a sermon preached on 24 February 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.
God is ever discerning, ever loving, ever breathing his Word into life, ever sustaining and maintaining righteousness, and he desires the same for us. Because he is a God who has poured himself out, he wants the same of us. Because he is a God who is every watchful, ever ready, and ever faithful, he desires the same of us. This is why our model, whether green in our youth or green in our age and liveliness, is always our Lord Jesus Christ, the greenest tree in which our imagination must root itself, the source of our lives as Christians and our life together as a Christian church.
Please turn in your Bible with me to 2 Timothy 4:1-5. I would like to read for us today’s passage.
Young things are vulnerable things. We see this in the natural world and we see this in the spiritual world. Young animals are susceptible to predators. And young Christians are susceptible to the allure of the world, which is why Paul tells Timothy that no leader in the church ought to be a new convert, despite his age. His spiritual youthfulness leaves him vulnerable and susceptible to receiving damage and causing damage. Therefore, young things must increasingly grow in discernment, able to know the difference between something like food and poison. Able to discern truth from falsity, virtue from vice, places of danger and places of safety. In chapter three, Paul identifies two important points of discernment for Timothy; these points apply to the green church as well:
First, the green church ought to discern using the metric of love. Throughout chapter three of Second Timothy, Paul juxtaposes two kinds of people: those who Timothy is to follow and those who Timothy is to avoid. In both instances, Paul uses what the people love as a measure of their worthiness. In the first group, those who Timothy is to avoid, he says these are loves of self and lovers of money; they love the appearance of godliness without the real thing; they love deceit; they love taking advantage of others; they do not love good; they do not love God; they do not love their neighbor. Indeed they are those who have much love, but that love is in the wrong direction and for the wrong things. In the second group Paul places himself, those whom Timothy should follow and emulate. Paul identifies himself as one who loved virtue, loved goodness, loved Jesus Christ, and loved the Scriptures. He loved them so that we was willing to be persecuted for this love. This second kind of person is who Timothy in his greenness ought to emulate. In order to do so Timothy, and likewise the green church, ought to be discerning, knowing how to use what one loves as a metric for worthy emulation.
Second, the green church ought to discern using the metric of God’s Word. The second important point Paul makes about discernment is that the green church ought to be discerning according to God’s Word. That is to say, discernment takes wisdom, and wisdom comes by loving and knowing the Scriptures, which “…is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (v.3:16). By using God’s Word as our ultimate standard of discerning godliness from ungodliness, we avoid other fabricated standards, such as popular culture, personal desires, political manipulation, our own opinions, or our own selfish gain. This is most especially important when trying to grow something young, whether a young school or a young child or a young church. Those who have been charged with maturing that young person or organization ought to realize that there a thousand directions they could go, and many of those would be ultimately harmful, and there may appear a hundred reasons and voices for why a church should go one direction and not another. But the thing that must be true, of the young church is to thrive, is that its discernment on direction and success must be founded upon God’s Word, which, along with the Holy Spirit, is the Church’s source of wisdom and discernment. Let us then, as a young church, look at 2019 and our hopes for 2019 not through our personal desires for Christ the Redeemer but through the lens of Scripture, that we would discern, of all the paths ahead, which paths are best and which will only lead us away from our Gospel work.
We then move to chapter four of Second Timothy, and the word I would like us to keep most centrally located in our imaginations is the term “sober-mindedness.” Paul uses the term only four times in the New Testament, three times in his two letters to Timothy and once in his letter to Titus. Peter uses it three throughout First Peter.
- 1Ti_3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
- 1Ti_3:11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.
- 2Ti_4:5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
- Tit_2:2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.
- 1Pe_1:13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
- 1Pe_4:7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
- 1Pe_5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
In each of the seven instances of “sober” or “sober-minded” in the New Testament, the idea is that the individual is to have a certain degree of soundness, self-control, or moderation about them. They are to have a kind of prepared and discreet posture which is temperate and ready, neither impassioned nor lacking vigilance. The opposite of this would be a kind of drunkenness, not necessarily with wine though it could be, but a kind of inebriation with society or gossip or quarrels or merely one’s own affairs. As Christians, our mind is to be fixed on Christ, not to be swirling with a kind of worldly or lazy drunkenness. I find it important and curious that the KJV translates the term as “sober,” but the ESV translates it as “sober-minded.” The term sober-minded extends beyond the realm of alcohol’s effect on the body; the term sober-minded requires us to look at the clarity of our thoughts, to avoid a kind of foggy thinking which, similar to being drunk, would cause us to run into all kinds of problems. This is most especially true for the green church. Not only are we to enjoy our wine and beer with godliness and moderation, but we are to enjoy all our affairs with the same kind of mental and intellectual clarity. This pertains directly to being discerning people, for discernment requires a clear mind; if a mind is not clear and strong, it will have a hard time being properly discerning.
Being sober-minded is important so that all the things Paul says to do in chapter four can be done: preaching the word, teaching, being patient, discerning, enduring suffering, praying, keeping the faith, personal relationships, and ministry organization. This is why I have made the term the most important from chapter 4 of Second Timothy, even though the term sober-mindedness only occurs once in that chapter. Without sober-mindedness, Timothy’s other responsibilities would not happen. If his mind is swirling or is filled with confusion and fog, we ought not to expect him to fulfill his faithfulness to Paul’s requests. It is the same with the green church: if we are to mature in holiness, we must ensure we are sober-minded, loving the Word of God and rightly discerning what is around and ahead of us.
This table is provided for us each week precisely for these two purposes: so that we would be a rightly-tethered people who can properly discern, and so that we can be sober-minded. We eat this bread knowing that it is indeed food and not poison. We drink the wine, not reveling in the alcohol but delighting in its fermentation, in the conversion which has occurred in this wine and therefore the conversion that has occurred in our own hearts and minds, which is what the term fermentation means, a kind of conversion. We may even say there is no better wine in the world for sobering your mind than this wine, which is at this table each week. And there is no better bread in the world which make us into a discerning people than this bread, the body of Christ, who is the point at which all things may be discerned and seen in their proper light. Let us then come to this table with gratitude and sobriety. Let us approach this table and be the kind of people whose love is fermented away from this world and toward our Triune God. Let us approach this table in light of God’s Word and have our greenness ever enlivened to upright and godly lives.
Now hear, as we close our time, a poem from George Herbert titled “Constancy”
Who is the honest man?
He that doth still and strongly good pursue,
To God, his neighbour, and himself most true:
Whom neither force nor fawning can
Unpin, or wrench from giving all their due.
Whose honesty is not
So loose or easy, that a ruffling wind
Can blow away, or glittering look it blind:
Who rides his sure and even trot,
While the world now rides by, now lags behind.
Who, when great trials come,
Nor seeks, nor shuns them, but doth calmly stay,
Till he the thing and the example weigh:
All being brought into a sum,
What place or person calls for, he doth pay.
Whom none can work or woo
To use in anything a trick or sleight;
For above all things he abhors deceit:
His words and works and fashion too
All of a piece, and all are clear and straight.
Who never melts or thaws?
At close tentations: when the day is done,
His goodness sets not, but in dark can run:
The sun to others writeth laws,
And is their virtue; Virtue is his Sun.
Who, when he is to treat
With sick folks, women, those whom passions sway,
Allows for that, and keeps his constant way:
Whom others faults do not defeat;
But though men fail him, yet his path doth play.
Whom nothing can procure,
When the wide world runs bias, from his will
To writhe his limbs, and share, not mend the ill.
This is the Mark-man, safe and sure,
Who still is right, and prays to be so still.