Having been involved in youth ministry for many years, I’ve heard the passage we had read out to us today from 1 Timothy often used to encourage young people to step up to leadership and ministry in the church and the world. There are times in church history where Christianity has threatened to, die out with a particular generation, at other times the church has been renewed and become a vibrant youth movement and people tend to forget the tender age of those who have lead that renewal, I’ve only seen images of the great preacher Charles Spurgeon as an old man with a beard, however he was filling his church in London to overflow at the age of eighteen. John Calvin had written his famous systematic theology the Institutes and was the leader of the reformation in French speaking Europe at the age of twenty-five.
Maybe because I’m advancing in years, I am also encouraged by a list that Leonard sweet uses in his book ‘Soulsalsa’ of people who produced most of their best work when they were older. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Fallingwater house when he was sixty-nine, and the Guggenheim Museum when he was seventy-six and was most productive between eighty and his death at ninety-three. Cecil B DeMille produced his most famous film ‘the ten commandments’ at seventy-five. Michelangelo was appointed chief architect of St peter’s in Rome at age seventy-one. You just have to listen to sage words of Pope Francis, or the wisdom and grace of nelson Mandela, and the way in which the love and compassion of mother Theresa have been valued in the world to realise the contribution of older generations.
So as we come to this passage today I want to look at what it has to say to people of all ages about how we can provide leadership in the church. To see what it has to say about Maturity and ministry at all ages.
Paul is writing to Timothy whom he has sent to Ephesus to correct the effect of false teachers in the church there. Paul’s letter is to both give Timothy instruction as to what to teach, but also to encourage him in that ministry and to add the weight of Paul’s apostleship to Timothy’s work as well. Part of the issue is that Timothy is younger than Paul, and the elders and false teachers at Ephesus. While the word in Greek which we translate young does not equate with Timothy being what we would call a youth, he is younger. In many cultures age is a major issue. In some cultures how you address someone and interact with them is dependant on weather you are older or younger than they are.
What Paul has to say on how Timothy is to handle that is relevant for people of all ages and stages of life.
The first is that Paul encourages Timothy not to let people look down at him, or put him down because of his age. Rather to invite them to look up to him as an example and model for the believers. It is not age that matters but maturity in Christ.
Paul uses five categories that Timothy is to show his maturity in. speech, what he says and how he says it. This week at the common wealth games we’ve seen a prime example of this. When the New Zealanders won Gold and silver in the commonwealth games men’s mountain biking cross country and that victory and achievement was soured by the eventual winners display of bad sportsmanship. Love and faith again are central to Paul’s understanding of the Christian life, faith speaks of that relationship with God, and love in its outworking in relationship to others. Purity is talking about how Timothy handles his sex life. We are all to aware of how important ethical behaviour is in that area of life.
This week marked not only the 50th anniversary of the sinking f the whahine in wellington harbour, but also the sinking of the titanic in 1912. The Titanic was said to be unsinkable because it was constructed with fourteen watertight bulkheads down the length of the ship. Four of those compartments could flood and it would stay afloat. It was originally thought that the impact with the iceberg had ripped a long gash in the side of the ship and flooded five of those compartments. However when the wreck was found on the sea bed in 1985, it was discovered that the impact with the iceberg had damaged only one of those compartments. But that was enough to cause the flooding of all the rest. We can try and compartmentalise our life, but if we don’t have integrity in all areas of our lives then issues in one area can impact all the rest. PAUl’s comprehensive list here is a call for integrity in all areas of life.
Paul goes on to tell Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of scriptures, to preaching and to teaching. This is the ministry that Timothy has been called to. Before we look at that, it is also goo to look at it as both, a commitment to public worship, in our reformed tradition the reading of the word and the preaching of the word and teaching are the central elements of our worship. All that goes before is designed to prepare us to hear the word read and preached, and what goes after is designed to help us to respond to the word. So it speaks to us about continuing to be involved in public worship, it becomes a priority in our lives, part of our regular routine of acknowledging God in a non-Christian world, pushing back at the worlds encroachment on our time for family and faith.
It can also speak to us about our devotional life. In the Old Testament days and Paul’s time public reading of the scriptures was often the only way people had of hearing them. With the invention of the printing press, mass media and the internet etc, and the rise of literacy we have unprecedented access to the scriptures, as well as devotional, and teaching material to go along with it. Part of that setting an example is devoting ourselves to the scriptures and allowing the Holy spirit to use it to speak into our lives and bring transformation and new creation.
But Paul is here commanding Timothy to keep at the ministry that he had been called to, this passage is also often quoted at Ordinations, because Timothy is being called to a public preaching and teaching ministry. This is the chief way he going to co bat false teaching by expounding the truth and living it out. Talking the talk and walking the walk. Paul in this section is encouraging him to do that with authority to command and teach these things’, both the things Paul mentions in this book but the apostolic teaching of the gospel. But this equally applies to all of us. We are called to various kinds of ministry in the church and it is as we serve and are prepared to do the things God has called us to that we show others that example of the faith. Young or old or somewhere in between. We are Christs body and we are all to play a part.
