1 Timothy

The Quest (1 Timothy 6:11-16)

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“You are a man of God. Your quest is for justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith! Cling to the eternal life you were called to when you confessed the good confession before witnesses.  Before God—the life-giving Creator of all things—and Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, who made the good confession to Pontius Pilate, I urge you:  keep His commandment. Have a spotless, indisputable record until our Lord Jesus the Anointed appears to set this world straight. In His own perfect time, He will come…” (1 Timothy 6:11-15a)

I’ll be honest: sometimes, when I read the Bible, I get tired. 

Why? Because I know what a good quest looks like. I am familiar with Lord of the Rings. I’ve seen Indiana Jones,The Princess Bride and Guardians of the Galaxy; I’ve read about King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail and Ulysses' odyssey to get back home. I know about the pursuit of Superbowl rings and even that little bird in the kid’s stories who just wants to find his mother.

 That's why I get tired. I know what a quest is, and I know what it costs. When we find a cause we believe is worthy of their time, energy and emotion, we will give our life. Sometimes it’s subconscious – we just end up giving our time, energy and emotion to something we have by default decided is important.  It could be people, or relationships, or family, or a job, or food or entertainment.  It could be a conscious choice: the environment,  healthy living, injustice, poverty, a particular person.

When the cause is noble, just, and good, we applaud those who fight no matter the cost. We admire William Wilberforce and Mother Theresa as well as our friends who fight to do life better. It’s the addict who celebrates their first year clean, or the married couple that has gone to counseling faithfully, or the person who has determined to pursue godliness even when those around them do not.  It might cost them time, money, comfort and even friends, but we encourage them because the cost is nothing compared with the quest.  

When the cause is lousy, we cringe at what great cost is being spent on such an unworthy goal.  Just watch an episode of the Bachelor or Jersey Shore or Honey Boo Boo and tell me if you don’t just want to weep for the lives that are being wasted. I see interviews occasionally with sports stars on Hollywood celebrities where they are so desperate to gain the world they lose their soul - and often their health, reputation, and friends. If we are not careful, our quest can destroy us. 

But there are good quests too, such as “justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” These are not cheap, and they don’t come easily. If you want a pearl of great price you may have to sell everything. You have to fight for it. If you want to find your life you will have to lose it. If you want to follow Christ, you will have to take up a cross. Jesus bids us to come and die before we can truly live. 

So I know what a quest is, and I know what the good ones look like. We’ve been talking in the past two months about how compelling life in Christ and with each other looks like when we live in godliness. But I also know what it costs, and so sometimes, when I read the Bible, it makes me tired. No wonder Paul wrote in Galatians 6, “Don’t grow weary in doing well.”

It's no surprise, then, that Paul said to Timothy that in the process of the quest he was going to have to fight the good fight. The pursuit of godliness is a challenge: he was going to have to protect doctrine,  work out relationships, and align his priorities with Christ's. He was going to need to learn how to fight for and cling to the right things.

 So I know what a quest is, and I know what the good ones look like, and I LOVE what awaits me at the end of the Quest called Godliness…. But I also know what it costs, and so sometimes, when I read the Bible, it makes me tired. That’s why I like that, after all the advice in this letter to Timothy, and after telling him that he is going to need to fight for and cling to his faith, Paul reminds him why that quest is so good, so important, and why it is the only one that matters in the end. Why should Timothy do all these things over and over again? Why should Timothy never give, never grow weary in pursuing godliness? Because the God He is pursuing is awesome.

We certainly give ourselves on God’s behalf in all kinds of smaller ways. We give ourselves to justice because God is just. We give ourselves to causes that highlight mercy because God is merciful. We should be passionate about truth, grace, love, beauty – there are all kinds of ways we can give ourselves to those things. But those things are just small quests compared to the ultimate one. At this point in the letter, it’s almost as if Paul just can’t help himself. In the middle of instructions, he suddenly branches off into extravagant praise:

“Blessed is the only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. He alone possesses immortality; He makes His home in matchless, blinding, brilliant light that no one can approach—no mortal has ever even seen Him, and no human can. So let it be that all honor and eternal power are His. Amen…” (1 Timothy 6: 15b-16)

There is no cause other that Christ that deserves our worship. Only Christ gets that ultimate allegiance from us. Only Christ deserves the fullness of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

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Don’t Neglect Your Gift (1 Timothy 4:12 – 4:16)

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 “Don’t let anyone belittle you because you are young. Instead, show the faithful, young and old, an example of how to live: set the standard for how to talk, act, love, and be faithful and pure. Until I get there, make sure to devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching. 

