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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:Let nothing distract you from the glorious gospel of God’s grace
Text:1 Timothy 1:3-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2015-08-02
Added:2016-06-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Bible translation: NKJV

Psalm 96:1,2

Psalm 86:1,2

Psalm 119:40,41,42

Psalm 25:2,3,4

Psalm 25:10

Read:  1 Timothy 1

Text:  1 Timothy 1:3-11

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As you read through the letters of Paul in the New Testament, there is one theme that keeps on coming back, and that is the glorious gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul’s letter to the Romans, for example, begins in this way in Romans 1:16 –

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

His letter to the Galatians also focuses heavily on the gospel where he defended it against those who were trying to twist and pervert it.  Galatians 1:6,7a

“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another . . .”

For we know that there is no other gospel.  There is just one, that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

Indeed all that Paul wrote was rooted and grounded in the glorious gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  And this gospel message is so precious that he insisted that nothing should get in its way.  And it is because he was afraid that things were getting in the way of the clear message of the gospel that Paul wrote to Timothy, urging him to remain in Ephesus that he might charge or command that no other doctrine or teaching be taught.

Paul does not mince his words here, he does not flinch from his insistence that the gospel and the gospel alone must be preached in the church of God.  And what was true for Paul, what was true for Timothy and what was true for the church at Ephesus is also true for us today.  You see, we too are in danger of having the truths of Scripture clouded and covered over so that in practice we put the gospel to the side and we turn to a gospel that really is not the gospel at all.  And so the First Letter of Paul to Timothy is as relevant today as it always has been.  I preach to you the Word of God under the following theme:

Let nothing distract you from the glorious gospel of God’s grace.

  1. Hold fast to sound doctrine.
  2. Live with a good conscience.

1. Hold fast to sound doctrine.

The first letter of Timothy begins in a similar fashion to the other letters of the apostle Paul.  1 Timothy 1:1-3 says,

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope, to Timothy, a true son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Paul begins by telling us who he was.  He was an apostle of Jesus Christ, sent out by God Himself.  In other words, what he preached and taught was not something he made up, nor was it simply his opinion that could be accepted or rejected.  It was not his own gospel message that he preached but the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Timothy knew the gospel, he believed it and he taught it also.  Timothy had been close to Paul for a number of years before Paul wrote this letter to him.  Timothy was a godly young man, the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father.  When Paul first met him in Asia Minor on his second missionary journey, he took him with him and together they travelled to Thessalonica, to Corinth, and on to Jerusalem.  Timothy was also with Paul when Paul was in prison in Rome and also wrote the letters to the Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon along with Paul – although Paul of course was the primary author of those letters.  It is not surprising, therefore, that a close bond had formed between Paul and Timothy and that Paul would call him in 1 Timothy 1:2 “a true son in the faith.” 

But Paul was not only close to Timothy: he was also close to the church of Ephesus where Timothy was called to minister.  While on his missionary journey Paul had stayed in Ephesus for a number of months and then, on his way back to Jerusalem for the last time, coming to Miletus, he called for the elders of Ephesus.  And when the elders of Ephesus came he said to them in Acts 20:18-21,

“You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you publicly and from house to house.”

He had kept back nothing, but had declared the full gospel message to them.  As he said further in Acts 20:26,27

“Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.  For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.”

But Paul was worried.  He was worried for the church at Ephesus and so he said to them in Acts 20:29-31,

“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves.  Therefore watch, and remember that for years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”

And sadly, what Paul expected did indeed come about.  By the time Paul wrote his letter to Timothy there were in the church at Ephesus men who wanted to be teachers of the law but who were leading the congregation down the proverbial garden path with fables or stories that were not the true Word of God, and endless genealogies and idle talk that lead to disputes and by these means were turning people away from the truth of the gospel. 

Paul does not go into any detail in chapter 1 about this idle talk and that which was contrary to sound doctrine but he goes back to it in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 where it says,

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”

This may well have been the teaching of Hymenaeus and Alexander, for example, who Paul singled out in chapter 1:20.  And 1 Timothy 6:3-5 also goes back to the matter of the false doctrine that was being taught where Paul wrote,

“If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.  From such withdraw yourself.”

