May 8, 2016
Stand and Guard the Gospel
Big Idea – Stand and guard the gospel message that has been entrusted to you by disciplining the wayward in faith-filled love.
Growing up my family only had 3 1/2 channels on the TV. But when I would go visit my grandparents, I got to watch cable television. My favorite channels were, of course, Nickelodeon (Salute Your Shorts, Hey! Arnold) and Cartoon Network (Scooby Doo and Johnny Quest). But I also loved the Discovery Channel (Modern Marvels, Future Tech) and the History Channel (Ken Burns documentaries on the Civil War). Visiting America recently I tuned into the History Channel, but I was hard pressed to find any programming remotely related to historical fact. Here’s a sample: UFO Hunters, Life After People, Monster Quest, Swamp People, Atlantis Found, Countdown to Apocalypse, and the closest that I could find to discussion of historical fact, How Sex Changed the World. There is no doubt that the sensational is popular and it sells.
One of the things that the heretical teachers are accused of in Paul’s first letter to Timothy is “devoting themselves to myths and genealogies without end.” These sensational teachings have promoted speculation (1:4), an unhealthy craving for controversy, and quarrels about words (6:4), producing envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction (6:5).
The church in Ephesus is struggling. And Timothy as a young pastor and leader is tempted to run from the struggles in the church. This was not what he signed up for as a church planter. He is in over his head. Ephesus was a Greek city filled with paganism and rampant immorality and idolatry. Within the church there were these people peddling myths for money, abusing their power, craving controversy, and depriving people of the truthful teaching of the gospel. Paul makes it clear that if he was there he would address these matters himself, but since he’s not, Timothy is going to have to stand his ground and guard the gospel message that has been entrusted to him and “play the man.” Breaking from his normal pattern of letters to churches, Paul, in this more private letter to Timothy, does not take the time to repeat the gospel message and its implicationsTimothy’s church. Knowing the situation, he instead dives right into the exhortation and advice that Timothy needs to hear. The message is not easy, however. He needs to publicly confront and correct the false teachers in the church but in a way that is full of faith and love.
In this opening section of the letter, Paul is preparing Timothy for this task by (1) reminding him of his role as a steward of the gospel and the household of God and (2) reminding him of the beauty of the moral law of God when viewed through the lens of the gospel. When we are faced with false teachers or brothers and sisters who have wandered off the paths of righteousness into habitual sins or futile efforts of self-justification, our charge is the same as Timothy’s. We must stand and guard the gospel message that has been entrusted to us by disciplining the wayward Christian in faith-filled love.
The Role of a Steward
I’m going to take some time to talk about stewardship, because I think that it is important when discussing the pastoral epistles and our role in the church. When I’m talking about stewardship here. I am talking about more than the word that pastors teach on when they feel that the tithes are not coming into the storehouse as quickly as they should. Another word for steward could be manager or administrator, and it comes from the Greek word from which our word economy/economics is derived. Stewards throughout the Bible and in Greco-Roman culture were pulled from the ranks of servants/slaves, given specific authority over certain tasks under the oversight of other stewards or the master/owner of an estate.
Good stewards are praised throughout the Bible and poor stewards are punished. Think about Joseph in Potifer’s house, prison, and pharaoh’s palace. Hebrews 3:5 says that Moses was a faithful steward in God’s household. But for the most part this biblical language and imagery of stewardship began with Jesus. In Luke 12:35-48, we are commanded to wait patiently as faithful servants for the master to return that we might be found awake and watchful. Matthew 24:45-51 tells a similar story including the punishment befitting poor stewardship. Luke 16:1-13 tells the story of a shrewd steward who has been wasting the master’s possessions. In Matthew 25:14-30, we are given an example of 3 stewards who are entrusted with responsibilities “according to their ability.” When the master returns, the servants who worked diligently are praised and given more responsibility, but the “worthless” steward is accused of squandering what was entrusted to him. He would have been better off if he would have given the responsibility to someone else, but instead, everything is taken away and he is cast into “the outer darkness” instead of entering “the joy of his master.”
In each of these scenarios, service in the master’s house and in his absence concludes with a call to accountability when the master returns. These parables teach us (1) the faithful steward is the one to be put in a leadership position over the other servants within the household. (2) The faithful steward will be found among those who serve in dutiful readiness like men expectantly awaiting their own master. Some of the key terms and phrases within the stewardship parables are the same terms or close synonyms that are employed by Paul in the pastoral epistles, and I think the idea of stewardship within the household of God is important for understanding the 1 Timothy as well as our role in the kingdom of God.
