Pastor Jim's past sermons:
He is Writing About All of Us
Sunday, October 6, 2019
Isaiah 42: 5-9
I Timothy 3: 1-16
Links to past sermons can be found at the bottom of this page.
When I was in grade school and report cards would come out, I always got high marks for my behavior. I wish I could say the same thing for my academics, but that story is for another time. As I was saying, report cards would come out and the teachers would put little comments in the margins, things like, “James is well behaved.” “He always raises his hand.” “James is polite.” “He is a pleasure to have in class.” The same couldn’t be said for all of my classmates. Every year, there was always one or two who would act up and get into trouble from time to time. When that happened, the teacher would stop everything and talk to us. The teacher would talk to us about our behavior and she would talk to the entire class even though we all knew that she was really talking to the one or two that were acting up. In those moments it was nice to sit back and chuckle. A few of us would look at each other as if to say, “She’s not talking about us.”
This morning, we come to the third chapter of Paul’s letter to Timothy and it would be easy for most of us to just sort of sit back and chuckle, thinking to ourselves, “He’s not talking to me.” We know that Paul is writing to the pastor’s and the elders of the church, though he is using different words like, overseers and deacons. Like the teacher who addresses the whole class but is speaking to just one or two, Paul appears to be addressing the whole church, but just speaking to the handful that are the leaders of the church. It would be easy for us to hear these words from chapter three and think, “I’m not the pastor. I’m not serving on the session right now. I’m not a leader. Therefore, these words must not be for me.” It would be easy for us to think this way, but we would be wrong. We hear these words of Paul and we recognize that he is singling out the leaders of this church, telling them how they are supposed to be living out their Christian lives. Paul tells them that they need to be “above reproach, respectable, not violent but gentle.” They must not be lovers of money, nor should they pursue dishonest gain. These leaders are to live lives “worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, but trustworthy in everything.” Again, those of us who are currently not leaders in the church, hear these words and think, “I sure am glad that Paul is not talking about me.” Those leaders need to mind their P’s and Q’s but the rest of us can just sit back and relax. Over the generations of church life, we have come to accept that there are two standards in the church in terms of how we are to live out our Christian lives. There is the standard that applies to everyone in the church, leader or lay person alike, things like love God and love your neighbor as yourself. But, then there is the standard that applies to leaders in the church, things like self-controlled, temperate, not given to drunkenness, holders of the truth with a clear conscience. This standard that applies to leaders in the church, of course, is a higher standard. After all, if you are going to be a leader in the church, then you have to live by a higher standard. “I sure am glad Paul is not talking about me.” Or, is he? Even though Paul is singling out the leaders of the early church, he is not doing so in order to lay upon their shoulders a higher standard than everybody else in the church. By the way leaders, don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. You see, for Paul, there is only one standard and it is a high standard, and it applies to everyone in the church. So, why is Paul singling out the leadership? Because, he knows that they are the ones who are most likely to be noticed for whether or not they live up to, our not up to, the high standard of Christian living. We all know that we are sinners, right? Chances are if you commit a sin, it probably is not going to make the front page of the paper, and if it does, it probably will not be because you are a Christian and a church member. It will simply be because of the nature of the offense. But, if the pastor commits a sin, it might just make the front page and it will certainly be pointed out that it was a pastor who was caught doing the wrong thing. If a church leader is caught doing the wrong thing, it gets notice, not because that leader is being held to a higher standard, we are all held to a high standard, it is simply because that leader is in a position of being noticed. Those of us who are not leaders in the church do not get to sit back, when we hear these words from Paul, and think, “I sure am glad he is not talking about me.” Paul is writing to all of us, leader and lay person alike. He is holding all of us to a high standard of Christian living. Why? Because, Paul’s primary concern is the witness of the church to the larger world. It isn’t hard to see that over the last several years, the witness of the church has taken a real beating. There have been numerous scandals in the media that have devastated parts of the church. There has been so much energy devoted to fighting each other within the church over politically sensitive issues, brothers and sisters of faith condemning each other over their disagreements. And, all the while, the world is noticing. The world is noticing and turning a deaf ear to the witness of the church. And, this is what concerns Paul. Paul knows that the church is the people of God. Paul knows that the church is a light shining in the darkness of the world around us. Paul remembers the words that God spoke through Isaiah, who wrote, “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant people and a light for the Gentiles.” Paul knows that the church is a signpost pointing people to Christ and to the salvation that is available in Christ. Or, at least, the church is supposed to be the people of God. The church is supposed to be the light shining in the darkness. The church is supposed to be the signpost pointing to Christ. The problem is that our light is growing dim, our signpost is fading. Those who do statistical studies tell us that the largest growing segment of the population is a group of people called the “nonnes,” which is short for “the non-affiliated.” These are people who still retain a belief in God, but they want no affiliation with the church, which means that their belief in God is not necessarily shaped by God’s revelation in Christ. This is what concerns Paul. This is why he wrote this chapter. Paul says, “If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. In other words, Paul is saying, “Where else are people truly going to come to know about God, especially as God is revealed to us in Christ.” Paul wrote that we have been given the mystery of all godliness, in other words, the good news of God in Jesus Christ. Paul writes, about Christ, that “He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, (a reference to the resurrection), was preached among the nations, we believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” Here is something that we may not think about as we read these words of Paul. The standard of Christian living that Paul wants us to live up to, is really a standard for all people of the world. But, the rest of the world is not going to see how to live up to that standard, until it sees the church living up to that standard, both leader and lay person alike. As Paul writes these words, highlighting the standards of Christian living, I hope that we can all, leader and lay person alike, we can all see in these words an invitation to be in conversation with God, to ask God’s Spirit to help us see where we are living up to this standard and where we are falling short. Then as we recognize where we fall short, we can pray for the strength to rise up. It is a needed conversation, not just for the sake of the church, but for the sake of the world. In this third chapter of I Timothy, Paul may be singling out the leadership of the early church, but his words are for everyone in the church. Paul does not envision two standards of Christian living. Instead, he sees one high standard for all of us. After all, we are the people of God. We are the light shining in the darkness. We are the signpost pointing the way to Christ.