Something Better

Sermon by Billy Dempsey on September 22, 2019

1 Timothy 1:1-11

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I’ll ask you to turn in your Bible, if you will, to 1 Timothy chapter 1. We’re going to be looking at the first, especially at the first six verses. We’ll pull some from the following verses as well, but we’ll spend most of our time in the first six verses tonight.

A personal moment please. Several weeks ago I stood before you, I thanked you for all your kindness to us as we began a long journey, Debbie and I began a long journey of healing and recovery. We think that we are on the beginning of a long home stretch, so I wanted to say again, thank you from both of us for all your kindness and thoughtfulness in the weeks that have passed since her injury in July. You have been so good to us and shown so much love to us and we thank you so much. Your thoughtfulness has really been a good medicine for both of us so we thank you, and please hear from us, may the Lord bless you all for all the kindness you’ve shown to us.

Now we’ve got to fix this sermon title. I wrote this sermon title on Monday and it’s a bad title! I hope it’s not a bad sermon, but I know it’s a bad title! So let’s get the title fixed and maybe the sermon will kind of work itself, resolve itself along the way. Let’s call the sermon this: Faith, Hope, and Love: Something Better. Alright? Faith, Hope, and Love: Something Better. I think I’m the last preacher in this Faith, Hope, and Love series. I think we switch gears after “The Glory of the Gospel” next week, and so we look at 1 Timothy chapter 1, verses 1 to 6 especially. Let’s pray and then let’s get into the passage.

Father, open our hearts as we seek to hear Your voice. We need to hear from You. We need Your Word, better than bread, better than food for our bodies, we need Your Word as food for our soul this evening. We thank You for Your kindness in speaking to us, and now shape us like Christ. We make our prayer in His name and for His sake, amen.

Let’s read God’s Word. First Timothy chapter 1, beginning with verse 1:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,
To Timothy, my true child in the faith:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.

Timothy’s Charge 

We really want to look at two things tonight. We want to look at Timothy’s charge and we want to look at the something better. Not a very pretty outline, but I think serviceable. Timothy’s charge, and then what is the something better. We need to pay attention to Paul’s introduction because of what he talks about. A couple of things here. He talks about himself as “an apostle by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” That’s unusual language for Paul in his salutations. Most of his salutations, he identifies himself as one who is “an apostle by the will of God.” Well you may be saying there’s not much difference between “by the will of God” and “by the command of God,” but the language is different and I think that says something to us that we need to pay attention to. God and Christ Jesus our hope have commanded Paul’s discipleship. You really get a flavor of that if you look at his testimony, his defense before Agrippa in Acts chapter 26 where Jesus is describing to him what his call is. And it has much the sense of a command. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not a hope. It’s a clear cut command. “This is what you are going to do.” That’s the foundation out of which Paul describes his apostleship – as one commanded by God and by Christ Jesus.

You read this letter, and especially in this passage we begin with, there’s a lot of charge language here. There’s a lot of command language. There’s a lot of mandate language. And throughout the letter that Paul writes to Timothy there at Ephesus, there’s a lot of urge and mandate and command language. I think Paul is getting Timothy ready to understand, “Timothy, I have my apostleship by command of God. You have your position, your pastorate there in Ephesus as an extension of that same command to do the work that God has called you to do and that the church requires.” He’s preparing Timothy. Timothy, who is described by numerous sources as perhaps a timid sort, perhaps one who needs bolstering from time to time, Paul is telling him, “We have our calling by the command of God who saved us and Christ Jesus who is our hope. Let’s exercise it.” 

That’s a good word for us. That’s a good word for all of us who are engaged in ministry, all of us who are engaged in teaching God’s Word in one way or another. In fact, this whole passage really speaks to us who are engaged in preaching and in teaching, whether that is teaching from the Sunday School lectern or preaching or teaching from the pulpit itself. There is a command that God has given us, a stewardship to which He’s called us, that we must exercise and we must be careful. That’s what Paul’s concern for the church at Ephesus is. 

I think the language that he uses too about “God our Savior” is important. Maybe we don’t always think about God as our Savior. Christ Jesus is the one who did the work, but it was God the Father who initiated the plan. Wasn’t it? That God, even from Genesis, in dealing with a newly stained creation, stained with sin, encountering Adam and Eve for the first time as sinners, He promised a seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head. God our Savior. In the very first moments after sin had spoiled what He had made and spoiled the man and spoiled the woman and separated them from Him and from one another and from His creation is promising a Redeemer. God our Savior. Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter 1 that is God the Father who chose a people for Himself, an elect before the foundation of the world; predestined them for adoption as His sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. God our Savior.

