If you are a sports fan it’s been a great time over the past month or so. We’ve had the winter Olympics from Korea, the cricket season has come to a tense and exciting end at the same time (unless you are a Blues fan) that the super rugby season and league have started off with New Zealand teams doing well. Go the warriors. There was the Parker v. Joshua world heavy weight championship fight, with all its build up and hype, now the commonwealth games over on the gold coast, everyone’s a bit bleary eyed as we are watching that great plethora of different sports and great athletes, celebrating Kiwi success and having to put up with hearing the Australian national anthem a little to much for our liking.
We see in points on the league table, rare series wins over England, unanimous points decisions meaning millions in prize money and podium finishes with medals awarded the benefits of all the physical training that goes into these achievements. We rightly applaud the athletes.
Paul in the passage we had read out to us this morning says that physical training is of some value… and when he says that it’s almost as if I feel him turning from his writing to look straight at me… or maybe it’s the Holy Spirit… double underlining it… but says Paul because of the hope we have in our living God, who is the savior of all people, especially those who believe we should pursue training in Godliness more: lives that reflect the God in whom we believe.
For the last few weeks we’ve taken a break from our journey through 1 Timothy to celebrate Easter. Now we are moving back into it. It’s part of a larger series we’ve been doing looking at the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon) that Paul wrote to other Church leaders wrestling with difficult pastoral situations, encouraging them in their ministry and Christian walk. In that we are hoping to see what the spirit has to say to us today about leadership, about maturity and ministry.
The passage we had read out to us today, is in three sections. The first is like the central message of the letter, it splits the book in half. It’s Pauls summary of all that has gone before about Christian behaviour in worship and prayer, and the character of Christian leaders. And it sets the scene for the rest of the book as Paul goes on to give instruction of how to deal with the false teachers which threatens the mission of the church. In the second section Paul, deals directly with some of the false teaching. Then he moves on to give Timothy instruction on how he is to counter that teaching.
The opening verse is great in helping us set the scene, Paul is travelling and he has sent Timothy to the church in Ephesus to deal with the problem of false teachers in the church there. The wider consequence of dealing with that issue is that the Church, which is the household of God, would act in a way that reflected the basis of their faith. Paul uses a hymn to express the mystery of what is the source of true Godliness. It is a hymn that focuses on the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ.
The lyrics start by talking of Christ appearing in the flesh, with the incarnation, there is a sense that in saying that he appeared that the song acknowledged the pre-existence of Christ, with God in eternity. It may seem strange to us that there is no mention of the crucifixion directly in this song, but when Jesus appeared in the flesh, there is a sense that this covers his earthly life and ministry which climaxes in his death on the cross. it speaks of Jesus life and ministry that we have a record of from those who were eye witnesses. In the beginning of chapter 2 Paul had talked of the man Jesus Christ, who was the one mediator between God and humanity who gave himself as a ransom for all people.
The second line talks of Jesus being vindicated by the Spirit. Vindicated speaks of being found innocent and exonerated. It points us to the resurrection, God witnesses to Jesus Christ by raising him to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. The final witness to who Jesus Christ is the empty tomb.
Was seen by angels, is also difficult to understand, and we are dealing with lyrics we are dealing with poetry. Some have seen this as speaking of those humans who saw and witnessed the risen Jesus, as angel means messenger, but as Paul will be going on to wrestle with a false understanding of the difference between the physical and the spiritual, we see that it is important for him to point to both the spiritual and human responses to Jesus. We read of angels proclaiming the good news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds in Luke’s gospel, the angel at the tomb that we had in marks gospel who knew Jesus had risen, of course in angelic worship of Jesus is very much in the scripture like in the book of revelation, with the living creatures, the angels and the elders worshipping at the throne.
Then the lyrics go on to tell of the continuing ministry and mission of Jesus, he was preached amongst the nations, and the people in the nations believed in the world. We have Jesus ministry continuing through the preaching of the gospel and changing lives.
Finally, he is taken up into Glory. While this does not fit the ascension chronologically, the song and Paul gather together both the ascension and the future fulfilment of Jesus glory when he will return, again this time in glory. So in this song we have the great mystery of the whole work of Jesus Christ his incarnation, his resurrection, his being preached and believed in and being raised to the right hand of the Father. This is the story which forms the basis of our lives, that is the source of Godly living. Paul had talked of God’s work which is by faith resulting in love. The song expresses that vertical reality of our relationship with God through Christ and he sees it as the source of true Godliness vertically living it out in love.