That moves on to Paul reminding Timothy to not neglect the gift he has been given to you through prophecy and by the laying on of hands. Timothy has been endowed with a gift by the Holy spirit, which was both testified to by God and was affirmed by the church leadership, he is to use that to glorify God and edify others. We set an example whatever stage of life we are at when we take the risk to use the gifts that God has given us. We just ran the Network course and about eight people went through it and it was interesting as we discovered giftings and looked at how that matched up to what we were doing in the church. We are still working through what that means for each of the people on the course.
Then Paul finishes by commanding Timothy to work diligently at these things. Last week we saw how Paul used the metaphor of an athlete training to speak of us training for godliness, to live a life that reflects the God whom we believe in. Paul reuses that metaphor here and you see the idea of Timothy putting that effort in like an athlete puts effort into their sport. We have this faith and love again when Paul says watch your life and doctrine closely. No we might think that setting an example is about perfectionism, reaching the summit, however Paul is more realistic, he says that we work at it so that people may see your progress. While we’ve been at St Peter’s Isaac has gone from a child and boy to a gangly youth/teenager, and often when we are together people will comment on how much he has grown, they look to see if he is taller than me now, I’ll have to stand up straight to ensure that I haven’t been passed yet. People see his progress towards manhood. You kids might hate bringing home report cards from school, but as a parent I appreciate being able to see your progress, and know where I can affirm where you’ve achieved and encourage you in areas that you need to be encouraged about. It is the same with us as Christians it is good to see how people develop and grow. For your children when your faith becomes their faith, in teenage years and in young adult hood they own heir own faith. It’s not always an easy journey. As someone who is in my fifties and been a Christian for forty years, its encouraging to hear people older in the faith than me and who have been through my life stage speak of how they are still growing and learning. It’s wonderful and important that we share what God is doing in our lives with one another. It’s also as we share our struggles and where we meet God in them that we can help each other.
As we do this says Paul not only will we save ourselves, we will save our hearers and those who look on. That is a difficult phrase to comprehend. Paul is not talking about earning our salvation here, that is always and only through the grace and life of Jesus Christ, his death and his resurrection. In Philippians 2: 13 Paul talks of working out our salvation with fear and trembling, it is the ongoing process of working out in our lives what it means for us to be saved by grace. In the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy it is also in holding strong to the faith in the face of opposition and false teaching that would try and drag us away. Also as in what we say and do we point towards Christ people will see and hear that and the Holy Spirit will use it to draw people to Christ. Our mission statement at St peter’s puts it like this, that we might grow as followers of Jesus and inspire others to join us on the journey.
Paul identifying age as an issue in the church at Ephesus is also helpful for us. Intergenerational conflict is one of the main dividers in churches. Music, formality v informality, how children should behave in church, expectations on time, what is important and permanent and what is transitory and changeable, who gets to decide are all often generational things. In my first parish one of our elders a retired farmers wife in her eighties, spoke about the fact that ministers always seemed to be old, until a friend and contemporary of hers left his job as a high school principle and trained as an ordained minister and served at that church. Her experience of church changed, the minister was now a friend and they were really in sync, he met all their expectations as a minister. She stopped talking so I asked the obvious question what it like was having a minister the age of your children. After a silence she said Oh Howard we don’t think of you like that we see you as old… There was much laughter and a little embarrassment for me. But nearly all the conflicts we had in that church were over generational approaches to things. It didn’t help that the Pentecostal church down the road had a leadership team with the same last names as our church, as they were the children of the elder who had moved because things were not going to change.
Very quickly Paul gives us some insights into how to deal with these conflicts. The first is to recognise the faith in people of a different generation, sometimes that’s not all that easy as we have learned to express it in different ways. We need to recognise and affirm the gifts we see in each other. The older to the younger. There is a need also for one generation to be willing to graciously allow the another to take on leadership and lead in their way. Often failure to be willing to let go of power results in leadership simply going elsewhere. But also for those being asked to take on leadership to have the wisdom to listen and to hear from those who have gone before them, like Timothy listens to paul. We need also to affirm and acknowledge when we see progress in each other’s lives. Not just as we see someone grow taller but maybe as we see the way they react and interact with others, and as we are willing to share what God is doing in our lives.
So to conclude, Paul’s message to Timothy is for us all regardless of age. Do not let people put you down because of your age, rather set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Devote yourselves to the reading and preaching and teaching of the word. Do not neglect the gift God has given to you, allow God to identify those things and serve, allow the church to affirm them and do the same for others, be diligent in these matters, watch your life and doctrine, because not only will you save yourself but your hearer as well.