Takeaways from 1 Timothy

This summer was my first summer being a lead pastor. In many ways I’ve felt prepared for the task because of my previous experience and education, but in so many other ways I’ve felt overwhelmed and unsure of myself. We’re in the middle of numerous opportunities as a church. The future is bright but the journey is long. So, when it came time to choose our first series together, I chose to study 1 Timothy.

Timothy was a young pastor like me who needed 1) encouragement to lead boldly and 2) instructions to lead wisely. Paul gives him both in the letter.

But 1 Timothy isn’t just a book for young pastors; it’s also a book for churches. Any church that wants to pursue health and maturity must consider 1 Timothy. Especially a young church like ours.

So, after a summer of being in 1 Timothy together and learning to navigate life as a young pastor, I thought it’d be helpful to reflect on some takeaways from the summer.

1. The church is God’s house // God lives with his people, and when the people of God gather locally, that’s the church. So, God lives in the church. The church is God’s house, his family, his home. God cares how the church conducts itself because people will form their opinion about him based on their experience with us. So, the church matters!

2. The church is a foundation of truth // The church ensures the message of Jesus does not collapse under the weight of false teaching. We proclaim, explain, and defend the faith passed down to us from the apostles. This means that the church is something ancient and enduring, just like our God.

3. The church is a pillar of truth // Ephesus was known for the temple of Artemis, which was famous for its beautiful marble pillars. To call the church a pillar of truth means that the church not only props up truth, but does it beautifully. We proclaim, explain, and defend truth… but we do it compellingly, remarkably, and irresistibly so that all people might come to love the one who is truth— Jesus.

4. Strong preaching builds strong churches // Throughout the letter, Timothy is commanded to ‘teach, charge, instruct’. If the church is going to be all it can be as God’s house, then people need to learn and live the truth. The primary way this happens is through preaching. Strong preaching is preaching that is 1) clear, so that people can understand it; 2) practical, so that people can apply it to their normal lives; and 3) faithful, so that people learn from the Bible what God says and how God has arranged for their redemption.

5. Praying keeps a church centered on the gospel // God wants everyone to be saved, so Paul wants everyone to be prayed for. When we intentionally pray for all kinds of people, our demeanor becomes one that’s quiet and peaceful. This enlarges our gospel witness and warms our heart to gospel priorities. I want to be a church that intentionally prays for all kinds of people. This is why every Sunday our church prays together for people all over the world.

6. The church is led by elders // Most problems arise because of poor leadership. God’s design for the church is to be led by elders ( or pastors / overseers) with tremendous character and competency. Elders are responsible for 1) living a godly life, 2) teaching people how to walk in the ways of Jesus, 3) loving people sacrificially, and 4) protecting the church from various dangers. One of our most important tasks in the months ahead is establishing a wise team of elders.

7. The church is served by deacons // Deacons are people of character called by God to do three basic things — 1) meet practical needs of the church, 2) promote the unity of the church, and 3) support the teaching work of the elders. They can go by different names, but the bottom line is — we need people who are willing to organize our efforts to sweep, mop, scrub, count, drive, setup, teardown, host and serve… all with a smile.

8. Church leaders are accountable to church members // When a church leader refuses to turn from sin, the church should remove the leader. Unhealthy leaders are unqualified and unable to lead the church to be a pillar and foundation of truth.

9. Faith is something beautiful to be pursued // We live in a time when it’s cool and admirable to deconstruct your faith. Asking questions and wrestling with doubts should be free and encouraged in the church; but the goal is to wrestle doubts, not embrace them. The goal is to have reasons for faith, not endless questions. There is a spiritual enemy who wants to deceive us into thinking that questions are cool and answers are arrogant, and his lies can shipwreck our faith. But the truth is — faith should be pursued and fought for, because it is through faith that we’re saved and experience life that is truly life.