 Don’t neglect the gift that was given to you through the prophecy spoken when the company of the elders laid their hands on you. Cultivate all these practices; live by them so that all will see how you are advancing and growing. Take care of yourself, concentrate on your teaching, and stick with these things. If you do, then you will be effective in bringing salvation to yourself and all who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:12-4:16)

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There's a great scene at the beginning of The Equalizer where a young lady named Teri asks Robert (The Equalizer) what happens in "The Old Man and the Sea." Robert tells her that the old man catches the fish. She asks, "Why didn't he just let the fish go?" Robert replies, "Old man's gotta be the old man. Fish has got to be the fish. Gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what." In the context of the movie, it's not a statement of fatalistic resignation. It's also not parroting some silly version of, "You are perfect just the way you are!" Robert was pointing out that we are all made for a purpose, with a role to play. We gotta’ find that purpose and live it. It's an acknowledgment that we are made for some things and not others. You see the importance of this principle in Scripture numerous times, but I am going to point out my favorite one: Gideon (Judges 6:11-14): 

“Now in Ophrah, a messenger from God sat under an oak tree that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. Gideon, the son of Joash, was beating out wheat in the winepress so that the Midianites could not see what he was doing. The  messenger appeared to Gideon and said, “The Eternal One is with you, mighty warrior.”  Gideon replied, “Sir, if He is with us, then why has all this misfortune come on us? Where are all the miracles that our ancestors told us about? They said, “Didn’t the Eternal deliver us out of Egypt?” But now He has left us. He has made us servants of the Midianites.” The messenger of God replied, “Go out with your strength and rescue Israel from the oppression of Midian. Do you understand that I am the one sending you?”

Gideon was not made to farm; he was made to fight. I wonder just how discouraged he must have been as day after day slipped away in what probably felt like an unfulfilled, wasted life. Gideon had forgotten who he was – who God made Him to be. The angel brings a message of purpose and power: Gideon was to “go out with his strength”  because “I am the one sending you.” God will send Gideon to a place where Gideon’s strengths make him not only effective but important. 

 So how can we find our strengths (given to us by God) and go where God intends for us to go? How can we be sure we are not neglecting the many kinds of gifts that God has given us? How can we find a life that is meaningful and purposeful? For the purpose of this discussion, I am going to branch out from the very specific meaning Paul has in this verse (spiritual gifts) in order to talk more broadly about the many ways God gifts and/or empowers us to represent Christ, the gospel, and the Kingdom. 

I think we discover what God made us to be by looking at three key areas: our  godly passions, our opportunities and our gifts.

GODLY PASSIONS

  • "My zeal for God and his work burns hot within me." (Psalm 69:9)
  •  "Your message burns in my heart and bones, and I cannot keep silent." (Jeremiah 20:9)

God has made us to be passionate, to care deeply about something. Not everything we long for is good - it is a fallen world - so we need to view our passions in light of Scripture. That's why it's "godly" passions and not just anything about which we feel strongly. As the Holy Spirit works in us and moves us toward a world that needs Christ's salvation and healing, our passion will begin to clarify. It could be a cause (poverty, depression, abuse, addiction, depression) a group of people (the persecuted, imprisoned, the poor, the unborn, the church, or your family) or a talent (music, athletics, sports, culinary arts).  

I love the story of Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell who, when challenged about wasting his time running, said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.”What breaks your heart or brings you joy? What are the things you are not okay with, or the things you cannot get enough of? What are the things that, when you do them, you feel God’s pleasure?

