a sermon preached on 20 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.
As we enter this New Year for this young church, Christ the Redeemer, we also, as we heard last week, enter the green season in the church calendar, after Epiphany and before Lent. This green season will last seven weeks, and so I thought it fitting to choose a sermon series to carry us through that time. One of the most important features of Christ the Redeemer and of me as a pastor is that we are young. As a church, we are young. We are young as a local congregation of Christians, and in some ways we all are young in our Christian belief and practice. Two of the New Testament letters which most clearly deals with how to live for Christ in our youthfulness are First and Second Timothy, written by the Apostle Paul to Timothy, a young pastor. In this green season, over the next seven weeks, it’s important we take some time and hear what Paul’s advice is to Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus. Paul’s wisdom to Timothy is not just to Timothy, it is for Timothy at a particular time in his ministry, and Paul is aware of this. This means Paul’s wisdom to Timothy is particularly beneficial for a pastor, like me, in his first year of leading a congregation. And if it is particularly beneficial for a young pastor, then it is particularly beneficial for a young church. As we learn what Paul has to say, we ought to consider its importance for our own time and our own church. This is why I have titled this sermon series “The Green Church.” Each week we will study two chapters from Paul’s letters to Timothy. Today, will be a general introduction, and as you can see on the sermon schedule on your handout, next week will be 1 Timothy 1-2. I request that you, before you come to church, read the chapters for that week so our time together and the preaching of God’s Word would have greater fruit.
Please turn in your Bible with me to 1 Timothy 1:1-2. I would like to read for us today’s passage.
If you remember back to last week’s sermon, I mentioned that the color green in Scripture meant three things: life, God’s providence, and is an important color for Christ. But we also have the idea in our culture that “green” means young, perhaps referencing to the measure of life still left in something or someone. When a tree or log is still green, it maintains its youth. When a horse is green or when we say a novice is green, we mean to indicate they are young, inexperienced perhaps and even a bit clumsy. They need to be broken in, to learn the ropes. They need the wisdom of age. As I said at the beginning, one of the most important features of First and Second Timothy is that they were written by Paul to a young pastor, Timothy, perhaps we may even say a green pastor. There are five important features of these two letters, and these five features are important foundations to hear at the beginning of our series, before we learn what Paul has to teach us, indeed a green church in the youthful sense, and a green church, in the sense that we want life, we desire God’s providence, and we seek to remain in Christ:
First, these two letters are considered prison literature. There is a particular literary tradition which includes the profound and important presence of what we call “prison literature.” Prison literature are those works which the author wrote in prison, or perhaps we could include shortly thereafter. Prison literature has a special place in the Western canon of great literature, not only because prison literature has some important features to see and appreciate, but many of our greatest works were written while the author was in prison: many of St. Paul’s letters, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, many letters by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament, Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes, Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau, Letters from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr., and the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. Just looking at this list, we can see why prison literature has been so important for the formation of our civilization. First and Second Timothy fall within this tradition. First Timothy is said to have been written by Paul shortly after his first imprisonment. Second Timothy was written during Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome, which was shortly before his death. He composed both letters sometime during the mid-60sAD. In these two letters are many of the important features of prison literature: a reference to being in prison, strong conviction, eternal perspective and consideration, a healthy dose of criticism, a proverbial posture, confinement and freedom, warning and exhortation, words of comfort, reminders, heightened gratitude, and a resolution of or peace about death. These are common features of prison literature, and they are common features of these two letters.
Second, these two letters are considered part of Paul’s pastoral epistles. In our study of Scripture, it’s important to discern the original audience or recipient of certain letters. First and Second Timothy, alongside Titus, are called “pastoral” epistles because they are written to pastors or individuals rather than churches. These individuals are pastors of local churches. This means the letters may be more personal and direct in their instruction, requiring more specific application or recalling certain and particular details of their relationship. These two letters show us a pastoral intimacy Paul enjoyed with Timothy and what that friendship meant to the health of the church in Ephesus.