And Christ Jesus our hope. Christ Jesus our hope. Go back to that scene in Genesis. The man and the woman expelled from the home that God had given them, that beautiful garden where they had lived in harmony with each other, in harmony with His creation, in harmony with God Himself, into a world that was now hostile, a world that was now resistant, a world that would bring forth thorns and thistles except by the very hardest of work. A separation. A separation from what they were made for. A separation from what God had given them, something in which He delighted and something in which they delighted – now gone; ruined. Not to be reached again. Not to be reached for because of that angel with the sword turning in every direction, guarding the path to the tree of life. Man without hope, except for that promise of the Redeemer who was to come and now in fulfillment, Christ Jesus our hope. The Gospel of God through Jesus Christ offering us, promising us reconciliation with God, ending the separation from Him caused by our sin. Our hope. Christ Jesus our hope of returning to the full fellowship with God that Adam enjoyed and Eve enjoyed before the fall. Christ Jesus is the one who brings us near. Christ Jesus as the Emmanuel, the one who is “God with us.” Christ Jesus is the Word who became flesh and dwelt or tented among us. Christ Jesus as the one who told His disciples in the upper room, “You know the way. I am the way and I am going to prepare a place for you in My Father’s house that you may be with Me, where I am.” Christ Jesus our hope. Our longing for communion, our longing for belonging, our longing for connection satisfied in Him, in His person, in His work, and fully to be enjoyed by us in the place that He’s prepared for all who trusted in Him. Christ Jesus our hope.

Paul is laying a foundation for what he’s going to be telling Timothy by using the language of command, by pointing to him the great God our Father who’s saved us, who set in motion the work of salvation. Christ Jesus who is our hope. In whom resides our whole desire for fellowship, communion with God. The whole desire for fellowship and communion with one another; fellowship and communion in a world that He will renew at the last day. 

So Paul is laying ground with comments like that. He has Timothy’s mind thinking and rolling. He has our minds thinking and rolling as he begins to talk about Timothy’s particular challenge and his particular charge here in these days. Let me read this again. Verses 3 and 4, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus” – let me stop right there. Why is he going to Macedonia? Likely this letter is written by Paul after the Roman imprisonment that we find represented in Acts, in the latter part of the book of Acts. The end of that two-year imprisonment, Paul is freed and so he’s got things to do. He’s promised to return to Philippi and so he goes to Macedonia; that’s where Philippi is. He apparently has first stopped by Ephesus where he has found things in somewhat disarray and that’s why he’s leaving Timothy at Ephesus. Apparently there was a voyage to Crete somewhere in this same time period. He’s left Titus in Crete and you find in Paul’s letter to Titus some of the same emphases that you find right here in his letter to Timothy. Some of the same influences that Paul is dealing with here in Timothy found at Ephesus are also active in Crete, and that’s why you find a similarity between Paul’s letter to Titus and his first letter to Timothy right here. So Paul is going on to Philippi for a time and urging Timothy to remain for a time here at Ephesus until they rendezvous again. 

“So that” – here’s the charge – “so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” Paul’s warnings on his way to Jerusalem have come true. Acts chapter 20 verse 30,”Men speaking twisted things are seeking to draw away disciples after themselves.” Timothy’s charge is the charge, to command, to insist, to insist that the teaching among the believers at the church at Ephesus be consistent with the preaching and teaching of Paul and the rest of the apostles, which was consistent with the witness of the Scriptures as they had them, that is the Old Testament scriptures, and the witness of the apostles to the person and work and teaching of Jesus Christ. No different doctrine. No new ideas. The church was not to be how he described Athens where people would spend their time on nothing except telling and hearing of something new. That’s Athens. That’s the Areopagus. That’s not the church. No different doctrine. Jesus has spoken and He’s spoken with the same voice with which His Father spoke through the prophets and in the psalms and in that law, the Old Testament scriptures. We develop those doctrines, we hear His voice anew in those Scriptures. Timothy is to engage with this congregation, the teachers among his congregation, and any who aspire to teach on these very truths. He’s teaching them the Word of God Himself and he’s warning them away, he’s warning them away – especially those who would be teachers – from the false teaching that floats in the air. Just like it floats in the air in these days, so it’s especially invading the church at Ephesus. Paul is saying these are teachers who desire to be teachers of the law. They just don’t understand what the law says and they’re teaching these vain myths and genealogies; they’re not teaching the law. We’ll talk about those in just a minute.