10. The church should be strategic in how we serve // Some people argue we should get back to the ways of the early church, supposing that in the early church everything was “organic and grassroots”. There weren’t any programs, systems, or structures. Everybody met in homes and ‘just loved’ each other. The problem is, from the very beginning the church met corporately, was organized, and had ministry programs with structure to make sure people were cared for effectively. This is clear from Paul’s instructions to Timothy about widows. Therefore, we need to be strategic and purposeful in our mercy ministries.

11. Rich theology is grounded in Jesus // Throughout the letter, Paul drops these sticky statements about who Jesus is and what Jesus accomplished. He says that good Old Testament teaching helps us see our sin and see our need for Jesus, “who came into the world to save sinners”. He says God “desires for all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, for there’s one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all”. He says that Jesus was “manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, and taken up in glory”. He says that Jesus is the Savior of all, that is, those who believe. He says that Jesus will appear again to judge the world. Holding “the faith” and proclaiming “the truth” means knowing, trusting, and walking in the ways of Jesus.

We want to be a church who pursues health and maturity by keeping our eyes on Jesus!

Why The Material World Matters

Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have. (Luke 24:39 CSB)

When Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb, God was eternally declaring his love for the physical world. God was not joining himself with humanity temporarily, but eternally. In other words, when Jesus became a man, He became one forever. For the rest of eternity He will be fully God and fully man.

As Christians, we can have a tendency to pit the spiritual and material against each other. 

Once I was in a small group when a guy said— My body is just a shell for my soul. My soul is what God really cares about.

People nodded. One girl said— Oh! I love the way you put that! — then wrote it in her journal.

The problem is, that’s not what the Bible actually teaches. God made the material world and called it “good”. He promised the Israelites a land with milk and honey. He entered a womb. He grew in stature. He fed people. He rose from the dead physically, with a glorious body. He promises His followers a glorious body like His. He will return someday to make a new earth.

See, for the Christian, we don’t believe that the spiritual is good and the material is unimportant. As Christians, things like temperature, lighting, music, flavor, smell, soft and hard… they matter! They’re real and important!

God loves and cares for the spiritual and material. 

And this has huge implications.

  • We ought to think carefully about how we relate to the environment. How should we treat plants and animals? How should we care for the sky, oceans, lakes, and rivers?
  • We ought to think carefully about how we construct our churches. What should the architecture be like? What should the space be like? What about the lighting? What about the music?
  • We ought to think carefully about how we treat our bodies. Are we caring for ourselves physically? Are we abstaining from sexual immorality?
  • We ought to think carefully about consumerism. How should we use our money? What kinds of homes should we build/buy? How many “toys” and how much “stuff” should we have?
  • We ought to think carefully about how we care for others’ material and spiritual needs. How can we effectively show people the gospel with our actions? How can we effectively tell people the gospel with our words? Both are important. The gospel must be heard in order to be believed, but the truthfulness of our words is validated by the love of our actions.

Christianity is a wonderfully wise, complex way of seeing the world. 

We can’t totally reject the material world and call it evil or unimportant, because God made it and entered it, permanently validating it. And yet we can’t only embrace the material world because it’s not all there is. There’s an unseen spiritual world that’s eternal and important.

In Jesus, both the spiritual and material come together marvelously. Heaven and earth, perfectly unified.

He Knows Our Way

Although my spirit is weak within me, you know my way. (Psalm 142:3 CSB)

As David wrote this Psalm, he was hiding in a cave, running for his life. His feelings were hurt. He was exhausted. He felt misunderstood and alone. The hero who had killed Goliath, the sexy, young, songwriting-warrior was crying in a cave. He was weak inside.

Our lives are a lot like David’s too, aren’t they? We have moments of triumph… moments where we come out on top. And yet, our lives are also full of sorrow, pain, and tears. We have broken families, lost loved ones, sickness and disease. We’ve had people wound us with their empty promises and hurtful words.

We all know what it’s like to be weak inside.

And the glory of Christianity is that God knows, too. He knows our way.

The Christian God is not a god so highly exalted above our world that he’s apathetic or aloof to our pain and suffering. He’s not an ignorant god sitting in his ivory tower, out of touch with the common man.

