a sermon preached on 27 January 2019 at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In Scripture, Green is the color of life and providence; culturally and proverbially, it is also a color of youthfulness and vitality. Today we continue with our sermon series, “The Green Church,” a sermon series where each week we are going through a few chapters of Paul’s letters to Timothy, taking from these letters the wisdom most important for us as a young and green church. God has made us green so that we would most glorify him and sanctify one another. As a church we are young and small, and there is no other way God would have it at this time. In God’s infinites wisdom, he appointed Timothy for such a time as his, and in God’s infinite wisdom he has appointed us for such a time as this.
Please turn in your Bible with me to 1 Timothy 1:16-20. I would like to read again for us today’s passage.
1 Timothy begins in a context, Paul setting forth a context for why he had urged Timothy to remain in Ephesus, a context for what Timothy would encounter in Ephesus, a context for Paul’s own past as an “insolent opponent.” This context is a context of warfare, of offense, of defense, of warning, of charge, or reversed treachery, and of prayer. There are five main features of war and prayer which most clearly characterize Paul’s words to Timothy in chapters 1 and 2, setting a tone for the rest of the letter.
First, there is a war against ideas. The church exists, and pastors exist, to not only speak the truth, but to combat false teaching. This means the church, and especially the green church, ought to grow in its ability to discern false teaching, stand up against false teaching, and charge individuals not to teach that which is contrary to “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” This is indeed the main reason Paul gives for keeping Timothy in Ephesus. That is to say, Timothy was blessed by Paul in his priestly position first and foremost because bad men were spreading even worse ideas in the church. So Timothy, as green as he was, was charged with the task of defeating the false teachers from among the congregation in Ephesus. This is indeed the same with a green church. We are green so that we would love truth above all things and defeat those ideas which bring us away from the truth. This is necessary for a young church, or a young man, or a young woman, in its greenness to be planted by streams of living water.
Second, there is a war against sin. Starting in verse eight and continuing to the end of chapter one, Paul makes it clear that Timothy’s ministry is not only against false doctrine but also against improper conduct, a life with Paul admits he previously led. While he lists specific sins, he makes it clear that it is a life of ungodliness without repentance which shipwrecks a man’s life, a life which rejects “faith and good conscience.” This war against sin is one that is there only if we recognize it or not. It’s not that we are waging war against sin, it’s that sin is waging war against us, and if we are to do nothing—or worse, if we are to reject the work Christ has done—we will be the greatest casualty of this war. Paul, in the last half of chapter one, gives us the strategy to winning this war: turn from your treachery, cast yourself upon Christ, and “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.”
Third, this is a good warfare. We should not pass over words too quickly in Scripture. Indeed if we sat with Scripture longer than we do, we would see certain words we’ve never seen before, and that can make all the difference. In chapter 1, verse 18, Paul urges Timothy, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare…” It’s important for us to see, in all that we know about warfare—the labor, the difficulty, the purpose, the strategy, the loss, the fear, the courage—that there is a good warfare to which the Christian is called, and it is the kind which keeps our faith from becoming shipwrecked. It is the kind which most glorifies God and satisfies man, which most rids our societies of evil, and which sanctifies our souls and bodies. Paul is telling us here, you will fight a war: do you want to fight it and keep your spiritual ship afloat and sailing, or do you want to fight it after you’ve shipwrecked and you find yourself struggling for life in the storm-tossed sea of sin? The good warfare is the kind we fight now, each day, that our sails would be full and aimed at Christ.
Fourth, our best war-time strategy is prayer. We move to chapter two of First Timothy with what can appear to be a change of topic, but which is nothing more than a continuation of ideas of chapter one. More than that, it is Paul’s advice to Timothy on what his most important weapon is in this good warfare. “Pray,” he essentially says. Pray all kinds of prayers, for all kinds of people, because the war is ultimately not ours but God’s, and in your wartime you have a great high priest, the King of kings, the Commander of commanders, interceding.
John Piper once said, “You cannot know what prayer is for, until you know that life is war.”
J.C. Ryle, in his little book A Call to Prayer, states, “To be prayerless is to be without God, without Christ, without grace, without hope, and without heaven. It is to be on the road to hell…”
(Extended quote by Ryle on p.17-18 of A Call to Prayer.)
So men everywhere should be praying, Paul says. And in so praying, properly submitting to one another and to who God has called them to be. We then see that Paul offers one of those great paradoxes of the Christian faith: if you want to win the war, surrender in prayer.
Fifth, Christian warfare is full of virtue. Christian warfare is neither angry nor quarrelsome but is godly, dignified, peaceful, filled with good works, properly adorned, rightly submissive, and comes from a modest life. It is not vengeful; it is not bitter; it does not keep record of wrongs; it is full of love and honesty and devotion and self-sacrifice. And yet it is also not restrained by the world’s interests: pleasing man rather than God, growing one’s economic value, puffing up one’s pride, and seeking justice by one’s own power. In so being all these things, Christian warfare always carries with it the character of Christ. If it is not these things, it may be warfare, but it is not the good warfare.
According to all this, Timothy’s greenness is marked by warfare and prayer. Let us then live in this young and green season in our church in a way which follows Paul’s advice to Timothy, that we would, in our youth, give ourselves to war and prayer. Paul tells him this is what lies ahead, and Timothy is to share this with the church in Ephesus. And so we, as a green church, heed Paul’s sacred wisdom. And we heed it nowhere more potently than in this table, the Table of our Lord. It is then no surprise that as a young church, this table is immensely important for us, for in it are the most important weapons of war and prayer we have been given. This is a table of war-time preparation, restoration, and rest. It is a table of warrior fellowship. And it is a table which reminds us that Christ is our warrior-king, going before us into every battle. At this table is likewise the most important components of prayer. This is a table of prayerful preparation, consecration, and humility. It is a table of prayerful fellowship. Just as Christ is our warrior-king, going before us, he is our great high priest, forever interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. In this Table, in this bread and wine, is signified that this good warfare is one which requires sounds doctrine, which is why the prayer of consecration is filled with so much Scripture. In this Table is signified that this good warfare is against sin, which is why we confess before we fellowship together at this Table. In this Table is signified that this warfare is indeed good, which is why we do not come to this table morose or timid or melancholy; we come to this table with joy and thanksgiving. In this Table is signified the prayer of prayers, the intercessory prayers of Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father. In this Table is signified that this warfare is one which is filled with Christian virtue, because this Table, though a table, is a sword, whose two edges are providence and fellowship. At this Sacrament are all the signs of one great truth: the Church is a people who prays and fights, for by doing both we are sanctified and God is glorified, and this is most especially true in our youth, in our greenness.
Now hear, as we close our time, a poem from George Herbert titled “Prayer (I)”
Prayer the Church's banquet, Angels’ age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world-transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
The land of spices; something understood.