How then are we stewards?
You are a steward of the gospel. Paul makes it clear to us over and over again what a treasure the gospel message is. Can you think of some passages that express the beauty of the gospel? Here are some that express the great responsibility that we have as stewards of this gospel…
1 Corinthians 4:1–2 (NASB95) – 1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.
1 Corinthians 9:17 (HCSB) – 17 For if I do this willingly, I have a reward, but if unwillingly, I am entrusted with a stewardship.
Ephesians 3:2 (NASB95) – 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;
Ephesians 3:9 (NASB95) – 9 and to bring to light what is the [stewardship] of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;
We have been entrusted with a deep, mysterious treasure. The record of God’s salvation history through the OT. The witness of Christ’s ministry in the NT. The message that it is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone that we are no longer condemned to death and separation from God, but, instead, we have been justified by him, adopted as sons by him, given an inheritance by him, and promised that when he comes and makes all things new, we will see him in all of his glory for all eternity!
That is not something that I want to go bury in the ground. It is something that must be shared and multiplied. It is something, that, if we squander, we should be disciplined.
Amazingly, in the theology of this letter, it is this deposit of the gospel that not only prepares our hearts but also initiates the mystery of God’s “devoted household.” We are a unique community called together under this one banner. This community is worth standing up for and guarding from errant, idolatrous messages that some falsely call knowledge (6:20-21).
You are a steward of the church. If you didn’t know it before, there are specific qualifications of Christian living placed on your life. Many of these are found in 1 Timothy with still more are in 2 Timothy and Titus. Paul knows that he has been entrusted with the glorious responsibility of the gospel message (1:11) as well as the stewardship of the church. Which is why he has so many things to say in his letter about the proper ordering of the household of God. Timothy is entrusted with orders to fight the good fight (1:18) and to guard the deposit entrusted to him (6:20). Then throughout the letter, Paul gives Timothy directives stipulating instructions for the household to be applied at every meeting place (3:15) using words like “I urge” – “I want” – “it is necessary” for the church to do these things.
Since we have been brought into the household of God, there are certain responsibilities placed upon us for the sanctification of the church. This is the standard that Timothy is being held to. He is more than a troubleshooter or an inquisitorial squad; he is going to be the model and the example of appropriate devotion within the household of God. The church obviously needs someone humble and level-headed to start taking a stand. Look what the false teachers words lead to…1 Tim 6:1-5. This kind of contentious strife between house members does not exhibit a devotion to one another and to the owner of the house. Christians are charged with preserving Christian community through selfless actions, biblical teaching, and careful discipline in faith filled love.
Titus 1:7 (NASB95) – 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain,
Colossians 1:25 (NASB95) – 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,
1 Timothy 1:5 – 5 The aim of our charge [disciplining false teachers who are not promoting stewardship] is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
A look at Greco-Roman stewardship. As I have mentioned already, I believe estate stewardship is the controlling metaphor within the pastoral epistles. Paul uses controlling metaphors in other letters. Think about Galatians, slavery, inheritance and legal metaphors speak to those who are legitimately sons and heirs of Abraham. In Romans, he primarily employs courtroom imagery to display God’s covenant faithfulness through the gospel to judge and acquit both Jews and Gentiles by means of an impartial judge. The language in 1 Timothy gives us our orders to guard the deposit entrusted to us and protect it from pilferage, as well as delegate responsibility and expectations to bring the household of God into conformity with God’s ordering.
Now, at the time of Christ, land within the Roman Empire was owned by a relatively small number of very wealthy landlords. They had no way of managing all of their lands themselves, and most of the time they lived in the larger growing cities. These land owners would choose servants to take on the role of stewards to travel around and check up on the business of the land. Listen to these records from this time period and notice the language and imagery as it relates to estate stewardship.
On far off estates, to which visits by owners are not easy…Slaves damage grassland very seriously. They rent out oxen; they do not feed them or the other animals well…They record the sowing of far more seed than they have actually sown…They lessen the total amount [of harvested seed] by outright dishonesty or by carelessness. They themselves even steal it, and they certainly do not guard against theft by others. And they don’t even record the amount of grain honestly in their account book. The result is that both overseer and slaves commit crimes, and the land quite often gets a bad reputation.
Unannounced arrivals by chief stewards
When he has learned how the farm is being looked after, what work is being done, and what has not been done, he should summon his slave-foreman the next day and ask how much work has been completed…Look over his account books for ready cash, grain, fodder supplies, wine, oil – what has been collected, how much is left, and what remains to be sold.