 OPPORTUNITIES

It’s popular to say, “You can be anything you want to be.” It’s also not true. Guys, you can't be the first female president. Aspiring teachers, you are going to need a degree. If you want to take two years to focus on getting published, you will need some cash in the back. You are going to be restrained or empowered by your financial situation, family obligations, the economy, your education, the particular need of the city or church in which you live, your background of life experiences, your health or physical ability. If your passions exceed your opportunities, you are going to be frustrated!

However, it’s important to remember: God is sovereign over our circumstances. Things that look like they will bring nothing but harm can bring us something good when God is involved (read the story of Joseph to see how that works). However, we are responsible for what we do in the midst of our circumstances. Can we change them or not? How will our circumstances effect the course of our life? Instead of brooding on how our circumstances are keeping us from being who God made us to be, why not think of how we might invest in the opportunities currently around us? 

 GIFTS (6 ways to see them)

There is an interesting phrase in social work called a “strengths perspective.” The idea is that if you want to know where to go or what to do in life so that you will flourish, it’s better to focus on how to use your strengths than to get caught up in all the ways you are weak.

  • Personality: (http://www.16personalities.com/personality-types). There are many personality tests out there, but the Myers-Briggs Personality test is one of the most popular (it is used by 80% of Fortune 500 Companies). While tests like these are not entirely accurate, they are helpful in matching your personality type with people in particular vocations who tend to share your personality. (Keep in mind that you want to consider your intelligence type as well as your natural and spiritual gifts to get a well-rounded picture of who you are). 
  • Intelligence Type:  According to  Howard Gardner, intelligence is 1)The ability to create a valued product or service or solve problems or 2) the ability to gather new knowledge. There has been a strong move in recent years to be more aware of Multiple Intelligences (ways in which people learn and communicate that do not fit the standard educational model). Read more about 8 different types of intelligence at  http://www.literacynet.org/mi/intro/index.html
  • Natural Gifts: (http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx). Big Picture or details? Visionary or implementer? Talk or listen? Think or do? Quick on your feet or methodical? Organize or implement?  Language, Math, Music, Art, Sports, Relationships, Money, Farming, Technology, Building, Cleaning? We are all wired differently. It impacts how we process the world. Identifying how we are wired can go a long way in matching us up with opportunities in which we can flourish instead of be frustrated.
  • The Abilities in Our Disabilities.  There are times when the things that put hurdles in our life are the very things that provide us with unexpected strengths.  Goalkeeper Tim Howard credits his Tourette’s for his ability as a goalkeeper. He says it gives him an advantage by channeling his nervousness (though doctors think it could just be that the mental and physical discipline he has developed helps him). People who struggle with dyslexia are often better at identifying visual clues, and they tend to see the Big Picture in a given situation. In fact, 35% of entrepreneurs have dyslexia. People with Asperger’s tend to have advanced vocabularies, better pattern recognition, good focus on details, and flourish within rules and boundaries. People who stutter can face multiple hurdles, but as my son Braden has written, ”It pushed me into music – I could sing smoothly and play instruments without worry. 
It pushed me into sports – I could play and all I had to do was smile. 
It pushed me to math – I could communicate in a written language. 
It pushed me to writing – I could speak my mind without pause. I might not be able to speak like everyone else, but no one can express themselves the way I can.” 
  • Spiritual Gifts: This, I believe, is specifically what Paul had in mind when writing to Timothy. In Christianity, spiritual gifts (or charismata) are endowments given by the Holy Spirit. These are the supernatural graces which individual Christians need to fulfill the mission of the church. They are described in the New Testament, primarily in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4. Read more here about spiritual gifts and the way they are meant to be used in the church before visiting http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/files/lwcF_PDF_Discover_Your_Spiritual_Gifts.pdf
  • Affirmation: A company of elders laid hands on Timothy and either imparted or confirmed a spiritual gift in Timothy (it depends on the commentary). Either way, the principle is solid. There is something to be said for having who you are  - specifically, who God made you to be - by godly, trustworthy people around you. What do others say about you? What do you hear over and over? That, too, is a strong indicator of who God made you to be. (Check out a great way to about finding out what others have to say at https://hbr.org/2005/01/how-to-play-to-your-strengths/)

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Don’t neglect the gift that was given to you through the prophecy spoken when the company of the elders laid their hands on you. Cultivate all these practices; live by them so that all will see how you are advancing and growing. Take care of yourself, concentrate on your teaching, and stick with these things. If you do, then you will be effective in bringing salvation to yourself and all who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:14-4:16)

"Cultivate all these practices." If you go back to verse 12, that command encompasses three things: character (how we talk, act and love with faithfulness and purity), teaching (staying true to the fundamentals of our Christian faith), and being who God made us to be (not neglecting our gift.