No. The Christian God knows our way. He’s on the streets. He gets you. He understands. He’s been there. He’s able to sympathize with your weakness. He’s strong, yet gentle. He’s otherworldly, yet close. He’s Immanuel— God with us.

In The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis illustrates this best. Digory, the main character, is worried about his mother who’s sick. He comes to Aslan, the Lion, with his concern. Here’s what happens—

“But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’ Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.”

When you find yourself with a weak spirit, do you look into the eyes of the God who knows your way?

At Christmas, God demonstrates that his tears over our pain are bigger than ours. But you don’t have to look up to see them. You can look down into the manger.

Obedience May Cost Your Reputation

Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:20b-21 CSB)

Joseph was a righteous man. He was engaged to a great girl. He had a great reputation in his community. People looked up to him, admired him, respected him.

Then Jesus showed up.

For Joseph, life with Jesus meant giving up his reputation. People would never believe his story. They’d either believe he had slept with Mary before they were married, or that he was too much of a pushover to cut things off with an unfaithful fiancé. Either way, he’d lost their respect. His reputation was damaged in the eyes of men even though he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

I think many times as American Evangelicals, we think this is our experience, too. We think that we are innocent of any wrongdoing and yet hated by the world because of our faith in Jesus.

This is not always true.

We have much to repent of. We have historically marginalized minorities. We have opposed political candidates for their sexual immorality if they were Democrats, yet defended them if they were Republicans. We have been arrogant and judgmental while supposedly heralding a message of grace and forgiveness. We’ve been quick to speak and slow to listen. And to make it worse, we’ve been afraid to admit that we’ve done these things.

The truth is, Jesus is the only truly innocent sufferer. Jesus was guilty of no wrongdoing, and yet He identified with us by becoming a man. He stepped into the waters of repentance at His baptism, associated with sinners enough to gain the nickname “friend of sinners”, and was unjustly condemned to death on a cross.

Jesus gave up his reputation in the eyes of men in order to please His Father in Heaven.

And why? Because he came to save his people from their sins.

Jesus made it possible in His life, death, and resurrection for us to be forgiven.

The church is at her best when we are humbly confessing our sins, pursuing holiness and justice, and gripping tightly to Jesus and His glorious grace.

That takes courage. And if that costs us our reputation in the eyes of men, then so be it.

The Gospel Is Supernatural

Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 CSB)

The virgin birth stands as a guard at the door of the gospel. It’s God’s gracious way of telling us that what follows is not normal. The story of Jesus will defy our rational minds. If we can’t get passed the virgin birth, how will we handle Jesus walking on water, healing the blind, casting out demons? What will we do with the resurrection and ascension?

The gospel is supernatural. There’s no way around that. 

When I first read this way of thinking in Macleod’s book The Person of Christ, where he briefly repackages some of Karl Barth’s teaching on the virgin birth, it was like a breath of fresh air to me.

I think we can feel a bit insecure about the supernatural claims of the Christian faith. We can feel pressure to make Christianity sound reasonable, to give people freedom to believe only the “essentials”… to boil Christianity down to some moral, helpful principles that will make our lives better and make the world a better place.

But the virgin birth won’t have it. It eliminates any chance we have of approaching Jesus on purely natural terms. It demands that we peek above the crowd in our naturalistic culture, doubt our doubts, and believe.

And this is actually compelling, not embarrassing.

Our supernatural gospel is skeptical of any person or group who claims to have all the answers— who claims that everything would be perfect if they were in charge— because our gospel proclaims that only God Himself knows just what to do.

Our supernatural gospel is skeptical of any person or group who claims that the world is doomed— who claims that we’ll never make progress and apathetically mocks the dreamers and reformers— because our gospel proclaims that God Himself entered our world to solve the problems.

Open-mindedness, humility, and the drive to improve our world are made possible by belief in the supernatural. We’re able to doubt our ideas and our perspectives, even partnering with people whom we disagree, because we believe that we’re finite. We’re also able to work diligently to improve our world because we believe that God Himself does the same and will finish the work someday.

This Christmas, let’s rejoice in the supernatural gospel, and cherish the mysteries of our Christian faith.