Monday, June 13, 2016

1 Timothy 1:18-20 “Fight the Good Fight ”

Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus needed advice  from his  father and mentor in the faith, the  apostle Paul. And so this letter  from Paul arrives. Paul was  an apostle of Christ Jesus  and as such he was uniquely endowed  and spiritually gifted  to reflect the mind of Christ at a time  when there was as yet  only an emerging  written record of  the things that Christ  had  said and done. The apostles were a  unique  group of people, called by Jesus to accurately  reflect His mind and teaching after His  ascension to heaven, and therefore as such  they  were a unique and enduring gift to the church of all the ages.  And so,  today,  we benefit  from this  apostolic gift as we make constant reference to the apostles  (canonical) writings and doctrine concerning that which Jesus   said and did.

We have previously  seen  Paul addressing  Timothy  on a matter that has sadly remained  an  all too common   problem. It is  the  existence  of false teachers in the churches. Through their heretical and unorthodox  teachings  they produced  unhealthy  speculation and therefore controversy and division in the church (1:3- 11).  And so, in the midst of his positive proclamation of the gospel of Jesus,  Paul has to come  back to this matter repeatedly[1], as the  gospel of Jesus is  constantly undermined, perverted and twisted by these people. Josh Hooker  recently  took us through the book of Jude   and revealed  to us a  similar pattern there. The matter of false teachers and  their  twisting  of the gospel has been  an Achilles heel  for the church  ever since her  earliest  years and true  gospel preachers had to constantly fight for the truth. For instance, one of the great  battles for Christian orthodoxy  in the early church  was against  the very influential  teaching of an  elder in the Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt, a man called  Arius (c. AD 250–336).  He taught  that Christ, the Son of God did not always exist,  but that He was created by God the Father   at a point in time,  and that   He  is distinct from the Father. The modern version of ancient Arianism is found  in the teachings of the Jehovah’s witnesses.  The  New Testament  makes  it very clear  that that God the Father and  Jesus the Son  are of the same substance[2], and  each  is God of very God. Therefore  Paul can speak  of  God  the Father as  “God our Saviour” in 1:1, 2:3 and  apply  the same title to Christ  in  1:15.  In John 4:42   Jesus is confessed to be the Saviour of the world. He is equal to God. 

And so, the next thing that Paul does  is in his letter to Timothy  is  remind  us that  he  himself  had been a gospel  hater (though admittedly in ignorance) and he establishes  the fact of the amazing grace shown  to him  by this God, this  Saviour, and he  displays his amazement  at the fact  that  he as a  foremost sinner  and a former  blasphemer, that he   should have been  saved  by God and, more than that, that  he should be appointed  to His service by way of an apostolic calling. He ends that thought with  a doxology… an outburst of praise in v. 17.

And now in v.18 he turns his attention  back to Timothy, who has this difficult  calling  in Ephesus by way of  these people  who are undermining the apostolic gospel in the church. With  the authority that he has received from the Lord Jesus, Paul reminds  pastor Timothy of  a  primary fact in Christian living, namely  that he is in a war  zone.  It is  an unavoidable and inevitable reality of our existence as Christian  people in this world, and we tend to forget that so very easily.  The entire Christian life  is a fight and each  day  we must  be reminded  of this.  John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”  reminds us  that there  is never a time on  the road when Christian did not have to  have to face  one battle or another. We need to be reminded  that we are  not  in  basic army  training or  on manoeuvres  practising warfare. We are at  war with a real  enemy. Satan[3]  is called  a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8)  and  Christ and Christians are his hated opposition. We are at war  on many fronts . We are fighting against the enemy within  as we battle against remaining indwelling sin. We are fighting on many fronts -  for our  children  and families and for  the survival of  our society,  so bullied by  evil  and  perverseness. We are fighting  for  our country and our world  driving back the darkness as we  proclaim the gospel  of Jesus Christ.   In his letter to the Ephesian  church (6:10-18) he expounds on the nature and the protection and the  weapons  of our warfare. He  reminds us  that we need to put on our full armour: the belt of truth; the  breastplate of Christ’s imputed righteousness to us;  gospel shoes to  maintain a steady footing; the shield of faith by which we can  deflect the fiery arrows of Satan; the helmet of salvation, protecting our minds from  attacks; the sword of the Spirit,  which is the Word of God – the only offensive weapon in the armoury.  In this regard also Paul reminds the church that  we  ought to be  praying at all times, keeping alert  at all time as and always praying for our Christian brothers and sisters.   We must never  underestimate  the energy and cunning of the enemy. Do we see the Christian life in these terms?