Why?  For the cause of the gospel. It’s not about us and our ability to look or be awesome. It’s about Christ. It’s about surrendering who we are to Christ, then focusing who we are in the service of Christ for the sake of His message of salvation, which is the only true hope of the world. 

Trustworthy Sayings (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

"I thank our Lord Jesus the Anointed who empowers me, because He saw me as faithful and appointed me to this ministry. Despite the fact that at one time I was slandering the things of God, persecuting and attacking His people. He was still merciful to me because I acted in ignorance apart from faith. But He poured His grace over me, and I was flooded in an abundance of the grace and faith and love that can only be found in Jesus the Anointed. Here’s a statement worthy of trust: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and I am the worst of them all." (12-15) 

There were a number of hymns or of catechetical teaching in the early Church. This appears to be one: "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." But then Paul adds to it: “I am the worst of them all.” He talks about his new life in Christ in other places in his writings:

  • ‘If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation; old things are passed away’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in this body I live by the faith of the Son of God’ (Galatians 2:20)

So Paul is new!  There is no doubt about it! But nothing can alter the fact that Paul was the man that did all these things and is capable of doing them again without the presence of God in his life. You’ve heard the phrase, “That’s gonna leave a mark?” Sin leaves a mark. I will bear the scar of my shoulder surgery. No matter how healthy I get, I am the man with a repaired shoulder. Paul bore the scars of his sin even as those scars revealed the kind of healing only God can give.

 The apostle Paul never forgot his former sins and the grace of God that transformed him. The story of Paul’s conversion is repeated no less than six times in the New Testament (Acts 9, 22, 26; Gal. 1 & 2; Phil. 3; 1 Tim. 1).  And as Paul himself tells it, his awareness of his sinfulness actually escalates:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:9 - “I am the least of the apostles.”
  • Ephesians 3:8, written later – “I am the very least of all saints.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:15, written later still, and after probably about 25 years of walking with God -  “I am the chief of all sinners.”

He does not say, “I was the chief of sinners.” He says, “I am the chief.”  He does not single out the sins that previously defined him. He does not say, “I am the chief of persecutors.” He is not wallowing in a past that haunts him. This is more of a general realization.

“The sign of growing perfection is the growing consciousness of imperfection.... The more you become like Christ the more you will find out your unlikeness to Him.” – Alexander Maclaren

“When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”  C.S. Lewis

Paul doesn't kill Christians anymore, but he is more aware than ever of his constant need for God’s mercy.  The closer a person walks with God, the more he is aware of the depths of his sinful nature, which in turn drives him to a deeper appreciation of the grace of God.

"But it is for this reason I was given mercy: by displaying His perfect patience in me, the very worst of all sinners, Jesus could show that patience to all who would believe in Him and gain eternal life." (v. 16)

Notice: the main reason Paul was given mercy was not so that he could be awesome. It was so he would have a testimony for the Kingdom of God. Christians can see in Christ's dealings with Paul the pattern which they can expect for themselves. (The word translated “who would believe” is literally “who are about to believe.”)

Any testimony that points to the saved instead of the Savior misses the point. Paul didn’t want Timothy to think about Paul; Paul wanted Timothy to think about Jesus. God saves us not because we are awesome, but because he is awesome. We give our testimony so that others gain hope: if God is patient and loving with them, God will be patient and loving with me.  No case is too hard for God. He delights in hard cases. If Paul can be saved, you can be saved.

A side note about testimonies: Paul is writing this to Timothy, who knew Paul’s story. Paul is trying to show Timothy the proper kind of humility he needs to have. I think Timothy is supposed to take up this mantra: “I, Timothy, am the chief of sinners. If anyone is in desperate need of God’s grace, it’s me.” Yet Timothy did none of the obviously bad things Paul did. Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation. ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. While WE were sinners, Christ died for us.

