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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Requirements to Be a Good Servant of Christ Jesus.
Text:1 Timothy 4:6-10 (View)
Occasion:Ordination (Elder/Deacon)
Topic:Servanthood
 
Preached:2008-07-06
Added:2008-07-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing:
Psalm 65: 1, 2
Psalm 119: 22, 40
Psalm 107: 1, 12
Hymn 24: 5, 7
Psalm 134: 1, 2, 3
Psalm 65: 3

Read: 1 Timothy 1: 1-11; 4: 1-5

Text: 1 Timothy 4: 6-10
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters:

Paul's letters to Timothy are full of instructions for office bearers. Since today we have the ordination of elders and a deacon, it is only fitting that we choose a text from one of those letters. However, you may wonder about the text that was chosen. For in the text Paul addresses Timothy directly as a minister of Christ Jesus. A minister of the word has a special task, as Paul also outlines throughout his letters. A minister of the word is to preach the word. That is one of his main tasks. It's not the task of an elder.

However, please understand what the word "minister" means. It means "servant". In that sense this text refers to all of us, even those sitting in the pews. We are all servants of God and servants of each other. But, there are also those who have been given a special task in the church. The minister has, but so have the elders and deacons. The task of an elder is, as it says in the form for the ordination, "to have supervision over Christ's Church." The task of the deacon is "to show mercy to the needy." The text of this morning can fittingly be applied to these office bearers. Just like Timothy they are servants with a special task. In this text Paul gives instruction for these special servants and for all of us. Today we will hear about:

The Requirements to Be a Good Servant of Christ Jesus.

An office bearer requires:
1. Proper nutrition;
2. Regular spiritual exercise;
3. Firm Hope in the Saviour of the world.

1. Paul writes this letter to Timothy with whom he had developed a special relationship. Paul frequently spoke of himself as Timothy's "father" and of Timothy as his "son." Of course, Paul was not his physical father, but his spiritual father. Paul got to know Timothy on his second missionary journey when he returned to Lystra where Timothy was a citizen. According to Acts 16:1, Timothy's father was a Gentile and his mother a Jew. His father was not a believer but his mother and his grandmother were devout people who knew the Old Testament scriptures well and who were likely converted to Christianity as a result of Paul's visit to Lystra on his first missionary journey. These godly women had instructed Timothy from his childhood and were very influential in his upbringing.

It is clear from the book of Acts and Paul's letters to Timothy that Paul and Timothy really got along well. Paul very much appreciated Timothy and so did many other people. Timothy, although somewhat timid, was a popular man. And so, Paul enlists him as his co-worker, and eventually makes him his representative in the various churches.

That is why Paul writes to Timothy in Ephesus where he had left him behind. During his second missionary journey, Paul was in Ephesus for three years. As is clear from his letter to the Ephesians, that congregation was very dear to him. He loved the people there. The Gospel of salvation had made a great impact on them.

But he also knew that Satan would not just let these people go from his grip. Satan never does. He is always busy trying to break up God's church. He does that especially with new converts. Satan knows that they are especially prone to fall back into their former way of life and into their former way of thinking. He had them in his grip once and he thinks he can do it again.

Paul was well aware of that. He knew that the church would be under attack, not only from without but especially from within. The attack from within is the most dangerous attack. For it is in the church that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light.

So Paul warns the Ephesians. Listen to what he said to the Ephesian elders during his famous farewell address as recorded in Acts 20. First he reminds the elders of the wonderful task they have been given in the Church of God. And so he begins by giving them the charge "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." But then he comes with his warning. He says further in verses 29 & 30, "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:28-30).

That's exactly what happened. False prophets came into their midst. They even came from the very elders that Paul was addressing during his farewell address.

Who were these false prophets? In what way were they false prophets? Well, the root of all heresy is human pride. That was the basic sin of Adam and Eve and that has been the problem ever since. Adam and Eve were proud individuals. They wanted to be able to boast of their own accomplishments. They wanted to have some of the honour and glory of God independently from him. They wanted to be like God, and did not want to depend on him alone for their well-being and their salvation. They wanted to have power beyond the power that had been given to them by God. They wanted to be able to direct their own lives.