The apostle Paul uses an interesting adjective to describe this fight.  It is  a good warfare/fight.”  (cf. also  1 Tim 6:12). Why good? Think about it.   We have and excellent  leader. Our commander  is Christ; we have excellent prospects to win this war;  we have the best armour; we have abundant supplies and  we have the best support: ”The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7)  This a battle which  those that  are  the Lord’s  cannot lose.  So Paul reminds  Timothy of these  things and  in addition to this primary  fact  he  gives him four additional  reminders:  

1.        Timothy,  remember  your commission  from God  v.18

"This charge  I entrust to you ,Timothy, my  child, in accordance with  the prophecies previously  made about you.”   As Timothy faces this intimidating situation at Ephesus, he needs to be reminded  that  behind him there  is  a formidable  charge   and a formidable authority (see also 4:14) which came about  by a prophetic laying on of hands. We are not quite  certain how these prophecies  were made  about  Timothy, but  the whole  event  sounds just like an ordination  service[4]. A body of  the elders  of the church  with  the help of the Spirit  confirmed  that they saw  a  spiritual gift (pastoring , preaching) in  Timothy.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) was subject to a most remarkable and striking prophecy.[5]    He was still a child when his grandfather brought to the church a former missionary by the name of Richard Knill for special meetings. Knill had spent many years in India and in Russia and was at that time serving in England. He was impressed by young Charles, quickly recognizing his unusual mental ability and his rare clarity of speech.  Charles read the Scriptures every day, and reporting of this experience, Knill said: ”I have old ministers and young ones read well, but never did I hear a little by read so correctly before.”  When it was time to leave the family stood around and Richard Knill took young Charles on his knee and made the pronouncement: “This child will one day preach the gospel, and will preach it to great multitudes, and I am persuaded he will preach in the chapel of Rowland Hill”. Rowland Hill’s chapel (Surrey Chapel) was one of the largest in England at that time, and in later years Spurgeon  did preach there.
Spurgeon himself testifies:  “He spoke very solemnly, and called upon all to witness what he said. Then he gave me six pence as a reward if I would learn the hymn: ‘God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.” I was made to promise, that when I preached in Rowland Hill’s chapel, that hymn should be sung. … Would it ever be an idle dream? Years flew by. After I had begun for some little time to preach in London, Dr Alexander Fletcher was engaged to deliver the annual sermon to the children in Surrey Chapel, but as he was taken ill, I was asked in a hurry to preach to the children in his stead. ‘Yes’, I replied, ‘I will’, if you will allow the children to sing ‘God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.’ I have made a promise long ago that that hymn should be sung when I preached there. And so it was. I preached in Rowland Hill’s chapel, and the hymn was sung. My emotions on that occasion I cannot describe, for the word of the Lord’s servant was fulfilled.”

If Timothy  was  like most pastors I know, then he would have  struggled at times with  a sense of weakness and inadequacy, particularly as he surveyed  the challenging  situation at Ephesus.  The temptation is always to shrink back in the face of adversity, and     therefore at such a time it is necessary  to know the solid  foundation of  one’s calling and commission. I can certainly testify to this.  It helps to persevere in difficult  ministry situations  when you have  such great assurances behind you.

2. Timothy,  hold  on to Faith. v. 19

Faith in the Bible is both, a gift of God and a duty of the believer. Here Paul speaks  not of the gift, but of the human  faith response.   Paul is talking about Timothy’s personal act of believing in the Lord. Paul is concerned that Timothy’s faith might cease to control his life.  We know from  2 Tim. 1:5ff  that he had a sincere faith, but that he was also  subject  to a timid personality.  We  all have  times where  we feel  our faith to be weak, and this is where we need the help and encouragement of other  believers, but  in the end we must not  live on the faith of others  but  exercise our own faith in God , and especially so when we are faced with challenges. I have often reminded you  that when the storm comes , God’s children run home and not away  from Him. Where are you  today?  I have known too many people  who at one time professed  faith in God, but then they got involved in their careers, and began to prosper, but at a great  cost to their  faith in God. They wanted to maintain a high standard of living, and they became so  busy  that Sunday was their only free day. So they started  skipping on  the discipline of regular worship, and their daily devotions, and gradually they let go of their  faith, and today they are nowhere. The world is full of people who have fallen in the fight of faith because they didn’t hold on. Do not think that this  cannot happen to you when it has happened to people  that  were apparently more advanced in the faith than you. Are  you  keeping the faith? “Hold on to faith,”  says  Paul. There is no hope of winning the battle without that. In a  moment  we shall see what  happens to people who forsake the faith.