We have a tendency in Christian circles to put certain kinds of testimonies on a pedestal. I know why we do that – it is meant to find a “chief of sinners” whose life gives us hope (if God can save them, He can save me). I wonder if, at times, we kind of slip down in our chairs and think, “I will never give my testimony. I am just too ordinary…my sins are not that exciting…no one will be in awe when I am done talking.” Don’t ever think that God can’t use your life to show the glory of his patience and love. Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation.

"May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever. Amen." (v.17)

Paul’s acknowledgment of who he is does not push him into a dark corner of shame and despair. It brings out worship, as if the only way we can appreciate the beauty and grace of God’s forgiveness is by continuously seeing the ugliness of who we are without God.

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The “gospel” we hear preached in our day is a positive message that will help you achieve your full potential or feel good about yourself, succeed financially, or solve your problems.

That’s not the heart of the gospel. Biblical principles will help you in practical ways, but that’s not the good news. The Gospel is that Christ came to save sinners. If you think you’re a basically good person, you are not going to fully understand why Christ came to save you. If you think you have few faults and shortcomings, you will not understand what it means that Christ came to save you.

In Luke 7 we read a story about the connection between honest acknowledgment of who we are and deep response to Christ.  Jesus contrasts the casual and even disrespectful way that one of the Pharisees treats him and the way a local prostitute responds to him. She knew she was in desperate need of Christ and needed an ocean of forgiveness. The Pharisee thought he was tight with God and barely needed any.  What does Jesus say? “Those who are forgiven little love little. Those who have been forgiven much love much.” 

In other words, grace flows from us to the degree that we recognize the grace that has flowed into us.

Do you ever find yourself in a place where you don’t care about other people, or you lack empathy or kindness, or you feel lukewarm in your faith? If so, you may not need to work on feeling kinder or more passionate. You probably are forgetting how much you have been forgiven, how much God loves  you, how much he has given you grace when you were a mess.

You know when I love my wife the best? On the days I realize how much she puts up with from me. I melt inside. I am humbled and amazed at her love.  In fact, the more I am aware of my faults, the more it keeps me in a place of humility, gratitude, and service. On the days I forget, I am a jerk. On those days, I am better than her; I deserve her respect and admiration; I have the right to be treated as if I am awesome! And that never ends well. But if every day I am humbled by an awareness that I must be forgiven much – that in our marriage I am the worst of spouses, the chief of sinners – than I have to approach every situation from a place of gratitude and perhaps even awe at her capacity to love me.

To remember how much we have been forgiven is the surest way to fill our hearts with gratitude. Paul says, “May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever."

Look at the God he praises: eternal, not limited like us; immortal, not mortal like us; Spirit, not bound in flesh like us. In other words, only a God can save me – more specifically, only this God, revealed in Christ, can take the disaster of a man and make something beautiful.

I often hear the longing expressed that it’s hard to have a heart of worship.  A heart of worship cannot be taught. It cannot be forced or orchestrated. You can go to the biggest conference with the biggest band and the most emotional preacher and the coolest arts and have a great emotional response to all that’s going on around you. That’s an experience of a particular kind of worship, but I don’t think that’s the heart of worship.

We see hear in Paul’s letter to Timothy where the heart of worship begins: a recognition the wretched, broken life that we bring to the table – followed by an awareness of an indescribably powerful and holy God who loves us anyway, who offers us enough grace and forgiveness to cover any amount of sin and damage we have accumulated. That’s when the overflow of our hearts becomes the worship of our lives as we humbly take the grace we have been offered and pass it on to those around us.

That’s a statement about life in the Kingdom of God that is worthy of our faith and trust.

