doctrine

The Quest (1 Timothy 6:11-21)

Paul began his letter to Timothy by stating the goal of the church.

“They [the church] 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.”

The rest of the book has been talking about those things. When we get to the conclusion, Paul gives a bookend that sounds very similar.

You are a man of God. Your quest is for justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith! [Agonize the good agony.] 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—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.

Here’s what you say to those wealthy in regard to this age: “Don’t become high and mighty or place all your hope on a gamble for riches; instead, fix your hope on God, the One who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.” Tell them to use their wealth for good things; be rich in good works! If they are willing to give generously and share everything, then they will send ahead a great treasure for themselves and build their futures on a solid foundation. As a result, they will surely take hold of eternal life.

O Timothy, protect what was entrusted to you![the gospel]. Walk away from all the godless, empty voices out there, and turn aside from objections and arguments that arise from false knowledge.  (By professing such knowledge, some are missing the mark when it comes to true faith.) May God’s grace be with you.

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I’ll be honest: sometimes, when I read the Bible, I get tired. I know what a good quest looks like.

I grew up reading the stories of King Arthur and His knights (which I even forced on my high school literature classes for a time).  As a kid, I listened to the record of Rankin Bass’s The Hobbit, then read the Lord of the Rings every Christmas break during high school.  I’ve seen Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride and Guardians of the Galaxy; I know about the pursuit of Superbowl rings and NBA championships and NCAA tournament winners. There’s even that little bird in the kid’s stories who just wants to find his mother.

We all know what a quest is – and we all quest.

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 leisure. It could be a conscious choice: the environment, healthy living, injustice, poverty, a particular person, our family. When we find a cause we believe is worthy of our time, energy, money and emotion, we will give our life.

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 value of the quest.

When the cause is lousy, we cringe at what great cost is being spent on such an unworthy goal. 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 or 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.

Paul says that going on a quest for godliness means you will have to fight the good fight.

“Keep His commandment.” This cannot be more clear. You fight the good fight and cling to eternal life through obedience. That is not what saves you, but it’s the only proper response to your claim of faith, and it’s how you fight the good fight. On the one hand, this is intimidating, because we will never do it perfectly, and we can run into the danger of legalism, judgment and shame. On the other hand, there is comfort here.

What if I don’t feel God’s presence? Keep His commandments. What if I am in despair? Keep His commandments. What if my world is crumbling, and life seems hopeless? Keep His commandments. What if I fail? Pick myself up and keep his commandments. That is how we maintain our quest. However, because we will do this imperfectly in spite of our best efforts, we need to....

“Fix your hope on God.” This particular passage stresses that you can’t put your hope in money. You also shouldn’t put it on reputation, power, sex, comfort, health, or good looks. Not on the next job promotion or election. . Not on a happy marriage or children who make you proud or a large retirement account. Certainly not on your ability to keep God’s law. None of those are bad things, but they cannot give you the hope you seek. I used to sing an old hymn: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wondrous face. The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” To stay true to your quest, you must keep your eyes fixed on the hope of God.

“Be rich in good works.” Does God want you to be wealthy? Absolutely. Wealthy in kindness and generosity. Rich in love and gentleness. Money is not a bad thing, but the love of it is the root of all kinds of evil.  If God has given you the kind of gifts and talents that help you make money, make money for the glory of God and the furtherance of His kingdom. Just don’t make it an idol. You can't serve money and serve God. Your quest is not money; your quest is to build up a treasure of good deeds.

“Walk away from all the godless, empty voices.” Of all the topics in this book, Paul is relentless on this particular one. Don’t forget that ideas have consequences. You must cling to truth. There have always been godless voices, but I think we face some unique challenges today. Thanks to technology, we have access to soooo much information, and we can read and process it by ourselves. This is not necessarily a good thing. We need a community of the church to help us do this so that we don’t unintentionally begin to absorb ideas that will shipwreck our faith.

This is Paul’s final plea to Timothy. It’s the last thing to remember. This is a big deal. In the spirit of Paul’s admonition and my having a role similar to Timothy’s, I must offer this.