Qualities of a good steward
It is very important that the overseer be experienced…for he must not only give orders but also perform the work, so that the other slaves imitate him and understand that he has been made their overseer for good reason — he is superior to them in knowledge. However, overseers should not be allowed to force obedience with whips rather than with words, if words can achieve the same result.
How then as a steward should we responsibly discipline those in the household of God?
All of these thoughts bring us back to 1 Timothy 1:5…Lit., “the goal [of our discipline] is love.” Paul’s point is less that all believers be filled with love and more that the discipliner be motivated by love and not punishment. Paul was reminding Timothy that the ultimate goal of discipline in the church is love of the wayward Christian. Discipline is the means to this end and not the end itself.
Look at the men that Paul names in 1:20. They are handed over to Satan. That’s bad. The This act of discipline mentioned here and in 1 Cor. 5:5 has a remedial goal, not a punitive one. You know who else was handed over to Satan? Job, for God’s glory and Job’s edification. They are blasphemers. That’s bad. You know who else was a blasphemer? Paul (1:13). The method of Christian discipline is love. The hope of Christian discipline is restoration. When we approach others with confidence in our command, a heart clear of our own motives, careful decision making, and a faith free of hypocrisy, we can be used to rejoin our brother and sister to Christian community. When we speak the truth in love, we maintain our faithful stewardship of the church until he comes.
Bonhoeffer on christian discipline
“It is inconceivable that the things that are most important to each individual should not be discussed with one another. It is unchristian when one person knowingly denies [the service of speaking truth in love]…When another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God’s Word demands it…Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that sever reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”
The Beauty of God’s Moral Law
When Paul says in 1:8 that the law is “good” he’s saying that it is attractive or outwardly beautiful if the law is used properly. This requires a proper understanding of what the law does.
Shows God’s restraint of sin. Giving boundaries between good and evil. It helps identify and restrain sin in our lives. Example – moving to China with my son.
Shows God’s condemnation of sinners. When we sin, the law becomes a testimony against us, showing us how we have disobeyed. But it’s not like my son disobeying me. We have disobeyed the eternal, infinitely holy, just judge of all sin. The law makes our rebellion and heart problem apparent. David Platt puts it this way…
Before we come to Christ, we stand before the law condemned by God. We have not kept His law; in fact, we cannot keep His law (Rom 8: 8). The law opens our eyes to the fact that we are guilty before God. But then we look to Christ, who has kept the law of God perfectly, and we see that He is righteous before God. In response we cry out to God, “I need Him!” And that’s how we are saved. That’s the gospel. Christ, the law-keeper, has paid the penalty for lawbreakers. The law doesn’t save us; the law leads us to Christ, and He saves us.
Shows God’s will for the saved.
God’s law instructs us. His moral law— and to some extent the ceremonial law— reveals His character and shows us how to love God and love our neighbor. Now that we are indwelled by His Spirit, we have the desire and the power to obey what God says (cf. Ezek 36: 27). As we rest in the righteousness of Christ, possessed by the Spirit of Christ, compelled by the ongoing grace of Christ, we are led from the inside out to walk in God’s will.
We must avoid the pitfall of the false teachers, those that have come before and those that remain today, as well as listening to our own heart that tries to convince us that we must do something to earn a right standing before God. You can’t keep God’s law perfectly, and you know you can’t. The harder you try the more you realize you fall short. Don’t buy into the lie that human achievement can make you right before God. A correct view of the law produces responsibility among those who teach and produces love among those who hear. The law properly practiced will call us to stronger discipline and community in the our church.
This is important in our lives and the lives of our Chinese brothers and sisters.
Don’t add to what the law demands. The poor stewards were placing requirements on believers that God in his law did not desire. By forbidding marriage and requiring abstinence from foods (4:3), these people were demanding and ascetic lifestyle not taught by God.
Don’t pretend the law saves. An improper use of God’s word leads us astray off the well charted path. When the word of God is used in the wrong way, it produces arrogance and ignorance among those who teach. This is a dangerous combination. These teachers then produce confusion and deception among those who hear. Those who teach the Bible are prone to add to the law’s demands, implying that doing certain things will lead to salvation. We must be on guard and avoid this kind of teaching at all cost.
Don’t abandon people to their sins.
Don’t neglect the gospel that has been entrusted to you.
Don’t shy away from your role as a steward in the household of God.
Big Idea – Stand and guard the gospel message that has been entrusted to you by disciplining the wayward in faith-filled love.