blessings to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus the Christ.” Now how can he do that? Because Jesus is of the same substance, equal in power and glory with God! It’s a testimony to His deity. 

But notice what he calls Him: He says “Jesus our hope.” That is the second thing I want you to see. You know that the New Testament speaks about ‘blessed hope.’ Blessed hope is the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, because Paul says in I Corinthians 15, “If our hope is in this life only, we are of all men most miserable.” The great thing that we as Christians look for is the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the culmination of His kingdom! And so our hope is firmly placed on Him, on His person, on His divinity, on His incarnation, on His life, on His ministry, on His miracles, on His death, on His burial, and His resurrection, His ascension, and His reign in heaven even now. And we look to His coming again. Our hope is all wrapped up in that. Paul says, I minister in light of the consciousness of the God who is my Savior, but also of Jesus who is my hope. 

And then he goes on to speak of God, who is my Father. You can’t call God “Father” unless you know His Son. It is the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who ushers us into the presence of our heavenly Father. He’s no longer the One who ought to be justly judging us for our sins. He’s now our heavenly Father who welcomes us into His family, and Paul knows that it’s vital that we understand that if we are going to minister in the church. God has become in Jesus Christ our Father. The Almighty One, the Maker of heaven and earth. Our Father, if we have embraced Jesus Christ in the Gospel. You see, you can’t know that God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ unless you know Jesus Christ savingly. If you have turned from your own attempts to justify yourself, from your own attempts to deny your sin, from your own attempts to make up for your sin, from your own attempts to be good, to be accepted by God on your own merit, and you’ve said, “Lord, I don’t have a chance. The only hope I have is Christ.” And you trust in Him, you believe in Him. You believe what the Bible says about Him. You trust in Him, and you put all your hope in Him. When you have done that, then suddenly you realize that God, the just judge of heaven and earth, is your Father. The ministry of the Christian church depends upon that clear apprehension of who God is: our Savior, our hope, our Father. 

And of course, he concludes by saying that God is our Lord. Jesus is our Lord. Jesus is not merely Savior, He is Lord. Lord of heaven and earth, Lord of the church. And so it shows in the life of believers.  

The Ministry of the Christian Church is to be One of Encouragement

But thirdly, if you look at verse two, we seen another thing by way of example in Paul’s words. We see Paul’s example of encouragement. Notice his encouraging words to Timothy. Again, very formally. “Paul, an apostle according to the commandment of God.” Now it’s very tender, and Paul, though not being consciously didactic, he’s not consciously saying, ‘I will not say something to Timothy in order to teach Christians two thousand years from now.’ But it’s God’s word, and therefore it does teach us two thousand years from then. He’s truly, genuinely giving a greeting to Timothy, but the encouragement is palpable: “To Timothy, my true child in the faith.” You see, the ministry to the Christian Church is to be one of spiritual encouragement. Can you imagine what it would have been like to have heard from Paul, that he considers you to be his true child in the faith? Can you imagine what an encouragement it is to hear from your Savior, in John seventeen, that it is His prayer that His Father would not love you less than He loves Him? 

Now, friends, we have such a material with which to encourage one another in the Christian faith. Do we do it? Paul can pause in the midst of this very important letter to say, “Timothy, I just want to say, you are a son to me in Christ.” He says it’s as if you have come from my own body, you’re my true son in the faith. Do we encourage one another in the church, and in the ministry, that way? Are we looking to encourage and mentor people in Christian service? Are we supportive of one another in the Christian life, or are we adversarial or indifferent? Paul’s very example reminds us that we must actively encourage others in the Christian life, in the local church, and in the Christian ministry. Have you encouraged your deacons in what they do for you and for others? Quietly, sometimes, behind the scenes in this church—have you encouraged them in that? Have your encouraged your elders in the spiritual duties that they do in this church? Quietly and behind the scenes, but there, nevertheless. Encourage one another. Paul takes time to do so to Timothy. 

We Must Minister From the Resources Granted to us by the Father, in Christ.

And fourthly, notice how he does it. At the end of verse two. “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Paul points Timothy to the resources of Christian ministry as his encouragement. Timothy, you’re my true son in the Lord. Now here’s where you need to look for your resources: to the grace, to the mercy, and to the peace of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. How does Paul encourage Timothy? By pointing him to the attributes of God. He is Savior, he is our hope, He is our Father, He is our Lord, but also by pointing to the provisions of God. He gives us grace, and mercy and peace. 

You see, the Christian church is utterly dependent upon the resources granted to us from the Father in Jesus Christ. We do not have the power to do what God has called us to do. Do you know what the task is that God has given to us? God has said, “Now, here’s all I want you to do: I want you to raise the dead, and I want you to heal all the wounded in the church.” That really boils down to what God is asking us to do in the church: I want you to raise the dead—when we go out to share the good news with those who are apart from Christ, we are being asked to take part in the raising of the dead, the spiritually dead. Ever thrown a life preserver to a person who’s dead? They have a hard time hanging on. Raise the dead. Heal the wounded. That’s all we have to do. I can’t do that! You can’t do that! Only God can do that, and we are pressed back on the resources that only God can give: His grace, His mercy, His peace. We are called to be faithful, but we rest on His resources.

So there we see it. A God-appointed ministry; a God-conscious ministry; a ministry of encouragement; and, a God-resources ministry. All just in the words of greeting. Wonder what Paul will say when he really does get to his words of instruction. We’ll find out, God willing, next week. Let’s pray.

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