3.       Timothy, hold on  to a Good Conscience. v.19

The conscience  instructed by God’s Word and  applied by the Holy Spirit is  God’s preacher  to our  hearts. The conscience  reminds us of what is right and what is wrong. It can be suppressed (Rom. 1:18ff)   Are we being obedient to God’s Word or  are we deliberately and willfully disobeying God’s requirements, suppressing our  consciences? Paul is urging Timothy to be conscientious at all times, and particularly at this time in Ephesus  when he needs to stand his ground against formidable  spiritual opposition. A great  temptation  for any pastor -preacher is to compromise  the  Word of God and the voice of God under pressure,by  suppressing their consciences concerning the truth  as it is in Jesus. Wanting to be known as the nice guy, the approachable  pastor, they  are tempted to change the    gospel message   to endear themselves to the carnal  soul.  Paul says, “Timothy, no matter what people say in the church, no matter the power of the enemy, hold on to a good conscience!” We cannot afford to neglect the voice of conscience.

4.  Timothy, remember  those that have made a shipwreck of their  faith  :  vv.19 and  20
“Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.”  We don’t need  a complicated psychological explanation as to the reason for the fall of these men. They didn’t do the basics. They did not  cling to Christ and  they did  not keep a good conscience. The result was a spiritual shipwreck. They have ignored spiritual basics. You cannot only do that  at  the risk  of making shipwreck, like the many  ships stranded  on the skeleton coast  whose captains  had ignored navigational principles.

God has given us a word and we are to hold on to it with faith and a good conscience. Without it we will make shipwrecks of our lives. We do not know what exactly brought about the fall of Hymenaeus and Alexander, but we do  know that somewhere along the line  they  had  let go of  their faith and   conscience.  Thus  Paul writes, “I have handed them over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” (v.20). Hymenaeus and Alexander  had  discredited   the faith in  Christ a very fundamental way, and so they needed to be   handed over (see also I Cor.5:3-5). They needed  to be disciplined.  They were handed over to Satan. They were told to leave the safety and  embrace of  church of Jesus which they had despised. To suspend anyone from Christian fellowship is the last resort in church discipline. It is not finally closing the door on them. As soon as they give up their rebellious  ways  and repent  they may return to the church and  be received  in the same way in which the father  received his prodigal son.  But they  cannot be in fellowship  if faith is denied either in  word or deed  and when the conscience is suppressed.  

What have we learned  from this text?

1     .     Christian life means   being  continuously at war   with Satan.
2     .       In times of spiritual challenge remember your  calling, your  testimony of salvation, your 
          baptismal  vows.
3    .       Hold on  to faith in Jesus.
4    .       Hold on to your  conscience  instructed by the Word of God.
5     .       Let those who have made shipwreck of their faith  be a warning to you.

[1] 1 Tim. 6:3ff ; 20 ;  2 Tim. 2:16-18; 3:1-9; 13 ; 4:1ff
[2] Gr.  homousios
[3]  Otherwise also know as  the devil (Grk :  ‘diabolos’ . This term is used only  in  the  N.T. – Matt. 4:1 ; 13: 39; 25 :41 ; Rev. 12:9; 20:2) ;                 The serpent ( Gen.  3:1,14  ; 2 Cor. 11:3 ; Rev. 12:9 ; 20:2);Beelzebub (Matt. 10:25; 12:24,27 ; Lk. 11:15); Ruler of this world  (Jn. 12:31 ; 14:30 ; 16:11) ; Prince /ruler of the kingdom  of the air (Eph. 2:2) ;  The evil one ( Matt. 13:19;  1 Jn 2 :13)
[4] John Stott :The Message of Timothy & Titus , p. 56 
[5] Arnold  Dallimore’s  biography on Spurgeon , p.

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