March 11, 2020
Rev. Dr. Ralph Steed
Scripture: 1 Timothy 1:1-11
Summary: Three reasons why accurate beliefs are essential to a deepened life with God.
Do you know what makes a tumbleweed so susceptible to the wind? Tumbleweeds only put down one root, and that root is very shallow. So tumbleweeds are easily uprooted when the wind blows. Soon the tumbleweed is blowing wherever the wind pushes it, without any sense of direction or stability.
Contrast a tumbleweed with a tree, like a sequoia, that puts down lots of roots and these roots go deep. Even in the midst of strong winds, sequoias stand firm, because their root structure is strong and deep.
Is your spiritual life more like a tumbleweed or a sequoia? If you only have one or two roots in your spiritual life and these roots don’t go very deep, you’re more like a tumbleweed. And when the winds of life come, the winds of suffering and tragedy, or the breeze of business and routine, you’ll be easily uprooted. But if you have deep spiritual roots, you’ll find yourself standing firm no matter what comes into your life. Even though life doesn’t hurt any less for you and even though you still struggle with the same questions and issues everyone asks, your faith keeps you strong. You face uncertainty with courage, suffering with hope, and tragedy with confidence because you roots go deep.
How deep are your roots?
Are you more like a tumbleweed or a sequoia?
New Testament books of 1 and 2 Timothy in the Bible. These two books from the Bible were written by the apostle Paul, the guy who wrote 13 of the 27 books found within the New Testament.
Paul had once been a fanatical religious zealot whose passion in life was to exterminate Christians. But one day on the road to the city of Damascus, Paul’s life changed forever. That day Jesus Christ himself appeared to Paul and Jesus called Paul to become an apostle of Jesus. Paul was never the same, as he became a leader in the first century Christian church, traveling around to start churches and share the good news of Jesus Christ with whoever would listen.
Paul writes these two letters of 1 and 2 Timothy to a coworker named Timothy. Timothy was raised in an interfaith home, with a mom who was Jewish and a dad who was a pagan Roman soldier. Timothy grew up in the city of Lystra, a kind of backwater village in outskirts of the Roman Empire. Paul first met Timothy when Timothy was in his late teens or early 20s on one of Paul’s church planting trip. Later Paul invited Timothy to join his team, and gradually Paul trusted several important tasks to Timothy. Now as Paul approaches the end of his life as he writes these final two letters before his death, Timothy is the heir apparent to Paul’s ministry.
Now Paul writes Timothy while Timothy is acting as a kind of temporary pastor in the church in the city of Ephesus. As we’ll see, Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to deal with some major problems that was destroying the church in the city of Ephesus. Paul started the church in Ephesus on one of his church planting trips. Ephesus was a large city in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. It was a major city, with its primary claim to fame being the temple to the Greek fertility god Artimus. This massive temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and tourists traveled from all over the Roman Empire to see the temple and buy souvenirs.
Paul wrote a letter to the Ephesians that we have in the Bible as the book of Ephesians. But these two letters Paul writes to Timothy are also letters to the Ephesians church. As we’ll see, Paul expects the church to read these letters as well as Timothy.
Now these two letters are going to show us how to deepen our life with God. They’re going to help us move away from having a tumbleweed spiritual life to a sequoia spiritual life.
These two letters are going to present us with three roots we need deepen for a deep life with God.
One root we’ll see again and again in these two letters is the root of accurate beliefs. Accurate beliefs about God, about our world, and about ourselves are essential to putting down deep spiritual roots.
If we have inaccurate beliefs about God, we’ll find ourselves like that tumbleweed.
As a church we try to focus on this area.
We need to develop accurate beliefs about God.
Accurate beliefs, according to 1 and 2 Timothy we also need spiritual practices.
Spiritual practices are those activities we engage in to nurture our relationship with God.
They’re practices like prayer, Bible study, confession of our sins, solitude, silence, and sharing our faith.
If we’re not engaging in spiritual practices, we’ll be like tumbleweeds.
Finally, in addition to accurate beliefs and spiritual practices, we also need Christian community to deepen our life with God.
It’s hard to have Christian community when you look at the back of another person’s head for an hour.
I’m talking about authentic relationships, the kind of friendships that happen in our groups ministry, Women Fellowship, Men ministry, Choirs, youth ministry, Ushers ministry, and Evangelistic ministry just to name a few.