Considering what Paul says to Timothy about the appointing of elders, Timothy is also charging his elders not only to teach but to be mindful of the false teaching that tends to percolate up from time to time, preparing them for the same work of teaching and warning, admonishing as well. Timothy is especially to charge certain persons; Paul says “certain persons” a couple of times in this passage. Paul has in mind who they are but he’s not naming them here. He recognizes who they are. He wants Timothy to address them, “certain persons”, but he’ll record a couple of names later to their everlasting shame, but not these people. He wants Timothy to deal with them. He knows that Timothy recognizes who they are. A certain group. Timothy is to charge them not to devote themselves, as Paul says, “to myths and to endless genealogies.”

What’s he talking about? Well, of course the ancient world was full of myths and legends, but he’s not talking about the pagan myths that we might be thinking of here. He’s talking about the fanciful tales that Jewish mystics and rabbis would have told, amplifying and fleshing out the clear genealogies from the Old Testament with fictional tales and invented characters. Beginning with the Old Testament scriptures, these teachers would spin whole new narratives and create whole new characters and relationships. These myths came about as an attempt to close gaps in the Biblical narrative, either real gaps or perceived gaps in the Old Testament narratives.

Here’s a popular myth that had to do with Lilith. Lilith described as Adam’s first wife. Did you know Adam had a first wife? Did you know her name was Lilith? Did you know they had trouble between themselves? There is a perceived gap – not a real gap but a perceived gap – in the Biblical narrative, in the rabbis’ mind, between Genesis 1, the closing of which has that beautiful scene of God creating male and female and blessing them and telling them, “Rule and fill and subdue the earth.” And you’ve got the man but you don’t have the woman, at least in chapter 1 of Genesis. We don’t meet Eve until chapter 2. We’re witness to her creation in chapter 2 and that bothered the rabbis. “We’ve got to have a woman! We’ve got to have a woman here. We’ve got God blessing a woman without having created one. Let’s create one! Let’s create us a woman. We’ll call her Lilith!” It’s an elaborate, fanciful tale. It’s full of all kinds of things that aren’t in the Bible at all. There are hundreds of myths like this that the rabbis and the mystics worked out and told over years and years and years and years, generations, finally recorded in a section called “the Hegata,” and they’re listed there and you can read about them. And you recognize, here’s a Biblical narrative or a Biblical genealogy that the rabbis perceived gaps in and then suddenly they begin to find a way to fill those gaps and the product is these fanciful allegories and fanciful myths and fanciful legends like this one with Lilith. 

And so in Ephesus they’re teaching these things! Paul is telling Timothy, “You’ve got to charge these people.” In Crete they were teaching these things as well and Paul says a similar thing to Titus. “You’ve got to teach these people – here’s the Word of God and this is what feeds our souls. This is what feeds our souls. These things, these fanciful, endless genealogies and endless myths only instill a hunger for more and more of the same.” It’s just like cotton candy. You just can’t get enough of it. It just disappears in your mouth but you still want more. Once an appetite for those kind of trifles is created, nothing will satisfy but more and more of it, prying every passage for a doorway to some new allegory, to some new tale to invent. R. C. H. Lenski, a Lutheran commentator, says “They turned the golden Word of God into a mine for pebbles.” William Henderson, also a great commentator, “interminable embroideries on the inspired record.” Part of the regular teaching at the synagogue, the regular teaching at the synagogue. 

This is one of the reasons that when Jesus came to teach His teaching amazed the people. They said He taught with authority. Why? Because He taught them the plain Scripture. He taught them the meaning of God’s Word. He taught them what it meant to live it, applied it to them. He gave them the Word of Life. He gave them the Word of Life and that’s what Paul is charging Timothy. “Charge these teachers – stay away from these myths and find your subject matter to teach in the living Word of God.” 