It is that sin of pride that we as human beings time and again go back to. That is also what happened in the church at Ephesus. These false prophets taught that you could have a role in your own salvation by adding to the law of God. Just like the Pharisees these heretics wanted to be admired for their good works. They wanted everybody to see how they stood out from the rest because of their good works and because of their piety.

So they taught that the way to God was through an ascetic, disciplined lifestyle. The false prophets said that they were opposed to people getting married. A God-fearing person, they argued, is able to keep his or her sexual feelings to him or herself. He or she does not need a marriage partner, they taught. They were well aware that not everybody was able or willing to go down the road of celibacy. They counted on that. Because then that showed them up to be more pious than the others. For they were able to deny the feelings of the flesh. "Look at us, how good we are. We are a little bit better than the rest of you. Doesn't that show from our superior lifestyle?"

They extended that same kind of thinking to the kinds of food that people would eat. They taught that certain foods should be abstained from. They wanted to go back to the Old Testament laws, not realizing the freedom that they have gained through Jesus Christ.

Paul clearly states to Timothy that he should not go along with that kind of doctrine. It isn't biblical. It's not what God says to you in his word. The false teachers are adding to God's Word. And they're doing it for their own selfish reasons.

Paul deals with this same issue in letters to other congregations as well. There, Paul calls those people who restrict the freedom of Christians weak in their faith. Paul says to Timothy that everything that God has created is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving. Because God's gifts, the gift of food and the gift of marriage, including sexuality within marriage, are consecrated by the Word of God.

Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, let's not think that this kind of thinking was encountered only during Paul's days. We find that kind of thinking today as well, even amongst our own members. There are those who want to restrict you. They will add to the laws of God. They will come with rules that have not been legislated by God himself. They are legalists. They want to show off their own piety. They want to stand out from the rest of the crowd so that they can be admired. What is significant, though, is that although they are “rules people”, they will be very strict about the rules of their own making, but other Biblical rules they will be very relaxed about.

There are also those who are drawn to evangelical preaching that caters to the individual and to man's piety. They like to hear sermons that appeal to people's feelings and to their ability to do good. For that makes them feel good. That makes them feel that they too can add to their own salvation.

Brothers and sisters, there is nothing new under the sun. The sin of Adam is alive and well also within us. That does not mean, of course, that there are no rules to be kept. The Bible clearly outlines the rules we need to follow. We have to fight against the sinful desires of the flesh. And through all of Paul’s letters he teaches us about what those sinful desires are, such as sexual immorality, slandering other people, being greedy, and enriching yourself unlawfully. The list goes on and on.

But, says Paul, don't add to these things. Don’t embellish these rules by making more of them than you should. Most importantly, keep these rules for the right reasons. Don't keep them and teach them to others in order to elevate yourself. Don't present yourself as being better than others. Do these things out of thankfulness for the redemption you have received through your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. A Christian is humble. An office bearer must model humility to others. He must not try to show off how good and smart and well-behaved he is, but he must show how wonderful and great God is. A good office bearer wants to give all the glory to God.

So how can one change his own attitude and the attitude of others? There's only one thing that Timothy can do. Paul says that if you go against that kind of thinking; if you point these things out to the brothers, that then you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. When he speaks about being brought up in the truths of the faith, then he actually speaks about being nourished in the good faith. It is also how other translations, such as the RSV and the King James Version word it.

Note well that Paul speaks here about teaching the brothers. He calls them brothers. We are used to that kind of terminology. We use it all the time. We call each other brothers and sisters in the Lord. And we do that, because the Bible has taught us to speak that way about each other. We have learned that we have our Father in heaven, and that we are children of the Father, and that makes us brothers and sisters. However, for us it has become a well-worn phrase. We are used to it. Even the world has taken it over. Secular union members have abused this terminology by also calling each other brothers and sisters. Their unity, however, is not because they confess to have the same father in heaven.

