a sermon preached on 03 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 a God of word and deed; He is a God who speaks and a God who acts. He is a God of self-restraint and self-expression. He is a God who is both modest and prodigal. And in all things he is holy. And therefore he calls his people to the same, and this especially includes when his people are green—whether lively in their prime or tender in their youthfulness. A green church, a green pastor, a green season is to be a season of rooted conduct and watered speech, especially speech and conduct not just seasoned with holiness and thanksgiving but abounding with it.
Please turn in your Bible with me to 1 Timothy 3:14-16. I would like to read again for us today’s passage.
Today we continue with our sermon series, “The Green Church,” a sermon series exploring what First and Second Timothy have to teach us during this green season of the Church’s calendar and during this green season of our young church. Last week we saw in First Timothy, chapters 1 and 2, that Paul intends for Timothy and his young church to be green for war and prayer. This week, we are looking more closely at First Timothy chapters three and four. This sermon is titled: “The Green Church: Green for Conduct and Thanksgiving.”
Paul finishes his introductory remarks to Timothy and immediately moves into qualifications for overseers and deacons. First, Paul tells Timothy in chapters one and two why he is to stay in Ephesus, and then he tells him in chapters three and four what type of man Timothy should be and what type of men and women Timothy should mature there. That is to say, after Paul tells Timothy what the church is to be doing and what Timothy’s pastoral position is for, Paul tells Timothy who Timothy and others are to be, what type of people they are all to be, especially those charged with being shepherds. We may condense chapters three and four into a single word: conduct.
I have chosen the word conduct because its Latin root means assembled or collected. This is not only the purpose of the church, to assemble and collect themselves toward a single task, but it is the purpose of those in the church: to assemble and collect their individual members of their body and persons for a single task. A man’s mind and heart ought not to be one place while his body and soul are another. If he is to be a Christian man, he is to be growing in integrity each day, and that wholeness, as the word integrity indicates, is to be pointed to the holiness and grace of our Triune God. But I could just as well have chosen the word behavior. Paul uses it in chapter 4, verse 15. He states, “I am writing these things to you so that…you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God…” The word behavior carries with it its etymology, which at its core has to do with self-restraint, withholding, to hold, or to possess. The qualifications for an overseer and deacon indeed have this feel about them: he must have restraint with himself, with alcohol, with temper, with women, with own household, his finances, etc. The Christian growing in holiness is not the man who is ruled by his belly or his appetites or his lusts, but is a man ruled by God’s holy and gracious boundaries.
Today we believe that freedom is defined as the absence of restriction; that is the American way: if you want to be truly free, throw off all things which restrict you. But this is indeed not what we find in reality or in God’s word. True freedom, if it is to free a man, means having the right restrictions, the right boundaries. What Paul is telling Timothy here is that the men and women in the church ought to be properly enslaved and yoked to those things which will most free them to love their neighbor and love God. And there are tests for this, Paul tells Timothy: look at a man’s house; look at a man’s bank account; look how a man handles his passions; look how a man handles alcohol. If these are not properly restrained, do not give him the keys to the church or to the souls of men. This ought to resonate with each one of us, for all of us fall short of the standard. We are all indeed in our path to holiness, and so these words ought to sink deeply into our hearts and minds and souls.
And ultimately, Paul concludes at the end of chapter three, our godliness does not rest upon our own merits, lest we forfeit our faith. We indeed, no matter how far on the path, whether babes or veterans in the faith, look to the “mystery of godliness: he was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” This is Jesus, who is our righteousness.
So now we move from conduct to thanksgiving, and so we move from First Timothy chapter three to chapter four. If chapter three was about conduct, behavior, and self-restraint, it would indeed align with the wisdom and poetic beauty of God that chapter four would be about indulgence, delight, and license. That is to say, if chapter three was on conduct through restraint, chapter four is on conduct through thanksgiving. Paul, in essence, is saying this with chapters three and four: “Timothy, some will tell you all kinds of things are good for you to do, but in fact many of those things you should not do; they are forbidden. And, Timothy, some will tell you all kinds of things are forbidden for you, but in fact many of those things are good for you to do, but you must do them with thanksgiving!” And we can almost hear Timothy ask for clarification: “So, Paul, then what are those things I should do with thanksgiving, and are some more important than others?” Paul answers,
“Timothy, yes. Marriage is good; marry and give thanks. Food is good; eat and give thanks. Teaching your people is good; teach and give thanks. Training your body and physical exercise is good; train and give thanks, but godliness is much better, so give yourself to that more. Your youth is good; live in it, give thanks for it, and don’t listen when others despise you for it. Your maturity is good and important; give thanks for it and don’t ever relent. In short, this life is good, but the next is far better. So give thanks for this life and enjoy it with prayer and holiness, but do all things for the next life.”
From these first four chapters of First Timothy, we can see that God cares deeply about war, prayer, conduct, and thanksgiving. This means he cares deeply about what we think and how we live. Orthodoxy (right teaching or right belief) and orthopraxy (right conduct or right practice) are to always be pointed to the Triune God, and a green church cannot hear this enough, just as Paul could not have reiterated this enough to Timothy. What thoughts are in our minds? What deeds are upon our hands and feet? Are they fitting for a Christian church, for a Christian people?
This table is the setting where orthodoxy and orthopraxy are most squarely concentrated. Not only do we see in this table the most important doctrines of the Christian faith—that we are sinners and Christ our savior, we are hungry and Christ feeds us, that salvation is collective and not just individualistic, that it is indeed Christ and not us who satisfies the wrath of God, that we need covenantal renewal again and again, that God will never leave nor forsake us—but we also see the most important practices of the Christian faith—that we can only come to God through Christ, that we come to Christ as a collective body, that our works are never good enough, that our bodies and actions are necessary for our faith, that right conduct begins by right submission to Christ and one another. This table is a table deeply concerned with conduct and thanksgiving. Let this table drive both your Christian conduct, doing for others what Christ has done for you, and let it drive your gratitude, doing all things with a spirit of humility and gratitude to God in Christ.
Now hear, as we close our time, a poem from George Herbert titled “The Holy Communion”
Not in rich furniture, or fine array,
Nor in a wedge of gold,
Thou, who for me wast sold,
To me dost now thyself convey;
For so thou shouldst without me still have been,
Leaving within me sin:
But by the way of nourishment and strength
Thou creep’st into my breast;
Making thy way my rest,
And thy small quantities my length;
Which spread their forces into every part,
Meeting sins force and art.
Yet can these not get over to my soul,
Leaping the wall that parts
Our souls and fleshy hearts;
But as th’ outworks, they may control
My rebel-flesh, and carrying thy name,
Affright both sin and shame.
Onley thy grace, which with these elements comes,
Knoweth the ready way,
And hath the privy key,
Op’ning the souls most subtle rooms;
While those to spirits refined, at door attend
Dispatches from their friend.
Give me my captive soul, or take
My body also thither.
Another lift like this will make
Them both to be together.
Before that sin turned flesh to stone,
And all our lump to leaven;
A fervent sigh might well have blown
Our innocent earth to heaven.
For sure when Adam did not know
To sin, or sin to smother;
He might to heav’n from Paradise go,
As from one room t’another.
Thou hast restored us to this ease
By this thy heav’nly blood;
Which I can go to, when I please,
And leave th’earth to their food.