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“Unless you have been down into the depths of your own heart, and seen the evil that is there, you will not care for the redeeming Christ, nor will you grasp Him as a do those who know that there is nothing between them and ruin except God’s strong hand… Unless we feel the common evil, and estimate by the intensity of its working in ourselves how sad are its ravages in others, our kindness to others will be as half-hearted as our love to God…. Those who know the plague in their own heart, and how Christ has redeemed them, will go, with the pity of Christ in their heart, to help to redeem others.”
- Alexander Macleran

We may say, “I am a thief,” or, “I am a liar,” meaning that I have committed these sins, they weigh upon my shoulders, they are the splinters of my self-hewn cross... We say so in shame. But we do not thereby express an ultimate or God-ordained identity. Quite the contrary. We mean, “This is what I am in a disordered sense, because of what I have done, and because of the evil that I am still fearfully tempted to do.”  Or we might put it this way: “This is the fashion in which the image of God has been deformed in me, so that I am not myself, and my face, my very identity, is sludged up with sin.” - Hutchens and Esolen, “Identity Thievery,” Touchstone

What is the Goal of the Church? (1 Timothy 1: 1-11)

Paul, an emissary of Jesus the Anointed commissioned by order of God our Savior and Jesus the Anointed, our living and certain hope, to you, Timothy, my true son in the faith. May the grace, mercy, and peace that come only from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ mark your life. As I said that day I left for Macedonia, stay in Ephesus and instruct the unruly people in the church, once and for all, to stop teaching a different doctrine. Tell them to turn away from fables and endless genealogies. These activities just cause more arguments and confusion.  Instead, they should concern themselves with welcoming in and bringing about the Kingdom of God, which is all about faith. Our teaching about this journey is intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith.  Yes, some have walked away from these traits and have fallen into a life of endless blabber and nonsense— they wish to become scholars of the law, but they don’t know what they are talking about, and they make these grand pronouncements but clearly don’t understand what they just said.  (1 Timothy 1:1-11)

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Kids ask all the time, “What’s that for?” It's a natural question. We see designed things, and we figure they were designed with a goal in mind. It’s cute when you are explaining tools, funny when you are walking through a store, and awkward when they start discovering themselves. Then they start to discover they can come up with all kinds of ways to use the new things they find. You tell them what a hammer is for, but they find out all kinds of things they can do with it. You tell them what the intended use of the family scissors is, but they soon realize it can also be used on the dog. You tell them the purpose of having good clothes and run-around clothes….

Part of growing up is understanding the purpose and design of things. We can get frustrated if we aren’t on the same page with other people about what a thing is meant to be. What is the purpose of the following:

  • Fishing – To catch fish? To relax? To talk?
  • Supper? - To eat? To connect?
  • Marriage - Happiness? Family? Love? Growth? Spiritual symbolism?
  • Church services? - For the saved or the unsaved? To learn? To connect? To feel?)

 Another part of growing up is learning the difference between what we CAN do with things and what we SHOULD do with things. We can harm ourselves and others if we ignore what we should do with a thing and instead settle for what we can do. For example, we should use our Lungs to breathe, be we can inhale harmful intoxicants if we want to. Sex should be an activity that both creates new life and unites us physically, emotionally, even spiritually with our spouse. We can use our sexual organs to do a lot of other things instead.

 Part of growing up is learning the purpose of a thing – What is that for? – and then committing to fulfill that purpose. Part of growing up in Christ is learning the purpose and design of the church -  Not what CAN it be, but what SHOULD it be?

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According to Paul, the Church (of people) exists to bring about the Kingdom of God, through faith, characterized by love. Love is not Eros - the love of the worthy, the beautiful, that you take for your benefit. It is Agape love, which is irrespective of the merit of the object of love. It acts sacrificially for the benefit of the other.

How we won't accomplish the goal: ignoring core doctrine and engaging in endless debate about secondary issues or speculative ideas. The goal of church is not to get so caught up in speculation and debate about issues that do not involve Jesus Christ, the Cross, the Resurrection, and the necessity and means of salvation he offers us.

  • The Jewish people in Paul’s time did this with genealogies. They would find obscure people and basically make up a story for them, and they would make every connection they could to try to fit into the family of someone important… but none of it mattered.
  • The Greeks were more enamored with the myths, the equivalent of Hollywood gods and goddesses, fantasizing about a life of luxury and indulgence with the gods. 