But for the recipients of Paul's letters this terminology is something new. It is something unique. They had never thought of their relationship with the Almighty God and themselves as a relationship of a father with his children. It's a beautiful image and it is something that they embrace.

Paul wants them to embrace that idea. Timothy as well. “Those men and women there in Ephesus, Timothy, are your brothers and sisters in the Lord. You are one with each other.” That has tremendous implications as to the way that you treat each other. For then you are able to bear with each other's shortcomings. You are able to point them out because you love each other. Timothy is able to point out the false teachings. But you need to do this with gentleness and concern, and in the full realization that you are dealing here with precious members of God's household. That means that you are patient with one another, and that you love one another. For that reason you also sit around the Lord's supper table with one another. In this way you express the brotherhood. You express that you belong together and that you love each other. Even though you may be different from one another, you all want to submit to God’s word. That makes you one.

Timothy is also supposed to nourish those people in Ephesus. He has to nourish them with the most pure food there is, namely the Word of God. Don't feed them junk food, says Paul. Don't cater to what they want to hear, but tell them what they must hear. Come with the complete gospel of salvation. If you feed them with that precious food, then they will also be able to nourish one another.

Brothers and sisters, that requires knowledge. It requires knowledge on the part of the office bearers, but also on the part of the people themselves. If you want to feed one another, then you have to be well-versed in the Scriptures. If you want to have a stress-free and a happy life; if you want to spread joy around; if you want to bring peace; then you can only do that if you stick to your principles as based on God's Word. And that means constant study. That means that you should regularly meditate on God's Word. You should be well-versed in Scripture. You should know what it means to be Biblical.

Paul rebukes those false teachers who come with godless myths and old wives' tales. It's not so important for us to know exactly what these godless myths and old wives tales were. They were often embellishments of Old Testament stories. They included the personal opinions of the false prophets. These stories were told in order to draw attention to these raconteurs. They wanted to be admired for their wisdom. Instead, they led others astray.

Elders are supposed to supervise the minister and the congregation. That means that you have to give advice. But advice is not any good if it is not Biblical advice. An elder should not come with his own opinions. In order to give good advice you need to know what it is to be reformed. To be reformed means to be purely Biblical. It means that you go back time and again to the Word of God. There are a lot of good Christian books out there, also good books written by non-reformed authors. There are a lot of things that we can learn from many of them. But be careful. Many of these authors will in one way or another give a role to man in his own salvation. They do not teach you sufficiently about the total depravity of man and of his inability to do any good. They see some basic good in man. Therefore they also see in man the ability to initiate your own regeneration. That’s a very dangerous road and it is not Biblical. With this kind of teaching they want you to share in the glory of God. They do not do justice to the sovereignty of God.

2. That brings us to the second point, namely that an office bearer requires regular spiritual exercise. As I said, Paul was in Ephesus for three years. Now Ephesus was one of the larger cities in the Roman Empire, and it had one of the biggest theatres. It could hold 25,000 spectators. The theatre in Ephesus is still in existence today. In Paul’s days, foot races were often held in that theatre. No doubt Paul would have observed that. Paul knew quite a bit about exercise. He not only observed how athletes trained, but he was somewhat of an athlete himself. Although he would not have been an Olympic athlete he nevertheless was a very well conditioned man. That is obvious from the fact that he regularly travelled all over the Roman Empire by foot. His physical conditioning would have been excellent. He knew how important it was to be physically fit. You could not do the kind of work that Paul did if you weren't.

Indeed physical exercise is important. You have to look after your physical well-being. It will make you more productive and give you a longer life. But, says Paul, there is something much more important than physical exercise, and that is spiritual exercise. Spiritual exercise first of all refers to the kind of lifestyle that you lead. An office bearer has to be an example to the flock. He has to be self-disciplined. That is why, elsewhere in his letter to Timothy, in Chapter 3, he gives the various qualifications for office bearers.

Paul says that an overseer must be above reproach. He must be temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome and not a lover of money. And then comes one of the most important qualifications, for he repeats it twice. He says that an overseer must manage his own family well, for if anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?

