Today we are starting phase three of our journey that we are calling the Rooted Series. Two years ago we started grounded ourselves in the Gospel according to the strategy laid out for us in the Bible – particularly the Pauline epistles. We focused that first year on the gospel and its immediate implications in our lives. In doing so, we started to see how each of the books of the Bible contributes its part in growing us up into maturity in Christ and individuals and together as a church.
Last year we leveled up, as the video gamers say. Building upon the foundation of the gospel and its immediate implications, we then took a broad overview of the eternal plan of God and where we fit in that plan. We saw the story unfold from the foundation of the world , through the old testament leading to Jesus and his work on the cross, and then we saw in the book of Acts the reverse, how the church takes the work of Jesus on the cross to the world. It does this by working outward geographically, through missionary teams and apostles, and downward generationally by planting strong multi-generational, family-type churches (Ephesians), that take root on a local while continuing to joyously partner in the gospel (Philippians). And we are to do this steadfastly until the day that Christ returns, no matter what the opposition (Revelation).
This year, we’ll finish up this series, focusing on the final step in establishing a mature church, that is, setting the household in order by raising up gifted and mature leaders. I think we are ready for this – we’ve grown over the past two years. Two years ago, when we started this series, we basically had a bunch of older people doing the ministry, and a bunch of university students and youth. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the older generation, while still serving in various ministries, handing over some of the ministry to the younger generation. We now have a pretty solid core group of young professionals starting out their life and marriage and ministries.
The books most associated with this stage in the establishing process are 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus. These book are different that the other letters of Paul, because he writes them, not to entire churches but to his co-workers whom he has sent to finished up the establishing process in the churches.
I want to start at the end of 1 Timothy chapter 1 with a phrase I want to focus on. In verses 18-20 Paul is encouraging Timothy to not shrink from the difficult task he has been placed in Ephesus to do, but charges him to fight the good fight. For there are some, Paul writes, who have pushed aside the instruction of Paul and through their own teaching ministry in the church, have literally (v. 19) made shipwreck of the faith. (some English translations say “their” but it is not in the text). Apparently Paul has removed these teachers, Hymenaeus and Alexander, from their positions of authority in the church and exercised appropriate church disciple in line with what Jesus said about any causing the little ones to stumble in their faith.
Shipwrecked the faith: What causes people to shipwreck their faith? The Icebergs
1) Perfectionism: I was reading a blog this week written by a person whose faith was shipwrecked. He pointed to the “unreal and sometimes unbliblical ideal of what it is to be a Christian” as a key factor in killing faith.
“But he will still fail. He will fail, and he will confirm to himself that he is not the good Christian he should be. He can't change himself the [church] can. With this realization, he will heap great scorn upon himself because of his failure. Sadly, he cannot go to his fellow Christians about his sins. After making all his proclamations against all the evils he's heard about [at church], he does not want others to know of his weakness. Around them he will keep up the facade of the good Christian. But deep in his heart he will begin to despise himself for being a fake. This can continue for a long time. It's hard to admit defeat. And it's even harder to give up when there is this righteous group out there that claims we can live a great Christian life if only we have enough faith. So our young Christian will continue to push himself, trying again and again to be the good Christian he is expected to be. And he will continue to publicly condemn those who practice what [the church] proclaims as being evil, as if by saying it he can convince himself to stop his own evil thoughts. And everyday he will continue to fail and be less than perfect. And everyday the struggles in his heart will take him further away from the phony outside appearance he is projecting.”
2) Emotional manipulation: Unintentional – people exaggerating spiritual experiences – but you’ve never had them that intensely. Intentional – some religious teachers may intentionally manipulate your emotions or artificially construct environments in which your emotions are inflamed. Later, when the emotion wears off, you are left wondering what else is there to faith at best, or embittered because you allowed yourself to be manipulated.
3) Moral Failure: At first glance, this seems to not compute since I also listed perfectionism as another iceberg. Here’s the deal – yes, Christians aren’t going to be perfect, but they should be good, right? I heard one Christian say to someone who had walked out of the church because the Christians he knew were jerks, “You’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater – your faith shouldn’t rest on the goodness of Christians, but on Jesus himself.” I thought the response was actually logical, he said, “but if it is claimed that the baby has the power to clean up the bathwater, and it hasn’t – then it is right to throw out the baby with the dirty water. We make big claims of God – and part of our claim is that the Holy Spirit is effectual in our lives – so when people see the church doing things that would put even the pagans to shame, they have a point if they aren’t interested.
Put these things together and you have a toxic recipe for killing faith. Hypocritical teachers, binding others up in guilt through the preaching of a perfectionistic law, all the while manipulating their emotions so that people think they are spiritual even when they are living worse than pagans with no lasting life change. This is what we face in the church today. This is what Timothy faced in Ephesus. The teachers, rather than being part of the solution, were causing the problem.