Paul says this. “These things promote speculations.” Ohhhh! There’s a great word – speculations! We love speculations! That’s what’s so dangerous to us about this. We love speculations. We love to read between the lines. Truth is plain and dry! It’s dull! Speculations are yummy! We can eat those things up all day long. They are confections and we can give ourselves to them if we’re not mindful of the danger they pose. That’s why we love gossip. That’s why we love gossip. How much of gossip is fact? Very little. There’s a kernel of fact. Somebody actually did something or somebody actually said something, but beyond that the juiciest part of the gossip is speculating on what’s going on behind the words or behind the action at the heart of the discussion. We’ll eat that stuff up all day long, won’t we? That’s why we love it. We love speculations. Speculation kills our relationships because we speculate on people’s motives and what’s really going on in their hearts when we don’t know. But we love to speculate and based on our speculations we love to make decisions about what people are thinking and doing and what their motives really are. Speculation kills our relationships. 

Theological speculation is especially dangerous when it promotes a careless, or I’ll use the word creative, handling of the Scripture. Theological speculation is good. We’re all doing theology; we do theology every day. We sing, “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.” We’re doing theology. But our theology doesn’t carry us away from the Scriptures – or it shouldn’t. Our theological speculation ought to tend to drive us to the Scriptures and let the Scriptures teach us our theology. It’s when it ignores the Scriptures altogether or uses the Scriptures as a light touch – kind of a touch and go landing pad. That’s what the Jewish myth-makers are doing. The Scriptures are kind of a touch and go landing pad. “But let me tell you this great story of Lilith! And forget about the creation; we’re all going to think about Lilith!” The Scriptures are a touch and go landing pad. Our theological questions – and many of us have some great, deep, profound theological questions, ought to drive us to the Scriptures. That’s what they’re there for – to drive us to the Scriptures rather than drive us into some fanciful thinking that’s not related to the Word of God at all. 

We all see gaps. We all feel like we see gaps in the Bible story that we want to fill with something. We all have questions and we want to answer them somehow. Let’s just remember not to forsake the Scripture, even if it means living with our questions. Peter said to Jesus – John chapter 6 after Jesus says some very strange things about eating His flesh and drinking His blood and thousands of would-be disciples are falling away from Jesus and Jesus looks to the Twelve and says, “What about you? Do you want to go too?” And Peter says, “To whom would we go? You have the words of life!” Do you think Peter understood everything that Jesus said? I don’t think so. You read John chapter 6, as closely as you can from the standpoint of somebody who’s never heard that kind of language before – it will blow your mind! And Peter is hearing that and wondering. Peter’s no great theologian. Jesus hasn’t said anything that’s made things clearer for him, I wouldn’t think. And yet what does he say at the end as people are leaving Jesus by droves? “To whom would we go? You have the words of life! And we have believed and come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

That means that if he doesn’t know anything else – now this is the great takeaway for us – if he doesn’t know anything else, he knows that Jesus is the Holy One of God. And he is going to continue with Him because that’s all he needs to know. The Bible causes us to ask a great many questions. Doesn’t it? Of course it does. Who was Cain’s wife? The Bible causes us to ask many questions for which it does not give us many answers. But what does it tell us? Everything we need to know, to know and to believe that the Holy One of God has come at the timing that God chose to save a people for Himself. That’s what we need to know and that’s what the Bible gives us – that kind of truth again and again and again. 

Something Better

Well what’s the something better? Again, look at verse 4. In comparison with that, Paul is saying those things “promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” That’s the something better. What is the “stewardship from God that is by faith”? It’s the orderly outworking of God’s plan of salvation in all human history – God calling a people to Himself as we read from Ephesians just a moment ago as well as the human responsibility in advancing that plan. The false teachers at Ephesus produced speculations rather than advance the kingdom of God by faith in Christ. That’s the stewardship from God that is by faith. Listen to 1 Corinthians chapter 4 verse 1. Paul talks about the apostles as “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Or from Titus chapter 1, elders as stewards – “for an overseer as God’s steward must be above reproach.” That’s verse 7 and then here’s verse 9 – “he must hold firm to the trustworthy Word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction and sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” A steward. 

