AS I was preparing for the sermon this week I came across this wonderful cartoon posted by Middle School West Auckland on facebook. It uses the idea of an iceberg to graphically illustrate all the effort and energy, sacrifice and determination, sweat and tears, ups and downs, joys and sorrows away from the public gaze, that goes into sporting success. It is also a great illustration of what Paul means when he says to Timothy ‘fight the good fight of faith”… it’s not a military metaphor but a sporting one, contending in such a way as to win the prize. Or as The Message puts it ‘Run hard and fast in the faith.’
In 1 Timothy it is like Paul is Timothy’s coach, he has trained him from the start, he has set the goal and the task that Timothy is to achieve, countering the false teaching at Ephesus so that Church can again fully participate in God’s mission of seeing all peoples be saved and come to knowledge of the Truth in Christ Jesus. He had outlined the strategy and tactics of the enemy and given Timothy the tools and the strategy to counter that: holding fast to the faith, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, and living it out in love. Now it is as if we have this final motivational speech, maybe like a coach would give to a sports team that had come in after a hard fought first half, heads down breathing hard, batted and bruised, everything on the line, a speech to lift their heads and focus them to persevere and to keep going till the end.
Well it is a race that we are called to run, a fight we are called to content in.
Paul starts ‘But You, son of God’ he had been talking about what was going on in the church around Timothy and the false teachers and now here he stops and focuses on Timothy. The answer to what was happening the danger of the draw of wealth and the false teachers focus on controversy and derision was for Timothy to be and live differently, to live the calling he had to be a man of God.
Man of God is a term that is only used in the New Testament in Paul’s letters to Timothy, I wonder if it wasn’t a personal term that Paul had for Timothy, but in the Old Testament it was used of people like the prophets or beloved leaders, like Moses, David, Elijah and Elisha, who were set aside and called by God for specific roles and tasks. You might think well I don’t fit that title or identity. I’m a women; well Paul used the Greek word Anthropos which means human being rather than a specifically male, so it can be man of God or women of God, or the gender neutral person of God. You might say it obviously applies to a special person not me! But in Christ’s death and resurrection we have all become the people of God, you are a person in that people. God has commissioned as all and set us aside to proclaim the kingdom of God. God has poured his Holy Spirit out on all who believe that we are enabled and empowered to do what God has called us to do in Christ.
The but you applies to us; change, renewal and transformation starts in us. As we live out that identity in Christ.
Paul sets out the course we are to run, he shows us the direction, sets the start line and the finish line.
Paul tells timothy the direction he is to run…that he is to flee from all this, The all this is what he had been speaking about in the previous section, the false teachers had focused unhealthily on controversy and obtaining wealth and it had led to unhealthy outcomes envy, strife malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction. But it wasn’t to flee in any old direction rather it was to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith. Love, endurance and gentleness. A virtue list diametrically opposed to the false teachers. Righteousness and godliness speak of a life of integrity where who we act and react reflect the God in whom we believe. Faith in the pastorals refers to that invisible vertical relationship with God made possible through Jesus Christ, and here it has the added dimension of being faithful to that in how we live. It is linked again with love and we see that faithfulness to our covenant relationship with God lived out in sacrificial service to others. Endurance and Gentleness fill that out in how we show that love. Endurance speaks of patience, its active patience committing ourselves to the faith and to love, by how we treat others and gentleness is the word meek. Which means that all our strength is harnessed to achieving the common good and the common goal and we will not be nudged or bumped off course or loose our discipline, because of the harsh words and slights, sledging, the stray elbow and jostling or down right dirty play of others. That is why the meek will inherit the earth, they will not be put off loving others by anything.
Our race also is one of fleeing and of pursuing, turning away from those things that do not reflect our identity in Christ and pursuing a Christlikeness, as we pursue Jesus Christ. I like the idea of pursuing because Paul acknowledges that he is also in the race with us, he is in the fight with as well and that you know we are all out there on the course somewhere, we haven’t made it yet, the key thing is that we are keeping moving forward in the right direction.
Paul tells us that the start line and the finish line. He says to timothy grab hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made good your confession in the presence of many witnesses. The starting point is when we confess our faith in Jesus Christ. Paul here was probably referring to Timothy’s baptism. The start line was when we professed Christ, in referring to Jesus confession before Pilate Paul is talking of that affirmation of Jesus as Messiah and King in front of those who would oppose him. It’s an open Public confession in front of both supporters and those who would think it a wrong. We live in a world where many find it a difficult thing to confess Christ. I read an article this week about a girl in Laos who became a Christian and her family beat her and threatened her with death, she finally had to flee from them when she overheard them deciding to take her to a big city and sell her into prostitution because it was less shame on the family.
