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A local church where the future shapes the present - 1 Timothy 6:11-21

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 11th April 2021.

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1 Tim 6 v 11-21 “A local church where the future shapes the present.”

Intro: Last year, after the first lockdown and before we started meeting together in the Beverley Barn, we spent some church money buying a new laptop computer that would help us to stream the services well so that as many people within the church family as possible could continue to sit under God’s word. We felt it was a good decision, a good use of money since the Covid restrictions looked to be around for a while (and so it proved to be.) I think though, that if I went to the elders now and said I wanted to spend a significant amount of money on a new camera to help with church in Covid, they might say to me “We are not convinced that is a good idea since the time left in the current situation seems so short (Let’s hope and pray so anyway!).” Not a good investment.

We humans try not to make a habit of investing ourselves or our resources in things that won’t last – that makes good sense. And that is a good summary of this last section of 1 Timothy. Paul charges Timothy personally, and then through Timothy the church corporately, to make sure they are investing in the right place. This passage is full of challenge and fighting talk because of the reality of the eternal life we have been given in Christ, the reality of Jesus’ return, the reality of heaven. God’s people, the church, we are to get on with living wholeheartedly and with full commitment not to this world and this age and to ourselves, but to the world to come and the eternity to which we belong and to God and His people. This type of commitment won’t happen by itself, instead Paul says we need to fight to make it so.    

 

                 1) A personal charge to live for the future now (v11-16)

And so we get this personal charge to Timothy in verses 11-16. Listen out for the action words, the challenges in v11 and 12; “But you, man of God, flee from all this and pursue righteousness, goodness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the Faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called …” and then verse 14 “I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Would those action words be a good description of your life as a follower of Jesus Christ? Are you fleeing from things like the love of money, things which seek to take God’s place and lead to the destruction of people and the ruin of churches? And are you pursuing the building of a Christ-like character that is full of righteousness, goodness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness?  

I was watching a Youtube video the other day about the most spectacular roads in the world and at the end of the video the presenter gave 3 options – why not travel to that road and enjoy driving along it, or instead you could find some countryside near you which is a bit similar and go for a drive there, or the third option was to just sit at a computer and settle for watching others driving along that road. Are you fleeing from the things God says are so bad for you and pursuing the things that he says are so good? Or are you sort of just watching while others do it? Coming along to church and enjoying the community and the sermons and so on but never actually seeking to invest your whole life in the genuine following of Jesus? 

This is a deadly serious question. We have just celebrated Easter where God in flesh was tortured and killed by evil people, where sin was paid for at such extreme cost and where death itself was defeated. Paul gives this charge to invest your life in service to God Timothy, v13, “in the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.” The creator God who gives us life, both physical and spiritual, the God of Easter and who willingly accepted our punishment, our separation and our death, this one true God is watching us right now as we decide whether or not we are going live for the future now by fleeing the bad and pursuing the good.   

This life investment that Paul charges Timothy with is not like those advertisements on TV and Youtube where you are encouraged to speculate with your money in the hope of getting a massive return one day. Those sort of “investments” are filled with so much risk that normally they aren’t investments at all but rather just fancy ways of allowing somebody else to spend your money and waste your savings. Instead, the full investment of every part of Timothy’s life that Paul is charging him with here is the only way of spending your precious God-given life that won’t end up as a disappointing waste, listen to the full charge again; “I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time – God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might for ever. Amen.

Jesus is going to return – today we are 1 day closer to the day when God is going to bring this about and the way we live now is going to mean either joy then or else complete despair. I know I have used this before in a sermon but it is worth hearing again – John Piper (“Don’t waste your life”) describes the response of a man in church finally becoming a Christian after years and years of coming along to church but refusing to give his life to following Jesus;“They sat down together on the front pew of the church as the people were dismissed. God opened his heart to the gospel of Christ, and he was saved from his sins and given eternal life. But that did not stop him from sobbing and saying, as the tears ran down his wrinkled face - ‘I’ve wasted it! I’ve wasted it!’”

 

Each one of us personally this morning should put ourselves into this passage and allow the weight of Paul’s charge to Timothy to sit upon our shoulders. Our lives are to be invested now in the future and the way we do this is not a passive watching of others as they seek to live wholehearted lives of following Jesus but a personal, deliberate, determined response to Paul’s personal charge. Today, look closely at your life and start to flee from the comfort and idols offered by the world. Today, look closely at your life and start to pursue, take hold of, keep, fight for the life of faith where every single area of your existence is shaped and moulded by God’s word – where each part of you is fully invested in the future that is nearly here, a future which will see a return on investment that can’t be properly quantified (peace, joy, wonder …).   