Third, even though this is a pastoral letter, it would have been read to the church in Ephesus. In as much as Paul intended for Timothy to read this letter, he intended Timothy to read this letter to the church in Ephesus. We may also say that God by the Holy Spirit intended for every church in all ages to read this letter, to hear from Paul and be instructed in this divine wisdom. This is why this is not only a letter written to a young pastor but is also a letter written to a young church, one needing to ensure its compass was set straight and its conduct fitting for a Christian society.
Fourth, these two letters discuss important topics. In writing these letters to Timothy, Paul sought to cover the most important ideas and topics for a young pastor in how to go about caring for and maturing a church. Some of those topics include warnings against false teachers, propriety in prayer, qualifications for overseers, godliness and right conduct, honor and dignity to every church member, sound or healthy teaching, propriety in worship and behavior, pastoral integrity and competence, Christ’s preeminence, contentment, suffering, inheritance, persevering in the Gospel, repentance and holiness, and proper preaching and teaching of God’s Word. All of these topics are woven into these two letters, giving instruction to young Timothy in how to apply this sound wisdom to his local church.
Fifth, these two letters give a charge to the church. Not only are there great ideas throughout both letters, but both letters are a kind of charge to Timothy, given by an older Paul, a missionary, church planter, and pastoral mentor. And this is a divine charge for us as well. First and Second Timothy, you will notice, are filled with practical wisdom, and that tells us Paul is concerned not just with what the local church believes and thinks and says but how she acts, how she lives. This is the true test of Christianity; it has always been. As much as God is for words, he indeed calls us to not have hollow words by having lazy hands and feet. The church is to be contemplative, but she is to be active. These two letters stress the importance of holy activity and not just holy thoughts. They are then fitting for a young church in determining how well we are living life together.
And so these two letters from Paul to Timothy are about greenness in every way we’ve laid out this week and last week. They are about giving life, about sustaining life, about being kept in Christ, and about Timothy glorifying God in his youth. Whenever we start something, there is much wisdom in the old adage “act your age.” This simply means don’t expect more from yourself or those around you than their maturity level can give, the particular point of virtue and maturation where they are. Lauren and I ought not to expect Emery and Charlotte to read chapter books right now, and we don’t expect Benjamin to speak in complete sentences. But there is also wisdom in not remaining at that age forever, at that level of maturity. And still it’s also important that, as Paul states to not let anyone look down upon you because of your age. But God makes us green and keeps us green during certain seasons because there is good wisdom in how that greenness ought to be appreciated and used. Paul writes these letters to Timothy so that he would not waste his greenness. And he writes them so that he would not forfeit the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a Gospel spread on this table in all its greenness. It is at this table we learn to mature from our spiritual youthfulness, and yet it is at this table we are beckoned to be once again as little children. It is at this table we see what Paul worked to build in his ministry and by passing on his ministerial work to Timothy. This table is a table, as we heard last week, that is forever green, forever pointing us to Christ.
Now hear, as we close our time, a poem from Charles Dickens titled "The Ivy Green."
"The Ivy Green" by Charles Dickens
Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green,
That creepeth o’er ruins old!
Of right choice food are his meals, I ween,
In his cell so lone and cold.
The wall must be crumbled, the stone decayed,
To pleasure his dainty whim:
And the mouldering dust that years have made
Is a merry meal for him.
Creeping where no life is seen,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.
Fast he stealeth on, though he wears no wings,
And a staunch old heart has he.
How closely he twineth, how tight he clings,
To his friend the huge Oak Tree!
And slily he traileth along the ground,
And his leaves he gently waves,
As he joyously hugs and crawleth round
The rich mould of dead men’s graves.
Creeping where grim death has been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.
Whole ages have fled and their works decayed,
And nations have scattered been;
But the stout old Ivy shall never fade,
From its hale and hearty green.
The brave old plant, in its lonely days,
Shall fatten upon the past:
For the stateliest building man can raise,
Is the Ivy’s food at last.
Creeping on, where time has been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.