In addition to what is said in First Timothy there are also a number of Jewish writings from about the time that Paul wrote his letter to Timothy where some of the fables and genealogies that 1 Timothy 1:4 speaks about are described.  One of these is the Book of Jubilees and the other are the writings of a Jewish Pharisee named Philo.  What these Jewish writers did – and we can assume that this is what the false teachers in Ephesus were doing also – is that they went back to the Old Testament, took a small part of the Bible or a genealogy, one of those long lists of names, out of context and then they added all kinds of stories and fanciful additions to it until the meaning of their stories was far removed from the clear meaning of the Biblical text.  And Paul knew that this is what was happening in Ephesus.  And so he commanded Timothy:  “Tell these people, whoever they are, to cut it out!  Have nothing to do with this idle babbling and making up stories.  These men are making a shipwreck of their own faith, and they are trying to drag the rest of the church of Ephesus down with them!”

  So there were two things wrong with what these people were teaching and promoting: in the first place many of them began to teach a gospel which went right back to obeying certain rules and laws as a way to be saved, even rules and laws that God said nothing about in His Word.  And in the second place, even where the false teaching was not so blatant, was more a matter of speculation, of trying to dig into certain Bible passages and making them say things that were not the clear Word of God, even there these teachers ended up having all sorts of disputes and arguments and they pulled people away from the teaching of the gospel.  And that is why Paul instructed Timothy, “Command these men to stop!  Charge some that they teach no other doctrine.”

And that still applies to us today.  We haven’t changed much over the last 2000 years and what was happening in the days of Paul and Timothy is still going on today.  To give a more extreme case, take the Book of Mormon which is a strange and fanciful tale of different groups sailing to America before the birth of Christ.  The Book of Mormon adds to the genealogies found in the Old Testament and speaks about the Jaredites who sailed to America at the time of the Tower of Babel, the Mulekites who came to America from Jerusalem in 586 BC when the Babylonians destroyed the city and the Nephites and the Lamanites, who were Jews that came to America in 600 BC.  Now you can not find these things in the Bible; rather all of these Mormon teachings are fanciful speculations and Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, built on these imaginations of his own brain to develop a brand of Christianity which is not Christian at all. 

But it is not just the Mormons who have done this.  Take a trip to your local, non-Reformed Christian book store, have a look at some of their best sellers and you will see that the Evangelical world also is filled with fables and false gospel messages.  Two examples:

  • In 2010 Todd Burpo wrote a book “Heaven is for real: a little boy’s story of his trip to heaven and back” where he writes about his 3 year old son who, being near death, allegedly went to heaven and came back to tell others about it.  He claimed his son met Jesus riding a rainbow colored horse and that he sat on Jesus’ lap while angels sang songs to him.   It is a fanciful tale, one that John MacArthur said presents an un-Biblical perspective on the afterlife.  Nevertheless, the book sold 10 million copies and – wait for it – a movie was made of the little boy’s experiences, earning over $100 million at the box office. 
  • And at about the same time that this book was published, there was a similar one labeled as “A True Story”, “The boy who came back from heaven.”  This book tells us about a little boy called Alex Malarkey who went to heaven, met up with God and spoke with angels.  A movie was made of this book also.  What is interesting about this case however, is that in January of this year the boy who supposedly wrote this book along with his father, Alex Malarkey, denounced it writing, “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.”  And, “I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.”

But the stories keep coming, Bible texts are ripped out of their context, they are embellished and whole books, DVDs, study books and programs are developed around them.  It has been done with the Spiritual Warfare movement, it has been done with the prosperity gospel of certain Pentecostals and TV preachers such as Creflo Dollar; and it has been done by the “Feel good” but biblically wrong theologies of people such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer.  Some of these people might start with a Bible text while at other times will just speak from the fertile imaginations of their own sin-filled brain.  Truth is mixed with fiction and it degenerates into useless talk, idle babbling and ultimately a denial of the true gospel that is set out for us in the Scriptures.

But even closer to home in Reformed churches and amongst Reformed preachers and teachers we still need to be on guard and see to it that the clear meaning of Scripture is taught and applied.  Looking ahead to 1 Timothy 1:10, It is incredible that there are some who claim to profess the faith, even the Reformed faith, but who openly teach that fornicators and sodomites, those engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage and practicing homosexuals need not repent of their sinful way of life.  It is astounding that while 1 Timothy 2 clearly states the biblical distinction between men and women and, verse 12 says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence”, that there are those who say this is not applicable, that this is no longer in accord with sound doctrine.  Brothers and sisters: doctrine matters!  The Word of God matters!  Paul was an apostle by the commandment of God and what he taught was not his word nor the word of man but the word of God Himself.  How then can we set this Word aside, how can we cherry-pick that which we like and feel comfortable with, but leave the rest?  Hold fast to sound doctrine!  To right teaching!  You’ve got to do this!  You see, if we do not hold fast to sound doctrine, if we open ourselves up to story-telling  and get carried away by the nonsense that is paraded as truth we end up losing sight of what the Bible really says!  We end up putting to the side or worse, denying, the truth of the glorious gospel of the grace of God.