Paul goes on to contrast that with the false teaching. We have it explained in spiritual terms and human physical terms. There teaching does have a spiritual element, but it does not come from God, it is from deceiving spirits and the demonic. It is anti-Christ, in the case of Ephesus it moves away from the person of Jesus, what he has done for us and his mission in the world to what we do. The church and the gospel are always going to be under attack from the spiritual forces that oppose Christ, who want to hold humanity captive in sin and death. But Paul is quick to note that there is human complicity, here Paul talks of hypocritical liars and those whose consciences have been seared over like a hot iron. In the first century there were people who would travel from place to place and make a living off others peddling their philosophical and theological thoughts and plan and systems for profit, many of them deliberately willing to mislead people for the sake of making money. Here Paul likens the false teachers to these people. Maybe today you just need to look in the newspaper and online and see people advertising this new age spiritual thing or that some even speaking of Jesus without as Paul has said focusing on the life and apostolic faith about Jesus.
I had a friend write me recently concerned about another friend who was getting into the writings of a womenwho claimed to be a medium channelled Jesus, she’d written a book where she says Jesus speaks through her, where he denies the crucifixion and the resurrection, talks of his time in India, learning yoga, and tantric sex, which he practises with his wife Mary Magdalene. She says, he says, that the gospels were false and couldn’t be relied upon. Many people are into this and of course buying her six books, you have to buy all six, and there is no historical basis to it, it steps fully away from historical evidence and Jesus claims to being the son of God to a claim simply channelling a spirit. Forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God are replaced with individual enlightenment. Spiritualists think they are speaking with the spirits of the dead but they are deceived and in contact with deceptive spirits and demons.
Paul says in Ephesus the focus of the false teaching is not on Christ but on a form of asceticism, where people are forbidden to marry and they are commanded to abstain from certain food. The focus moves away from doing what Christ has said to other practises. Forbidding people to marry may mean not just young people but also doing away with marriage for those who are married. In Corinth, one of the factions believed that the resurrection had already come and so we were spiritual beings now and sex and marriage and gender markers were no longer relevant to Christians. The food laws could connected with Paul’s talk of myths and genealogies may point to the fact that they also had a warped sense of the Jewish food laws. By the second century one of the major heresies in the church was Gnosticism, which had a false dualism between the spiritual and the physical. It saw the physical as shameful and little importance, and the spiritual as important. So much so that they could not see God having anything to do with creating a material world, so built a series of intermediaries in their teaching between God and the world, almost a pantheism of demi-gods. Maybe there is the start of that in what is happening in Ephesus.
Paul's response is to go back to genesis narrative and acknowledge that God made all things good that marriage and sex inside of marriage and food are gifts from God for humanity. They are good and should be welcomed and enjoyed with thanksgiving. He finishes the paragraph by saying it is consecrated, through the word, God has told us it is good, and through prayer, we have acknowledged God’s goodness in it.
Sadly Paul does not set out for us a training regime in his letter. It would have been good if he did, and we could talk of spiritual practises and exercises and routines that help us to develop. But in this passage we have one specifically mentioned. Thanksgiving, recognising and acknowledging all the good things that God has done for us. From the food we eat to if you are married your spouse, they are a gift from God, but also with the inclusion of that song at the heart of his letter, thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us. It is living that gratitude for God’s love and Christ’s forgiveness and new life, and the Holy spirits presence that motivates and compels us to listen to Jesus and to do what he has said and to respond to that love with love for others. We sang rend collectives ‘counting every blessing in our service today, and it highlights the spiritual discipline of acknowledging all God has done for us, to help focus us on God’s goodness even when we are going through difficulties. Maybe we have things the wrong way when we think of blessings and difficulties, we think the difficulties are the things there first, and God’s blessings counter them but in my devotions this week I read a comment from Bishop Sandy Millar that No Blessing goes uncontested, god’s blessings are there first, Gods provision, God’s presence, God’s love shown through Jesus Christ, God’s forgiveness, God’s enabling and empowering, giving thanks allows us to see that clearly.
Paul’s instructions to Timothy tell us living a godly life, springs out of the Jesus story: his life, his death his resurrection and his ongoing mission. That that is the best remedy for falsehood and false teaching. It is the gospel truth believed and expressed: a life where our faith, results in love. It’s not easy, Paul finishes by talking about labour and striving, just like athletes do to achieve the prize and goals they set themselves and that we honour them for. They set goals for physical achievement but we have placed our hope in the living God, who is the saviour of all people, remember Paul had talked of God’s desire that all be saved and especially of those who believe, that results in eternal reward and us hearing “well done good and faithful servant" from the one who was taken up into glory.