This is why our ministries are so vital at New Hope Baptist Church, because it’s a place to develop authentic Christian community.
The more involved we are in Christian community, the deeper our roots will go.
These two letters of Paul to Timothy present us with these three roots to deepen our life with God.
Tonight as we start our series we’re going to look at why accurate beliefs are so important to a deepened life with God.
We’re going to find three reasons why accurate beliefs are important to putting down spiritual roots.
- Involving Us (1 Tim 1:1-4)
Let me just give you the first reason: Accurate beliefs deepen our life with God by involving us with God’s plan.
This letter begins in a typical fashion, with Paul naming himself as the sender and naming Timothy as the addressee.
Paul reminds his reader that he’s an apostle of Jesus, chosen directly by God himself.
Here we also learn why Paul has his young protégé Timothy staying in Ephesus.
Apparently some people in the Ephesians church are teaching false ideas about God.
Some five years earlier, Paul had a special meeting with all the elders of the church in Ephesus, and he warned them at that time that he feared some of the elders would fall away and become false teachers. Apparently Paul’s fear had come to pass.
Now the Greek word translated "work" in v. 4 is the key word to this section, and it’s not the usual Greek word for "work" in the New Testament.
The word Paul uses here refers to "a plan which involves a set of arrangements".
The Greek word Paul uses here is related to our English word economy. It refers to a "master plan" or "strategic plan." Here it refers to God’s master plan.
Accurate beliefs involve us in this master plan of God, while inaccurate beliefs distract us from it.
Now what exactly is God’s master plan for our world? I think our church mission statement (VISA) Vision, Integrity, Structure, and Accountability best expresses our church’s belief about God’s master plan for our world.
"We believe God has called us to reach unchurched people throughout the world with Christ’s love, and to help these people grow into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ who wholeheartedly love God and others"
God’s strategic plan involves reaching people who don’t yet know Jesus Christ. These are the unchurched people in our own communities, those who haven’t yet discovered a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. But it also includes those who don’t yet know Christ in other places in the world, places where we send missionary support.
When we live by this mission statement in our own community it causes our congregation to grow larger, as more and more people discover this relationship with Jesus through our ministry in this community.
But this master plan also involves growth into spiritual maturity.
We’re also concerned with helping people who are already Christians grow in their devotion to Jesus. This is what causes our congregation to grow deeper, as we develop accurate beliefs, spiritual practices, and authentic Christian community.
Accurate beliefs involve us in this process of reaching out to lost people and helping each other grow into full devotion to Jesus.
Inaccurate beliefs distract us from this master plan, focusing our attention instead of controversies that can’t be solved.
- Empowering Us (1 Timothy 1:5)
Let me give you the second reason: Accurate beliefs deepen our life with God by empowering us to love people.
Look at v. 5. Paul states his purpose for giving Timothy this command to silence false teachers. Although this command to silence false teachers is going to be a difficult one to accomplish Paul’s aim is to produce love rather than controversy, reconciliation rather than strife. By extension we can conclude that this is really the goal of all Christian instruction. The goal of all Christian instruction is to empower us as followers of Jesus Christ to truly love other people.
Where does this kind of love come from? It comes from "a pure heart."
In the Bible, your heart is your inner person, who you are on the inside.
A "pure heart" describes a heart that’s being continually cleansed and transformed by God.
It’s not talking about a heart that’s never been dirty, but it’s a dirty heart that’s being cleansed by God through Jesus Christ.
All of our hearts need continual and ongoing cleansing from sin, and Christ’s death on the cross provides for this cleansing.
Hearts that aren’t cleansed by Jesus Christ can’t love with the kind of love Paul is speaking of here.
This kind of love also comes from "a good conscience."
This isn’t talking about feeling good about our past actions, but it’s talking about a conscience that leads us to do good today.
A good conscience is a moral sensitivity that shows us what’s right and wrong today.
It’s a moral compass that’s aligned with the true north of God’s own standards for right and wrong.
If we don’t have an accurate moral compass, we can’t love people the way God wants us to.
This kind of love also comes from "a sincere faith."
This refers to an authentic trust in God, a trust in God that’s not just religious showboating.
It’s a trust in God that comes from the heart, a trust that’s willing to trust the results of our love to God.
If we can’t trust God from our hearts, we’ll have great difficulty loving people.