But says Paul the finish line is eternal life. Paul says Timothy is to contend to grab eternal life that he had received when he made his confession of faith. It is a gift that we are given from Jesus Christ as we come to know him as our Lord and Saviour, we don’t contest to somehow earn it, we are not like mice caught in a spiritual running wheel, trying to get to the top and never managing it till we are exhausted and frustrated. Rather as we flee and pursue that eternal life that we will have when Christ returns enters our lives now, in what we would call abundant life, a life full of the presence of God and that reflects Christ’s presence to those around us. In verse 19 Paul applies this teaching to those who are have wealth and he say they are to invest not in this world but in the kingdom of God, that they may take hold of life that is really life. Take hold of is used in both places it is as we pursue a life that reflects Christ that we find out what real life is really like, a life that will go on into eternity.
There is an ethical element to this as well as Paul tells Timothy to run the race with out spot or blemish.
Paul also tells us about the glory that is there in running the race and contesting the fight. It’s not like the adulation and acclaim of the athlete or team that wins the trophy or the tournament or the gold medal in the race that is focused on us and is there for a while and then fades and is placed in a draw somewhere and pulled out now and again to show people. But for Paul the glory is that of Jesus Christ and God himself. Paul finishes this section of his letter with a doxology a song of praise to God. Paul focuses on God’s sovereignty, he is the great ruler, king of kings and lord of lords are titles that human rulers have claimed for themselves, but here Paul applies them to God. When we think of the race through life it is reassuring to know that God is sovereign and in control. That the course has been planned out with purpose and precision. He also focuses on the holiness of God, the only true God who dwells in unapproachable light. What a great thing to know the one who reigns and rules in glory. The glory of the race is with God. The one who initiated it by creating us to know him, who saved us by making himself known in Christ Jesus, who stepped down and gave his life for us, who enables us to run the race by the presence and guiding of the Holy Spirit. Who welcomes us into fellowship. To know and meet with face to face. To have run and been part of the God story and the God mission, to the glory of God. That is a great prize.
Paul tells Timothy how rich people are to run this race as well.
Remember from last week he had talked about the dangers of fixating on getting rich, now Paul turns to address a group in the church who were rich, who must have been wondering if that would disqualify them from the race. Is the gospel anti wealth? Pauls response is to tell timothy to command them not to be arrogant, or put their hope in wealth, rather to put their hope in God, who is the one who richly provides for all what is good. To become rich in good deeds and be generous and willing to share. He finishes by echoing Jesus teaching of storing up treasure in heaven on focusing on the kingdom of God not the kingdom of this world.
In the end for those who are rich the race is the same they are to flee and to pursue. Flee from self-reliance. Self-indulgence and self-importance to focusing on trusting God, showing that trust in care and compassion and practical love for others and focusing on Jesus Christ and his kingdom.
Paul finally tells timothy what he should hold on and bring with him on the race. Here the focus is the apostolic teaching that he has received, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now I think that means more than just having a joggers bible with him or listening to teaching on his MP3 as he runs. Rather it is the good news of Jesus Christ, that body of truth that is our basis of our faith: That Christ came into this world lived and died and rose again. And to throw away and dodge carrying the false teaching.
You know when I have a look at that cartoon we started with and think of the sporting analogy we’ve been using all the way through this message there is one thing missing. It’s easy to miss, its easy to think that the focus is all on our endeavour, our effort. It’s easy to miss the four words that Paul finishes his letter with, to simply see them as a polite nicety, but they make all the difference. Grace be with you all. Grace be with you all. Of course when Paul says grace, we know it is the grace of Jesus Christ that he is talking about. Out on the course, in the fleeing and pursuing, the contending for the prize, we are not alone, we have grace. It is Christ who called us and made it possible for us to become people of God, by his death and resurrection, it is Christ who promised to be with us till the end of the age, it is Christ who has run the race before us and who goes with us and encouraging and strengthens us on the way who marshals us and sustains us. Who stops to pick us up and restore us when we fall, who sends companions and team mates to contend alongside us, who provides the coaches and mentors to keep us on track and calls us to do that for others. It is Christ who waits for us. Grace be with you all.