There is a recent book that has swept through a lot of Christian circles. As your pastor, I feel I must tell you that William Young’s The Shack full of distortions about God, sin, salvation, human nature, and eternity. [i] I understand that parts of the book are profoundly moving to many people, especially as it relates to processing why God allows pain and suffering. Yes, there are parts of The Shack that offer good things (a focus on the goodness of God, forgiveness, etc). But being moved is not the only thing that counts, and the good things are surrounded by bad theology.  Lest you think I am making too much of this, just hear me out.

In the forward to C. Baxter Kruger's book The Shack Revisited, Young wrote, "Please don't misunderstand me; The Shack is theology. But it is theology wrapped in story, the word becoming flesh and living inside the blood and bones of common human experience." It’s not just fiction; Paul Young is trying to change your theology. His recent book Lies We Believe About God makes his theology clear.

  • He denies the classic Christian teaching of human depravity. “Yes, we have crippled eyes, but not a core of un-goodness….blind, not depraved is our condition.”
  • He insists that God is not sovereign, but that he “submits rather than controls and joins us in the resulting mess of relationship…”
  • He believes in universalism. “God does not wait for my choice and then ‘save me.’ God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence. Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!”
  • He thinks the Cross was a mistake. “Who originated the Cross? If God did, then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine Wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner. Frankly, it is often this very cruel and monstrous god that the atheist refuses to acknowledge or grant credibility in any sense. And rightly so. Better no god at all, than this one. The alternative is that the Cross originated with us human beings. This deviant device is the iconic manifestation of our blind commitment to darkness. It is our ultimate desecration of the goodness and loving intent of God to create, an intent that is focused on the human creation. It is the ultimate fist raised against God.”
  • He says hell is in the presence of God. He quotes Romans 8:38-39 which says nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God. Therefore, hell cannot be a place where we are separated from God. Rather, Young says, hell is God. It is "the continuous and confrontational presence of fiery Love and Goodness and Freedom that intends to destroy every vestige of evil and darkness that prevents us from being fully free and fully alive."

That’s hard for me to write, because I know that book has been meaningful to many people, and because it has provided a means by which many people who feel like God is disant and uncaring are reminded that God is personal and near. Is it possible that God can draw people to himself through this book? Sure, but it will be in spite of much of its distorted theology, not because of it. There will need to be some corrective teaching so that the trajectory of distorted theology explored in The Shack will not lead to the blatantly false theology of Lies We Believe About God. 

So I have to say something, becaue Timothy’s challenge is my challenge. I cannot walk away from it. If we want to quest like Paul challenged Timothy, we must reject the voices that can potentially shipwreck our faith with bad theology, even if the means by which the message is presented moves us.

So I know what a quest is, and 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.”

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 in his ultimate quest is awesome.

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.[ii]

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. As we close this series, I want to close the same way Paul does, with a time of reflection and worship of the awesome God we serve.

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[i] Here are some recommended resources for The Shack (and Young’s latest, Lies We Believe About God).

JESUS CALLING is another popular book that is worth reconsidering, not so much because of its content but because of the precedent it sets about how God speaks to us.

[ii] I find it fascinating how Paul both borrowed from his culture in teh service of preching the gospel. In his address on Mars Hill he quotes several Greek poems and plays; Adam Clarke points out in his commentary that he believes Paul’s language here reflects a knowledge of his cultural contemporaries as well. Like he did on Mars Hill, Paul takes the language others used in praise of false gods and turns it to the True God. 

The Goal Of The Church (1 Timothy 1:1-7)

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 wandered 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 1:1-7, The Voice)

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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. But even when we know what something is for, we are very good at coming up with all kinds of ways to use things differently than the designer intended.

  • I remember telling Vince what the intended use of the family scissors was, but he soon realized it could also be used on the dog.
  • Sheila told him the purpose of having good clothes and run-around clothes….
  • Heads: You should think; you can run full speed into other people (football concussions)
  • Lungs: You should breathe; you can inhale substances

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?
  • Think of the tension in our culture as we disagree about what it means to be male/female, or masculine/feminine. We are disagreeing on fundamental questions of design and purpose.

It is important that we learn the purpose of a thing and then commit to fulfilling that purpose. So what is the purpose or the goal of the Church? According to Paul, the church exists to bring about the Kingdom of God, through faith, characterized by love.

At least three things stood out in Timothy’s church that undermined this goal. (I’m trying to summarize in a way that takes a particular situation and generalizes the principles. Plus, it’s not entirely clear what Paul meant by some of these, so there is some speculation involved).

  • Righteousness By Association. Genealogies were a big deal in ways we don’t understand. Herod tried to erase all record of his genealogy because he was ashamed of it; in doing this, he destroyed a lot of Jewish historical records. Apparently, the Jews were trying to reconstruct lost genealogies by finding 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, mainly because they wanted to be in the line of the anticipated Messiah – as if that somehow made them better. This is the group that in some fashion asks the question, “Do you know who I am?” with the assumption that if you only knew, you would know how important and valuable they are.
  • Religious Jet Set Fantasies. 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.[i]  Perhaps the Greek converts were trying to apply this kind of thinking to heaven. When Jesus gave the Beatitudes, the Greek word ‘blessed’ (makarios) had to do with ‘participating in the life of the gods’ – and Jesus made clear it’s not a jet set fantasy. The poor, the humble, the persecuted, the mourners – they all have a place in the Kingdom of God. Apparently, early preachers were replacing the reality of the kind of blessedness that comes with ‘taking up your cross’ with an early version of the health/wealth/prosperity Gospel. This is the group that in some fashion asked the question, “Do you see what I have?” as if cultural standards of health and wealth somehow translated into revealing that they are clearly good people. If you could only see how God has apparently blessed them with comfort and things, you would know how important and valuable they are.
  • Worshiping The Law. Apparently the Judaizers were returning to teaching that observance of the Law could save people – our righteousness, God’s favor, and our worth was earned by being a good person.  This is the group that in some fashion is asking the question, “Do you see what I do or don’t do?” with the assumption that if you only knew, you would know how important and valuable they are. In a church that taught that our attempts at self-earned righteousness was worthless, and God’s loving grace was the only thing that will justify and save us, this was ‘blabber’ and ‘nonsense’ that was causing confusion.  

This strikes me as revealing three ways in which people fight for acceptance, value or a sense of worth: family of origin, success by cultural standards of success, and a resume of good works. This can even become something we believe will help us gauge whether or not we have God’s attention or affirmation.

But what happens when your family of origin is lousy? What happens when you live paycheck to paycheck, or when health and comfort disappear? What happens when, despite your best efforts, you fail to do what you ought to do? If we have placed your hope and worth in those things, then our life crumbles. Our stability is gone. We try harder and harder to make those things bring our life meaning – and that leads to pride and judgment if we achieve it, or anger and bitterness if we don’t.

So how do we avoid this? How do we accomplish the goal or design for the church? We live IN FAITH and WITH LOVE when we surrender to Christ three crucial things.

  • A Pure Heart:The heart was regarded as the inward part of the person and the center of one's spiritual and thought life. The total inner life of the believer, cleansed from sin, could be depicted with the term pure heart” (biblegateway.com).  

Right away, we are relieved of the obligation to be good enough on our own power. We find stability in the positional purity that Jesus offers; that is, when we surrender our life and commit our self to Jesus, He purifies our heart. This is a supernatural work of God. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow…create in me a clean heart, O God.” Nothing we do contributes to this. Our dirty heart is made clean because God makes it clean. God moves us out of spiritual darkness and places or positions us into the light of righteousness.  Our positional purity as a Christian never wavers even when we sin, because it was never about us being good enough. It was about Jesus being good enough.

Our family, success or moral strength do not place us here. There is no room to boast and no need to despair. God does the heavy lifting.

  • A Clear Conscience: [ii] A pure heart had to do with our interior life; a clear conscience reminds us that our actions need to align with a pure heart. This is a part of what we call conditional purity. We can make choices that either encourage or undermine the new purity God has given us. 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? 

“The conscience is that part or faculty of the mind that gives awareness of the standing of one's conduct as measured against an accepted standard.” (biblegateway.com)

I may say that I love my wife, but if I constantly mistreat her or betray her with my words or actions, 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 positionally pure heart is meant to lead to conditionally pure actions that result in a 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 Christ at work in us. None of us are perfect – there’s a reason the church must model repentance, grace and forgiveness – but the more we are committed to living in a way that our conscience remains clear, the more we make the beauty of the Kingdom of God tangible.

  • Genuine Faith: This has to do with what we believe. It’s about  embracing the fundamentals of Christian doctrine – particularly, the person and work of Jesus. We need to increasingly understand “the reason for the hope that lies within in us.” [iii]  We don’t all need to be Bible scholars or answer all manner of obscure question, but we need to be committed to “rightly dividing the word of truth.”

A pure heart and a clear conscience are built on the person and work of Christ, and it’s in the Bible that God has revealed what we need to know in this area.  

God promises that the Holy Spirit will work in those who have committed to following Jesus, but we are tasked with knowing Scripture so that we can know more about Jesus: studying, listening, talking with other Christians, praying, etc. Look at any other area of life: if you want to become knowledgeable, you must do the hard work that leads to knowledge. God will help to turn your knowledge into wisdom, but knowledge doesn’t occur magically. We ‘study to show ourselves approved unto God” even as “he who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.”

We live in a culture that is increasingly dismissive or hostile toward Christianity. Some of it is unfair; a lot of it is because the world is having a difficult time seeing pure hearts, clear consciences, and genuine faith. That’s a call to revival. Perhaps more than ever, it is important that the church as a body fulfill God’s design and purpose for his representatives on earth.

The church is meant to be a place where being in the family of Christ is far more important than the family from which you came; where spiritual blessings like a pure heart are far more important than material wealth and comfort; where a clear conscience motivated by a pure heart characterizes our community; where God is worshipped not only in spirit, but in truth.

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[i] “As the term is used in the New Testament (always in the plural--1 Tim 4:7; 2 Tim 4:4; Tit 1:14; 2 Pet 1:16), myths is consistently a pejorative and polemical classification. It classifies material not simply as untrue or legendary but as pernicious in its (or its author's) purpose to justify immoral or improper behavior on the basis of a divine or traditional pattern.”– commentary from Biblegateway.  In the case of the early church, I suspect  they brought in the idea of ‘blessedness’ from the Greek ideals and tried to apply them to what God must be like, and to what God had in store for them in this life (and perhaps the next).

[ii] “The concept of individuality bred into us in the West was foreign to Paul's culture. Conscience tends to function individualistically in us to produce feelings of guilt. For Paul and the ancient Mediterranean culture in general, conscience was the internal judgment of one's actions by that one's group--"pain one feels because others consider one's actions inappropriate and dishonorable" (Malina 1981:70). Honor and shame, rather than guilt, were the operative feelings. Therefore, Paul's readers would perceive the conscience as sending internal signals evaluating the rightness or wrongness of behavior (past, present or future) as a member of a group.” – commentary from Biblegateway

[iii] “Heresy in reference to a doctrine denotes one "that was sufficiently intolerable to destroy the unity of the Christian church. In the early church, heresy did not refer to simply any doctrinal disagreement, but to something that seemed to undercut the very basis for Christian existence" (Brown 1984:2)…doctrines pertaining to God and Christ and the nature of salvation and justification, because the very substance of the gospel message and the salvation that rests on it lies in these things. Teachings that tend to characterize and distinguish the various Christian denominations (views about baptism, Communion, church government, gifts of the Holy Spirit and the role of women in ministry, among others) may certainly be held to with passion, but the differences here derive mainly from biblical passages capable of more than one reasonable explanation. The term heresy is not appropriate in this latter context. As Paul saw it, heresy posed a dual threat. It endangered the church and individuals who would be drawn into error, perhaps beyond the reach of salvation. It threatened the church's evangelistic mission in the world, by contaminating the gospel.”  - commentary from Biblegateway