Some of the same qualifications are mentioned for deacons. They must be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.

Paul of course knows that there is not an office bearer on earth that is able to fulfil these qualifications to the letter. They will be lacking in every way. But what he means is that it must be obvious that these are the kinds of ideals that are important to them, and that that is what they strive for.

With regard to spiritual exercise, Paul is not exhaustive in the list that he gives in his letters to Timothy and Titus. Elsewhere in the Scriptures we find other qualifications. For example Peter says that an office bearer must not be domineering. He must be able to listen well. What it all comes down to is this: they must not put themselves and their own fleshly desires into the centre, into the foreground, but God. They must want to give the glory to him in everything.

That's very difficult for us to do. By nature we are self-centered creatures. By nature we want the honour and glory. We want recognition. Yet, the life of a Christian is the life of self-denial. The wonderful thing about the way that God has created us is that the more we deny our own selfish inclinations and the more we reach out to God and others, the happier we will be.

That also applies to office bearers in their special tasks. The more you serve, the more you will receive; the more that you deny yourself, the more that will be given to you. First of all by God, and also by others. For then they will praise you for your selflessness, for your service, for your kindness and your gentleness. They will praise you, even when you fail at times, even when they see that you are far from perfect. For they will see God working through you nevertheless. Because of you they will give glory to God. And that's what it's all about.

3. Brothers and sisters, fellow servants of the Lord, we have to put our hope in God for everything. We come to the third point. He is the only one that we can depend on to give us what we need. For he is the God of our salvation.

We have to understand the full implication of that statement. For you see, that is what drives us in our service. We are in service of the God of our salvation. He is the almighty creator of the world, and also the re-creator of the world. He is going to bring this world to a glorious end. And we, all of us, may be part of that glorious plan of salvation of the world. That salvation came through Jesus Christ who died on the cross so that sin and evil and everything tainted by sin and evil could be done away with.

Isn't it wonderful to be part of that plan? All of us, especially the office bearers, may be instruments in God's hands to proclaim that wonderful victory over sin and evil. They may tell that to the down and out brother or sister in the Lord who is in mourning because of the loss of a loved one, or who has financial or other difficulties. He may tell them that their hope is in the almighty Lord God, the maker of heaven and earth.

As an office bearer, you can help them refocus. For, as the text says, God is the Saviour, especially of those who believe. You can help them put it all into perspective. Whatever they have here on earth, or whatever they have lost here on earth, is not all that important in the final scheme of things. You can tell them that they are going to inherit this world. They may be vice regents with God. God is going to bring, not only his world to a glorious end, but also all those who belong to him. They are going to reign with him forever and ever on this glorified earth where heaven and earth will come together. That is our hope.

Yes, this text also says that he is the Saviour of all men. But that does not mean that all men will be saved. It is very clear from the Scriptures that that is not the case. Those who do not believe will perish. So when Paul says that God is the Saviour of all men, he does not mean that all men will come to that same glorious end. The original readers of this letter understood exactly what Paul meant. For the word "salvation" had a broader connotation then than the word has today for us. Salvation also has the sense of "deliverance." God is the deliverer of men in many senses. He, for example, delivered Israel out of Egypt. But that did not mean that all those people who were rescued from Egypt would be rescued from their sins. Think of those who died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. Many of them did not see their ultimate salvation even though they were delivered out of Egypt.

Also think about what happens today. The Lord rescues men all the time. He gives food and drink and healing also to the unbelievers. Without that kind of involvement on God's part, man would perish right now. He gives these things to all men so that they may come to repentance, and so that they would give glory to God. But if they don't, then they will not see their final deliverance or salvation. They will perish. It is only the believer who will be saved.

That is the glorious message for all of us, and especially for the office bearers. It is through faith that you are saved. That faith is a gift of God. God has given that gift to you. Use it. Put your hope in God. Then the Lord will bless you. He will bless all of you and he will bless those office bearers who are about to be ordained. To him be the glory alone. Amen


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.edmontonimmanuel.ca

(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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