Apparently the false teachings circulating in the Ephesians church weren’t leading to love. These destructive doctrines were causing pure hearts to become defiled, good consciences to become confused, and sincere faith to erode. But accurate beliefs will empower us to love others.
Sometimes people say, "The Christian faith isn’t so much about believing certain things as much as it’s about loving people."
Many people in our world today think it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re loving.
And if you’re loving, you’re a Christian, regardless of what you believe.
But the teaching of the Bible is that because of human sin, we’re incapable of loving the way we should.
So God demonstrates his own incredible love by sending his own Son Jesus Christ.
In Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we see real love in action.
And when we trust in what Jesus accomplished on the cross, this belief empowers us to love others the way God loves.
So there’s a direct connection between our beliefs and our capacity to truly love those around us.
- Focusing Us (1 Timothy 1:6-11)
Let me give you the final reason we’re going to talk about: Accurate beliefs deepen our life with God by focusing us on the message about Jesus Christ.
Look at vv. 6-11.
Paul reminds us that the Old Testament law of Moses found in the ten commandments is only valuable if it’s used properly.
If we don’t use the law in accordance with God’s purpose for the law, we’ll find ourselves using it wrongly.
When we use God’s law wrongly, it’s no longer a force of good in our lives.
God’s law is like a medicine prescribed by our doctor. If we use the medicine the way it’s prescribed, it will make us feel better.
But if we abuse the medication or use it in ways not prescribed, it will make us even sicker.
Paul tells us that God’s law is very good at pointing out what sin is, but God never intended the Ten Commandments to be a way to set us free from sin.
Paul lists all kinds of sins here, and the sins he lists roughly correspond to the Ten Commandments.
The first four of the Ten Commandments deal with our love for God:
No other gods, no idols, not taking God’s name in vain, and keeping the Sabbath holy.
All of these commands deal with the vertical dimension of our spiritual life, they all have to do with our attitude and actions toward God.
The words "ungodly and sinful, unholy and irreligious" all deal with sin directed toward God.
Then the last half of v. 9 and all of v. 10 deal with sins against other people, and these sins correspond to the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments.
This is the horizontal dimension of our spiritual life, how we treat each other as a reflection of our devotion to God.
God’s law is God’s prescription to show us that these kinds of activities are morally wrong.
But God’s law is powerless to bring about the spiritual and moral transformation we need to be delivered from these kinds of sins.
For that we need what vv. 10-11 call the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel.
The phrase "sound doctrine" here uses a medical word to convey the idea of beliefs and teaching that promote spiritual health.
While wrong beliefs and false doctrine produces spiritual sickness, true beliefs and sound doctrine produces spiritual health in our lives.
And the criteria for what counts as sound doctrine is the gospel.
That word "gospel" simply refers to the message about Jesus Christ, the good news that Jesus came to live a perfect life, die on the cross for our sins, and rise from the grave to conquer death.
Throughout the New Testament, God’s gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ and what Jesus accomplished for us.
You see, for the Christian, the gospel ought to be the criteria for evaluating every belief we have.
We look at life through the lens of the gospel to come to beliefs that are sound and produce spiritual health in our lives.
While many of the religious people back when Paul wrote these words looked at the Ten Commandments in this way, Paul tells young Timothy that this presses the law into a role God never intended for the law. Instead of looking at life through the lens of the Ten Commandments, God wants us to look through the lens of the gospel.
This emphasis on the gospel is what makes New Hope Baptist Church an missionary church. We’re a church that focuses on this good news, this message about Jesus’ death and resurrection. We want to share this message with others, we celebrate it each month by taking communion. We listen to stories about how this message has changed people’s lives at our baptisms and when new members join our church.
We learn here that accurate beliefs are powerful indeed.
Accurate beliefs are essential to a deepened life with God because they involve us in God’s work, they empower us to love people, and they focus on the message of Jesus Christ.
Inaccurate beliefs distract us from God’s work, hinder our ability to love people, and focus on things other than the gospel.
Helping you develop accurate beliefs is what this church is all about. Our hope and prayer is that as you come each Saturday or Sunday with your family you’re on a journey of developing accurate beliefs about God, about yourself, and about our world. It’s my prayer that as we journey together in this process of developing accurate beliefs, God will use our congregation in amazing ways. Then we’ll put down deep roots, roots that can withstand the winds of change and fear, roots that are strong enough to sustain us even in times of war, roots that go deep into the heart of God himself.