And that is why Paul writes so urgently to Timothy to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine.”  That’s why he went back to this again and again in his letter.  And that is why he concluded in chapter 6:20,21 saying,

“O Timothy!  Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge – by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.”

They have strayed concerning the faith!  It was out of love and a deep concern for the church at Ephesus and the eternal well-being of the Christians there that Paul wrote what he did.  Let us then also hold fast to sound doctrine, letting nothing distract us from the gospel of God’s grace.

2. Live with a good conscience.

When it comes to keeping a right gospel focus we can not separate doctrine from life.  The way that we live is to come out of who we are in Christ Jesus.  And so the law and keeping the law is still very important. 

  It is very possible, likely even, that the false teachers who were stirring up trouble in the Ephesian church were accusing Paul and Timothy of being soft on the law.  They did not want to follow what Paul or Timothy had to say but instead they themselves wanted to be teachers of the law.  (Verse 7.)  But when these teachers spoke about the law, they came up with all sorts of rules and regulations, as chapter 4 makes clear.  Rules such as forbidding people to marry and commanding people to abstain from certain foods.  And at the same time they themselves were puffed up and arrogant, thinking that they had arrived, that they could keep the law and that they knew what God’s law was all about.  But they failed miserably on that score.  As the apostle Paul wrote in chapter 1:7 that they understood

“. . . neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.”

But the apostle Paul understood the law and its connection to the gospel of God’s grace.   And so he told Timothy outright in verse 8,

“But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully.”

The problem with these false teachers was that they covered the true law with strange stories and strange rules that were not in accordance with God’s law at all.  And then they had the audacity to think and to say that they were OK, that they were righteous!  But these false teachers who so wanted to be teachers of the law had completely missed the whole point of the law.  For the law teaches us that we are not righteous but unrighteous.  The law teaches us that we need a Saviour.  “The law is not made for the righteous person” Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:9, and that is true.  That is true in the same way that the Lord Jesus said that he had not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.  But what the law does is it teaches us that we are not righteous!  1 Timothy 1 has quite a list of lawbreakers, a list that is quite confronting.  In verse 9 and 10 Paul goes through the 10 Commandments and makes a list of sins that broadly follows the Ten Commandments.  And if we were to take this list of sins and apply it to the society in which we live then we will see just how godless, how evil this world really is.  The lawless, the ungodly, the insubordinate, the murderers of fathers and mothers, those engaged in all forms of sexual sin, the liars and so forth are there all around us.  And it is terrible to see, horrible to contemplate.  And we must recognize this, we must see this sin for what it really is.  The world glories in all things evil and this is rebellion against God.  But that is not all there is to say!  In fact, if we never get further than becoming righteously angry and pointing the finger at the increase in wickedness, at the disrespect to parents and those in authority over us, at the shameless sexualization of this generation, at the shocking pornography industry, at the horrors of abortion and the devastation caused by drug addictions, if we never get further than getting angry at these things – terrible though they are – then we have not yet understood what the law is for.  Nor who the law is for.  Because this list of sins describes not just the ungodly unbelievers in their fallen state –  this list of sins describes me in my fallen state, it describes you in your fallen state.  Yes, it describes every person who is without Christ and living outside of the gospel of God’s grace.  The Bible teaches us that we are not essentially good people who just need a little pat on the back by Jesus, telling us that God loves us, that He has a wonderful plan for our lives and it is all going to be OK because things are not so bad after all.  No!  The law teaches us that you and I are not righteous and that therefore we need a Saviour.

Paul understood that, and that is why he went on in verse 12 and following to thank God for the grace He had shown him.  That is why he wrote about God’s abundant grace in verse 14.  And that is why he wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15,

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

You see that is the gospel!  That’s what it is all about!  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  Do you know what that means?  Has God brought you to that stage where you see yourself for who you really are?  And do you not only see your sin and the mess of your life outside of Christ, but do you see the grace that is yours in Jesus Christ?

It is a glorious gospel that I may declare to you today.  It is the glorious good news that Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  That is the good news.  That is the message that Paul wanted to safe-guard against those false teachers with their fables and their endless genealogies and their rules and laws that meant nothing at all.  And that is the message for you also.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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