It’s not just preachers, apostles and elders who are stewards. Listen to what Peter says to the church at large. Chapter 4 of his first letter, verses 10 and 11 – “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” We are the people of God and we have a stewardship from Him. A stewardship of the mysteries of God to declare them effectively. A stewardship of the trustworthy Word of God to declare it faithfully. The whole counsel of God to declare it evenly. And the gifts that God has generously given to us that we might use them for the good of others around us and for His glory. That’s not just preachers and elders; that’s everybody. We all have a stewardship from God – either a stewardship of the Word and of the great mysteries and treasures of the Gospel, a stewardship of the gifts that God has generously given to all of us that we might use them for the good of others around us, in the church as well as those outside the church, for His glory. Specifically, those of us called to preach and teach and those who desire to preach and teach have a stewardship from God – a stewardship that’s by faith and connected with saving faith; faith that come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. 

What’s the aim? Look at verse 5. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” We’ve had hope. Now we hear about love and faith. God not only calls us to a stewardship, but He gives us a goal so we’re not wandering and wondering what’s being accomplished. The false teachers, the myth-makers, the myth-tellers, those who are heading off and chasing down their vain speculations and questions, they’re wandering. They’ve got not place to land. They’ve got no home base because they’re turning away from their only Rock. They’re turning away from their only Rock. What does the hymn say? “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is shifting sand.” We have a place. We have an aim. We have a goal. We have a trajectory, a momentum. God gives it to us. God’s Word gives it to us and the goal of our stewardship, the goal of our charge from God is love – love for God, love for His truth, love for His people, for those that don’t know Him. Love that pursues God’s glory and the good of those around us. That’s our goal. That’s what Paul says the aim of our charge is – love that issues from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Let’s take this passage out of the wedding service and let’s grind it into life and let’s let it be reflected in the dirt under our fingernails and the sweat on our brow. “Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” You know where that’s from. That’s from 1 Corinthians 13. That’s what Paul is describing. That’s what Paul is talking about. That’s the issue, that’s the aim, and that’s the love that issues from a pure heart, a good conscience, a sincere faith. What are those but the work of God in the Gospel of His Son producing those things – that clean heart, that good conscience, that sincere, genuine, unhypocritical faith, that simple, childlike faith. Love is the fruit. Love which is the aim that Paul is identifying is the fruit of the Gospel’s work. 

What did we hear this morning? I appreciated this morning hearing David read this passage from 1 Timothy, past chapter 1 at the end of verse 22. “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God.” That’s where love comes from. You and I don’t generate it up; we don’t create it. It’s the byproduct. It is what the Gospel creates in us. It is the issue of a pure heart and a good conscience and a genuine faith. Those are God’s work. Those are the work of God’s Word and the work of the Gospel. As we nourish our souls, indeed in the Gospel and in the Word of God, that’s what happens with us. That’s what God does with us. That’s what He creates in us and that is the love that He’s shed abroad in our hearts that flows out to those with whom we come into contact. 

When we swerve – and that’s Paul’s word here about what happens with the false teachers – when we swerve from these and we wander away into vain discussion, it doesn’t have to be about Jewish myths and genealogies to be vain discussion. Any of those gaps that we want to try to fill that take us away from the Scripture, we wander into vain discussion. But the King James Version actually translates as “jangling.” Jangling! What do you get out of jangling? There’s no rhythm. There may be rhythm but there’s no harmony, there’s no symphony. It’s just sound; sound that produces nothing beautiful. It’s useless. It’s pointless. It’s lifeless. It’s faithless. Churches that have left the solid Rock, denominations that have lost the Word of God are jangling. Pulpits that have lost the clear teaching of the Scriptures are jangling. Souls that are feasting on confections when they need to be feasting on the Word of God are jangling – useless, pointless, lifeless, faithless. 

Love, issuing from faith, the work of the Gospel in the human heart and nourished on the Word of God, both grounded in hope as embodied in Christ Jesus, Paul says in Colossians chapter 1 verse 27, “The riches” – he talks about “The riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” May we be a church always in love with the Gospel and always wary of the different doctrine, the new idea, always hating the vain discussion, always driving toward the Word of God as heart and soul. Let’s pray.

Father we thank You indeed for Your Word. We thank You for Timothy’s charge. We thank You for the warning that is provides us. We ask that You would help us. We need the challenge and encouragement of this passage to make sure that we’re feeding our own soul on the sweetness and the greatness of Your Word. Meet us there as we gather to start this coming week. Would we gather with You before we gather with anyone else and have You feed our souls and make us like Christ. We ask in His name and for His sake. And all God’s people said, amen.

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