We are going to get a bit more practical in a moment with what this might look like but what must be said before that is that you can only have this ambition by first coming to Jesus Christ in faith for forgiveness, salvation and the new life that he gives us by his Spirit coming to live within us. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ offers this and that is why holding onto that gospel and holding it out for others to hear and understand is fundamental to our life as a local church. You cannot and must not attempt to live as a Christian if you haven’t yet become a Christian. For anyone here now (or listening elsewhere) your number 1 priority in the light of the impending return of Jesus Christ is to belong to him first and then you can seek to live like him.

 

                  2) A corporate charge to live for the future now (v17-19)

 

So having given that clear warning, let’s move on to verses 17-19 where Paul moves from a personal charge to a corporate charge and in doing so gets very practical about some of the key details of what these invested lives will look like in the church.

Verse 17, though written to 1st Century Ephesus, could easily be written to 21st Century Riverside; Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

‘Putting your hope in’ is simply another way of talking about ‘investing your life’. Members of the church, who have been bought by God at the price of Jesus’ blood, must not begin to put their hope in, invest their lives in, anything other than Jesus. There are many idols that try to compete with God for our allegiance and commitment (success, reputation, relationships, career, family and so on)  but of all of these the one that is most warned about in the New Testament, the one that is repeated again and again is the warning about wealth and the comfort and ease that it promises. The love of money and the trust that we so easily put in having enough of it or more of it is hugely damaging and can be fatal to our ambitions to live for God’s glory.

 

To live for money and to put trust in wealth is both arrogant and stupid. It is arrogant because in the end we think we are providing what we need for ourselves rather than humbly depending upon God for what we need (and indeed for far more than we need – I love the way verse 17 ends; “(God) richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” – the generous God who likes to see us enjoying his blessings is the God we proudly turn our noses up at when we seek to live instead for money). And it is stupid to trust in wealth because it is so uncertain anyway. It comes and it goes – a month where the car breaks and the council tax goes up and the new budget cuts universal credit and the great Uncle didn’t write you into his will is a month that will break the person who cares most about money.

Could one of the reasons why we are a country filled with worries and stress-related problems be because as a nation we have turned away from God and instead invest our hopes and lives in wealth? Timothy is to command the church family to avoid this arrogant stupidity and instead to pursue a life goal that is far far better, verse 18+19;

 

“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

In a church like ours, we always want to warn people about the danger of the “prosperity preachers” out there who tell you that the way to get really rich is to give your money to them. It is right that we try to correct this manipulation of the gospel but sadly we so easily go timidly wrong the other way and end up treating giving money to gospel work as simply a one-way duty of a Christian, we make giving money into a boring responsibility rather than an incredible opportunity.  Let’s just read verse 18 and 19 again and be careful to see the correct way to preach prosperity!

“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

There is real life on offer for people who would obey God’s command in this area. CC Riverside, if you use your money for good (and your energy and your time, but primarily here, your money – the truth is that people who are willing to give their money away are 99.99999% of the time already investing their time, energy, emotions and strength and everything else in the church family anyway – money is usually the last thing people are willing to part with), if you use wealth for good, you are laying up eternal treasure, you are helping to make things happen that will have eternal benefits for the people you love and live amongst. By not hoarding wealth or spending it all on ourselves, but instead investing it in gospel work and Christian mercy there will be some people in heaven who otherwise would not have been reached with the gospel. Eternal treasure.

Use your wealth well so that you can pay your bills and not get into debt and then give. Give to the Newland Christian Trust (order is important but you can ask me about why later) so that we as a church can meet all of our outgoings and then seek to give more away to mission across this world, give to one another when brothers and sisters are in need, sponsor a child through Compassion UK, help support Open Doors - there are many things we can do with our money that stop us making it into an idol and instead make it work for eternity. And a side benefit not to be ignored (because it isn’t ignored in our passage) is that this is the way to enjoy what God has richly blessed us with. This is not the way to be financially rich, this is the way to be really, truly, actually rich, this is the way to ‘take hold of the life that is really life’.   

Conclusion: The gospel summary of 1 Timothy (v20-21)

 

There is no way that any of that practical God-centred, sacrificial living is going to happen if the gospel of Jesus Christ is not true. But it is true and so there are Christians all over the world and right here in Riverside who are already living like that. If you aren’t already, and you do belong to Jesus then take note and start to invest properly for eternity today. As Paul ends the letter in v 20+21 he is back to the same old theme. Guard the real gospel, the gospel that changes sinners into God’s family, the gospel that gives eternal life. Ignore nonsense and chatter and hold onto simple and eternally effective faith in the death, resurrection, reign and return of Jesus Christ. By the grace of God that Paul ends with, that is what we intend to do in CC Riverside. I pray and am confident that you are up for the fight. 

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