This is Paul’s charge to Timothy as he sent him to Ephesus, found in verse 4: As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. Timothy’s primary task at Ephesus was to straiten out the teachers, because they were undermining the maturation of the church, by focusing on theological trivialities. Further on, verse 7 speaks to their motives, “desiring to be teachers of the law.” It seems that these teachers are guiding the church into the iceberg of perfectionism, and Paul says, they have no idea what they are doing or what they are talking about. In verse eight he insinuates that they are not using the law lawfully – holding it over the heads of people who by grace have been freed from the law.
On the contrary, Paul writes, the commands that we lay down in the churches are not like that at all. We are not teaching to puff ourselves up with knowledge or to control people with a new law. “The goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” This is the central point of the entire first chapter. I’ve taught on this verse before – the very first sermon I ever delivered as pastor of OCBC – because this verse informs my entire philosophy of ministry. Now that we are maturing as a congregation I think it’s important to reconsider it. The goal of our instruction – some verses say “this command” tying it to Paul’s command to Timothy, but nearly all commentators recognize that Paul is contrasting their teaching with the other teachers – the goal of our instruction – every instruction that goes on in the church and in the family in the name of sound doctrine – the goal is love. Love! Not primarily doctrinal orthodoxy, for as we will see that gives rise to love. Not even for the glory of God, though that issues forth as a result of love. But love. Love is the goal. So you’re teaching Sunday School - the goal is not to get your kids to know the Bible. The goal is: do they fall more in love with God and practically love others as a result? So you’re leading worship – the goal is not to manipulate emotions, but to foster an environment in which love is expressed. You’re leading a Bible Study – the goal is not to exegete the passage perfectly – it’s to lead people down the path of love. You’er raising your kids – the goal is not to make them into perfect people who never fail and are ashamed to admit guilt – the goal is love. In whatever ministry you are in, toward whoever it is that you are leading down the path of discipleship – are you leading them toward love, toward a deeper, more intimate, more practical love of God and others? If not – you may be shipwrecking their faith. You may be putting up the icebergs of perfectionism, emotional manipulation or Moral Ambivalence.
Paul gives us chart to navigate our way through the icebergs. Love for God and others doesn’t arise from nothing. It arises naturally out of a proper focus and balance of three factors. So you want to make sure that as a teacher or parent you are teaching people toward love and not shipwrecking their faith – make sure you have generous portions of each of these in your teaching.
A Pure Heart (An experiential relationship based on forgiveness)
The first aspect or component of growing love is that our love issues forth out of a pure heart. I would define this “pure heart” as an experiential relationship based on forgiveness. The heart in scripture denotes the inward center of human life as the seat of spiritual emotions and desires. The heart signifies relationship, emotions and experience. This is vital for us as we consider the teaching ministries of the church.
This is not something that can be taught simply by Sunday school lessons. This is something that must be lived. We must model, we must train, and ultimately we must bring people into a place where they experience God. This is why teachers must be spiritual people. If I don’t have an real relationship with God, I can teach you a lot of doctrine, but I can’t show you a heart aligned to God, forgiven and free.
Forgiveness – that is the basis of our experience. We have been given a pure –the word is “clean” heart! It is the thrill, the joy, and elation of standing before God forgiven and feed. Our church must proclaim the forgiveness that God offers all who repent. We must allow people who come into this church the experience of meeting the God who loves them and who has given himself up their forgiveness, so that they can have a real relationship with God. This pure heart steers us around the iceberg of perfectionism.
A Good Conscience (A steady rule of life based on Biblical principles)
The second aspect of love that our Christian instruction aspires to develop is a good conscience. The conscience represents the moral framework through which one views reality. “Your conscience is your moral capacity that enables you to distinguish between what’s right and what’s wrong.” It is an alarm bell for fire or other danger.
There are two ways that the word “good” can be taken in relation to conscience.
Conscience can be good in the sense that it reports nothing wrong about one’s actions. You are doing what god would have you do. Second, a good conscience is one that is well trained by God’s word. You actually know what it is God wants you to do.
How is a good conscience related to love? A good conscious leads to love in us, because we begin to see others as God sees them, and we take action, just like Christ took action to save them. As the body of Christ we are his hands on this planet to reach out to a hurting world. A good conscience will not allow us to walk on the other side of the street when we see someone hurting. It will not allow us to brush the problems of poverty, hunger and aids under the carpet. It calls us to action, to show our love. A good conscience steers us around the iceberg of moral failure.
Finally we come to the last aspect of love which we focus on in our Christian instruction. This is probably the one that comes to our mind first. It is the developing of a sincere faith. I define that faith as an assured reliance based on the reality of the Gospel.
We grow in love as we understand more and more the truth of the Gospel. As we understand the Gospel, we find out that God loves us. That he will never leave us nor forsake us. Our doubts start to go away. We recognizes the false promises of the world and come to see the greatness of a life in Christ. We have an assurance of our salvation.
Having a sincere faith is related to love because we get to know the object of our affection. As we know him, as we probe his mind we recognize how awesome he is and how much we want to know him. A sincere faith steers us around the iceberg of emotionalism.
How did Paul keep his teaching focused on love? He always remembers that he was a child of grace by keeping the gospel as his central identity.