It doesn’t build anyone’s faith and it certainly doesn’t promote love. It’s a religion of trivia. And it usually results in self-promotion, pride, and self-righteousness. We have our own things within the church that distract and polarize us. When I was growing up Mennonite, churches split over whether or not women should wear a head covering. One church started over a hymnal issue. That’s silly. I am not sure it’s any sillier than some other things we divide over.

  • Demanding that others agree with a particular Bible teaching from a particular perspective (Creationism; End Times)
  • Overhype of encounters with the supernatural (stories of visiting Heaven or Hell)
  • Following people or movements religiously (Leaders become infallible; conferences or churches become meccas)
  • Arguing about a particular approach to a complex issue (Growing Kids God’s Way;  Marriage teacher X;  Biblical Economic Model)
  • Hyper Patriotism or political loyalty (“You aren’t following the issue like I am? You aren’t an unwavering Democrat or Republican or Independentt?)

God created the world in a particular way; there will be a time when God wraps up the world; Heaven, Hell and the supernatural are very real; marriage and the family are big deals Biblically; we are supposed to be good stewards of our money; as long as we have the freedom to impact our government by our voices and our votes, we should.  So please hear me clearly. NONE OF THOSE THINGS I LISTED ARE BAD THINGS. But they shouldn’t consume our time or become our priority. None of those issues further the goal of the church. They can help us; they can give structure to how we live and view the world, but they should not dominate your thoughts, time, or conversation.

They CAN, but it SHOULDN’T. If you are passionate about any of these things personally, awesome. Study, learn, pray, be discerning, be God-honoring in how you prioritize it and in how you communicate about it to others, But these things should not divide us. It’s not what church is about. Part of growing to maturity in Christ is understanding the purpose of the Church and committing ourselves to fulfilling that purpose. Speculation and division and anger over secondary issues is not the purpose of the church.

If it doesn't inspire us to the kind of love Paul mentions here, it’s doing nothing to build our faith characterized by love for the purpose of building the Kingdom of God. We need to major on the majors. We need to be about the Gospel.

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How do we accomplish this goal, this design? We live IN FAITH and WITH LOVE when we surrender to Christ three crucial things: 

  • A Pure Heart: What We Want (Attitudes, motives, priorities). This is not a call to perfection. It’s asking, “Do you love what God loves? Do you value what God values? Are you motivated by love or guilt? Are you earning God’s favor by right living or honoring God through right living? Do you treat others well because they bear God’s image or to impress other people?
  • A Clear Conscience: What We Do (Actions, thoughts, words).  A pure heart had to do with interior motives; this reminds us that our action need to align with our heart. We can say anything we want to about how we feel about ourselves and our relationship to God, but what do we do matters. Does our exterior lives confirm what we claim is happening on the inside? 

If I said that I loved my wife – my attitude, motives and priorities were all aligned properly – that would be admirable. But if I constantly mistreated her or betrayed her with my words or action, you would have good reason to believe that I am lying. My conscience would in no way be clear. Our interior lives and exterior lives are meant to align. A truly pure heart leads to a truly clear conscience. And in that kind of community – whether in the home or in the church – the Kingdom of God flourishes not just because of what is happening in us, but what is happening around us because of us.

  • Genuine Faith: What We Believe (Doctrine, truth). We need to increasingly understand “the reason for the hope that lies within in us.” The reason we even care about a pure heart and a clear conscience is because of the person of Christ. And we learn about Christ through Scripture. Genuine faith is built on a trust in the person and work of Christ and the reliability of the message in Scripture. For this reason, a church community has to be one in which we all are continually striving to learn the truth of Christ and experience the presence of Christ.)

The reason we even care about a pure heart and a clear conscience is because of the person of Christ. And we learn about Christ through Scripture. Genuine faith is built on a trust in the person and work of Christ and the reliability of the message in Scripture. For this reason, a church community has to be one in which we all are continually striving to learn the truth of Christ and experience the presence of Christ.)

If Christ is who he claimed, and the Scripture reliably tells me about Him and His plan for the world, then my response is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor. If that is the priority of our heart, and that is what is expressed in our actions, then that is “the journey  intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith.