Understanding who We Are

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 14/Proper 19
SCRIPTURE: Luke 15: 1-7 and 1 Timothy 1: 12-17
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
1 Timothy 1: 15 (NIV)

THE PASTORAL EPISTLES

Over the next three weeks, we are going to be looking at selected passages from the book of 1 Timothy. So I’d like to give you a bit of background because context is important. As I have said so many times, the Bible was not written to 21st century North Americans. I was written to Mediterranean peoples who lived 2,000 years ago who saw things very differently than do we. It still speaks to us but, to properly understand it, we have to understand the context so that we can see it through their eyes.

1 Timothy is grouped in the Bible with two other books: 2 Timothy and Titus. Together these three books form what are called the pastoral epistles. “What’s an epistle?” you might ask. It’s simply a letter written by one person to another. In this case, all three letters were written by Paul. 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy were written to Timothy and Titus was written to Titus. That’s easy enough.

But why are they called pastoral epistles? It’s because they are addressed to individuals who are positions of pastoral leadership in their churches and they discuss issues of Christian living, doctrine and leadership. That’s what is unique about these three letters. When you look in the New Testament, you will see that most of Paul’s letters were not written to individuals but to specific congregations. They were written to the Romans or the Corinthians, the Galatians or the Ephesians, and so forth. But these pastoral letters were written to individuals in the local churches – the pastors if you will – specifically Timothy and Titus. Paul offers advice to these pastoral leaders about how to deal with the congregations that they served. In 1 Timothy, Paul gives advice on worship, how to appoint deacons and overseer, the importance of a good marriage and physical exercise, advice about widows, elders and servants and, of course, the temptation of the love of money. There is all kinds of great advice for church leaders in these pastoral epistles.

Just as one more piece of background information, you might wonder who this Timothy character is. Timothy is actually referenced quite often in the New Testament, certainly more than most people. We first meet him in Acts 16 when Paul and Barnabas met him in the city of Lystra. When they met him, he was already a believer. It says that his mother was Jewish and his father was Greek. Timothy’s mother’s name was Eunice and his grandmother was Lois. Both of these women were known for their piety and devotion which they clearly passed on to Timothy. Although he was still a very young man, all of the Church leaders in Lystra spoke so well of him that Paul and Barnabas invited him to join them on their travels, which he did.

Timothy ended up spending much time with Paul who, I think, looked upon his as a son as much as a traveling companion. During their time together, Paul mentored Timothy in the faith and developed him into a leader in the early Church. The Bible doesn’t record this but other historical documents say that Timothy eventually became the bishop of Ephesus, bishop in this case simply meaning the head leader in the church in that city. It is possible that Paul wrote these epistles to Timothy in his role as the leader of the Ephesian church.

In the particular passage that we’re reading this morning Paul teaches Timothy something about the character of a good church leader. And that’s important for us to understand because, like any organization, we have leaders in this church. In fact, we have some great leaders. But you might be thinking, “This so doesn’t apply to me because I’m not a leader.” But you are. None of us are leaders all of the time. But all of us are called to leadership some of the time.

There are some obvious leaders in our church. Clearly those Church Board members take on a degree of leadership. We have people who are involved in music leadership and Christian education leadership. We have praise leaders and presiders who lead in worship. Some of you lead small groups and Bible studies. Speaking of that, Sunday School teachers and nursery workers take on leadership roles. We have committee chairs and people who take responsibility for certain things around the church. Even during the turkey supper, we have captains who take responsibility for certain areas. And I know I’m missing all sorts of other leaders as well.

The key point, however, is that no matter whether you have large or small leadership responsibilities, Paul’s words in 1 Timothy speak to all of us because leadership is leadership whether you’re the lead pastor or directing people where to sit at the turkey supper. The same qualities need to be exhibited by everyone.

 So let’s find out what the Bible says about leaders in the Church.

WHO PAUL IS

Paul’s words begin in 1 Timothy 1:12 (NIV) by talking about who he is: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.”

Who is Paul? He is someone whom Jesus Christ has called. In fact, he himself is a leader of the Church. He has been appointed into the service of Christ. Paul considers this to be great honour. He says that God has given him strength and considered him trustworthy to take on this task.

I want to note that Paul doesn’t seem to be the least bit haughty or arrogant about this. The way it’s worded, it’s as though Paul is genuinely surprised that God has done this. If we read a bit between the lines, it’s like Paul is saying, “You picked me? Of all the people you could have called to do this, you called me.” He is genuinely humbled that God would call him because he is keenly aware of who unworthy he is.

But here’s our reality. We aren’t so different from Paul. God calls all kinds of people to positions of leadership in the Church. And that is just as true of pastors and clergy as it is of lay leaders. We are blessed in this congregation to have good leadership. We are trying to move forward and be creative about how we reach out to our community and minister to the people around us.

But are any of us worthy to be in positions of leadership? No, we aren’t. And that’s good because God doesn’t need proud leaders. Proud leaders tend to think that they’re always right which means that they have trouble listening to what others have to say. And do you know that one of the key characteristics of a good leader is someone who is able to listen? People who don’t listen get stuck in their own thoughts. People who don’t listen miss important information. People who don’t listen are less open to new possibilities. That’s a problem for anyone but particularly for someone in a position of leadership.

Here’s the other problem. If people have trouble hearing what other people have to say, they probably have trouble hearing what God has to say too. If we want to move forward in ministry, it is absolutely essential that we be able to listen for God’s voice. But proud people who think they are always right have a whole lot of trouble doing that.

Here’s the bottom line. Paul knows that he isn’t worthy but that’s okay because God doesn’t call people because they are worthy. He calls them because they are willing. Did you get that? God doesn’t call us because we are worthy. He calls us because we are willing and open to his Spirit. That’s who Paul is and that is who Paul encourages Timothy to be.

WHO PAUL USED TO BE

Paul is genuinely surprised that God called him to be a servant of the Gospel. Why is this? Because he is well aware of who he used to be. For those who may not know about Paul’s history, he was not always known as Paul. Earlier on in his life he was known as Saul. Saul was a very different man than Paul. Saul was not the humble servant of God. He was, rather, an arrogant and proud persecutor of the Church. He was good at rounding up Christians and having them beaten or imprisoned. In Acts 7 when Stephen was stoned to death for being a Christ follower, Saul held the coats of those who stoned him.

But then in Acts 9, when Paul was travelling to Damascus to hunt down the Christians there, the Risen Lord appeared to him and struck him blind. Saul’s friends took him the rest of the way to Damascus where he met a man named Ananias who witnessed to him about the truth of the Gospel of Christ. Saul believed. Upon coming to Christ, his sight returned and he was baptized. And then Saul took on a new name to indicate that he was a new person – no longer Saul but Paul.

It is this story that John Newton had in mind when he wrote the first verse of that famous hymn: “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Paul remembers how God transformed his life in 1 Timothy 1:13-14 (NIV) where he writes: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is humbled that God would call him to be a servant of the Gospel. He is even more humbled because he recognizes the depth from which he has come. God took him from being a key persecutor of the Church to being the most important Christian evangelist of all time. We can’t over-emphasize the importance of Paul to the Church. Jesus gave us the message but it was Paul who spread it throughout the Middle East, Asia Minor and Europe. In fact, when you look at lists of the most important historical figures of all time we always find Jesus. But Paul is also often in the top ten as well.

It really is incredible – and a good lesson for us – that God showed such mercy to Paul. He admits that he was blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man. But he also admits that he acted with ignorance and unbelief. But by grace, God transformed him from Saul to Paul and filled him with faith and love.

That is so key for any Church leader. We have to understand that what we do is only by the grace of God. On our own, we can’t run the Church. We can’t build the Church. We can’t grow the Church. But when God fills us with his grace and love, when the Spirit opens our eyes to his transforming power, then all kinds of possibilities for ministry open up to us.

Paul never got stuck dwelling on his past mistakes. He saw what God had done in his life, how he had transformed him and that was a reminder of what God’s love and grace can do in the lives of people who God calls to be leaders in the Church.

JESUS’ MISSIONS

As a leader, Paul was also clear about his message. He restates it in 1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV): “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” What is his ministry about? In fact, what is the ministry of the whole Church about? It is about this message of salvation through Christ. Jesus was born on the earth and walked among us to teach us how to live. He died on the cross, the perfect sacrifice, to pay the price of the sins of all humanity for all time and he rose again on the third day to break the powers of sin and the gates of hell so that all who put their faith in Jesus Christ will be forgiven and live with him forever in God’s eternal kingdom.

That’s the message. It was the message then. It is the message now. All that has changed between then and now is how we apply it in our world, how we live it in our daily lives.

WHO WE OUGHT TO BE

So how do we live it out? That’s what Paul get to next in 1 Timothy 1:16 (NIV): “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” So how do we live out that faith in our daily lives? As leaders, we are called to be like Jesus who showed patience. Not only did he display patience, he showed immense patience. That’s what we are called to do.

To be honest, that’s something that I struggle with. I’m very much a goal oriented person and I like things to get done. I don’t like them to linger. Once a decision has been made, I want to push ahead. And sometimes that’s good but sometimes it’s not.

Sometimes, it just seems to me that it takes forever to get somethings done. For example, it was back in 2016 that we first started talking about a prayer garden in our side yard to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this congregation. But then there were hold ups after hold ups. We could not find a designer although two designer said they would do it. And one delay led to another delay. It’s been three years getting it done but we’re finally to the point where we are going to do the planting in two weeks.

And do you know something, if we had done things quickly three years ago, we would not have near the garden that we going to have now because the funds from the town would not have been available and we did not have the connections with people who have done much of the work and design free of charge. Over the past three years, there have been times when I was pretty frustrated with the whole thing but looking back it, I see that God knew what he was doing even if I did not. It’s another reason to have patience, of as Paul wrote, immense patience.

There’s an old saying that patience is a virtue. I think that’s true and we as Church leaders are wise to exercise patience. Sometimes it takes time to bring people along with new ideas. Sometimes being patient means that new information comes to light and we realize that we have perhaps made the wrong decision. And sometimes, we have really good ideas but the timings are all wrong and we really do need to learn to wait on God’s timing and not push our own. Leaders need to be patient.

WHO GOD IS

Paul has written about who he is, a servant of Christ. He has written about who he was, a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man. He has told Timothy who he should be, a man who displays immense patience in his life. Last but not least, he talks about God.

He ends this passage with 1 Timothy 1:17 (NIV) which says, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” We can all say, “Amen,” to that but it’s an important verse even if it states the obvious. Who is God? God is the King, the ruler of all creation. He is immortal because unlike creation he always existed and always will. He is invisible because his glory is more than the human eye can take in. And he is the only God. There is only one God, one true God. All others are imposters, substitutes, false. That’s who God is. And to that God, we need to give all the honour and glory for ever and ever.

The purpose of this verse is to remind all of us that everything begins and ends with God. Apart from him, there would be no Church. Apart from him there would be no mission and no ministry. Apart from him, we who are in positions of Church leadership would have nothing to lead. And so we need to put him first in our lives. And that’s not only true in the ministry of the Church. It is also true in our daily lives.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

We have so much, O God, for which to be thankful. There are the birds and the trees. There are the rains to refresh the earth and cool autumn breezes. We have food and shelter, health care and security. We thank you for our families: our spouses and children, parents and grandparents. We give thanks for friends and neighbours who support us and care for us, sharing their gifts and gardens. We praise you for sunlight shining through stained glass windows and stars that guide our way through the night.

We offer our thanks for parents who have the faith to bring their children to our Sunday School. Thank you for young voices and dedicated teachers. Give parents the courage to follow your will and fulfill your purposes that they may be faithful examples of what it means to be a Christ follower.

We thank you for the worship leaders of our congregation who work so hard to make our worship worthwhile. We thank you for Lou-Anne and Heidi, the Choir, the Worship Teams, for presiders, readers and ushers and the others who have their own special roles. Thank you for creativity and commitment. Bless our efforts and energize our spirits.

We pray for our nation as we are in the midst of a federal election. We mourn all of the negativity that it brings and all of the hateful comments and misleading and false information. We pray for leaders who will share a vision rather than sling mud and for an electorate that is wise and discerning enough to know the difference.

We pray for the sick at home or in hospital. Our prayers go out for Shad, Sharon, Jacqui and Mary, that you would grant them healing and wholeness in their time of need. Bless also their family and friends as they support both them and one another through what could be a stressful time.

Finally, O God, help us to remember that there is a purpose and calling for our lives. Thank you that you have created us with a unique skills, talents, experiences and abilities. Help us to faithfully fulfill all that you have planned for our lives. We pray in Jesus’ name.

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