The Christian Pursuit (1 Timothy 6:6-19)

France Cycling Track World
Australian team from left, Jack Bobridge, Alexander Edmondson, Miles Scotson and Luke Davison compete during the final of the Men’s Team Pursuit race at the Track Cycling World Championships in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, outside Paris, France, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. The New Zealand team won gold, Britain won silver and Australia bronze. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

There is an event in track cycling known as the pursuit. In this event, two individual cyclists or teams start on opposite sides of the track. The goal of the pursuit is to ride as hard as you can for 4 kilometers to catch your opponent. During the pursuit, all of the focus and the energy of the cyclists are dedicated to one goal: chasing your opponent to catch them and win the race.

When Paul was writing to Timothy, he encouraged him to give all of his focus and energy in his pursuit as well. However, instead of pursuing an opposing cyclist on a track, Paul was urging Timothy to pursue key characteristics of the Christian life: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (v11). Each of these are some pretty big theological terms that carry a lot of meaning, so to help us understand what Paul was urging Timothy to pursue, I’m thinking of what Paul wrote in this way:

Chase after a life which:

  • Makes right all that is wrong
  • Reflects the goodness of God
  • Trusts Jesus in & for everything
  • Gives ourselves to others
  • Keeps going no matter what
  • Treats others gently

Paul contrasts this kind of life with a life in which a person is pursuing financial wealth. We need to hear these words in our society which dedicates so much time and energy pursuing wealth and financial affluence. Paul teaches Timothy that pursuing money will not bring us happiness and will probably cause us a lot of grief. He tells Timothy to run away from a life focused on making money, and instead chase after or pursue a life full of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

The main reason for pursuing these characteristics is that it leads us to a better life for ourselves and for the people around us. In John 10:10 Jesus says that he came to give us life to the full. Here we have one example of what a ‘life to the full’ looks like. It is a life that is dedicated to making the wrongs that we experience in this world right again. It reflects the goodness of God in all we say and do. It trusts Jesus for everything we need and in every circumstance of life so we can remain hopeful, peaceful and joyful. It is a life of self-giving love as we serve the people around us and do what is in their best interests, no matter what it might cost us. It is a life that hangs in there, no matter what difficulties, frustrations or challenges we might face. It is a life that treats other people gently, remembering that we all fail and struggle at times, and we all need the grace that comes from other people treating us in this same way. Ultimately, when we pursue this kind of life, it makes life better for ourselves as well as for the people around us, and God’s salvation enters the world through us.

The way in which we find and grow in this life is through the grace of God. We can understand grace as God giving to us what he wants from us for the sake of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. When we look at this text, then, we can find God’s grace as he provides us with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness by the power of the Holy Spirit through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Pursuing righteousness, then, is trusting that God makes right what is wrong in us. Godliness is something that God gives to us as he unites us with himself and pours his goodness into our lives. He gives us the faith we need, even when believing God’s promises is difficult. God fills us with his love as he gives himself for us and to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. God hangs in there with us no matter how many times we might get things wrong or stray along the way. God is gentle with us, not treating us as we deserve, but with grace, compassion, kindness and mercy. All of these are given to us through the power of the Holy Spirit for the sake of Jesus.

When Paul tells Timothy to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness, he is telling us to purse these in our own lives, but also to pursue them in our relationship with Jesus. It’s not about trying harder to do these things in our own. The Christian life begins with God promising to provide what we need for us. In this faith, we can pursue these qualities like cyclists on a track as we experience God’s grace and mercy to us in Jesus.

It is worthwhile for all of us to ask ourselves what we are pursuing in life. A good way to work that out is to ask ourselves what our focus is and where do we spend our time and energy? Are these pursuits bringing us into a better quality of life? Do they make the lives of the people around us better? When we pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness, not only will we find a better quality of life for ourselves and for the people around us. As we pursue them, God’s kingdom enters the world and people encounter the God of love and grace in us.

More to think about:

  • If you think about where you focus your time and energy, what are you pursuing in life? Is it leading you into the life you hope for?
  • What do you think a life full of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness would be like? Is this the kind of life you would like to grow into? Why / why not?
  • The promise of the gospel is that God gives us righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. How might his promise help you in the spiritual disciplines of reading God’s Word and praying?
  • In cycling, the pursuit is a team event as well as an individual event. How can pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness with others in Christian community help us in our pursuit?
  • What are you going to do this week to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness in your life? In your relationship with Jesus?

What God Wants (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

what-god-wants-small

Have you ever wondered what God’s will is for your life?

When we talk about God’s will for us, or what he wants for us in our lives, it is important that we start with what God has told us he wants in his Word. We can look for his will in other ways, but it helps if it grows out of what God has already told us about what he wants for us and what he wants from us. The more we are familiar with what God has already told us about his will in the Bible, the easier we can find what he wants for us personally.
In this text from 1 Timothy, Paul tell us what God wants for us and for all of humanity: God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Talking about truth in a post-modern society which often makes truth relative can be difficult. However, Paul goes straight on to tell us what the truth is that he is talking about here: that there is one God, that Jesus bring us into a new relationship with God as our mediator with him, and this is achieved through the ransom he paid by dying on the cross (vv5,6). If we understand that this it God’s truth for us, then the main purpose of the church is to make this truth known so people can be saved through faith in this message.
While we may know that, the big question that confronts us is how do we achieve that? Over the decades there have been programs and campaigns and other things produced by the church to try to help people bring this good news to the world and fulfill what God wants for us. At times it seems like their success has been limited, so we are still confronted with the questions of how do we effectively do what God wants?

The first step is to align what we want with what God wants. We need to constantly be asking the Holy Spirit to align our wills with the will of the Father so that his desire to see all people saved and come to know the truth becomes our desire as well. Part of the idea behind Simple Church that I’m starting to talk about is to imagine what our congregation could be like if we cut back on our busyness in order to focus more on what God wants for us, specifically discipling people to live in the way of Jesus so that all can be saved and grow in his truth.

In the opening verses of 1 Timothy 2 Paul links God’s will that all people be saved and come to know the truth with prayer. He encourages us to be people of prayer, as individuals but also when we come together in worship. We have time in our services dedicated to praying together is largely because of this verse. We need to be praying for all people to come to know the truth of Jesus, but also for our governments. In Australian we are quick to criticize or make fun of our political leaders, but when was the last time you prayed for our Premier, Prime Minister, or the members of our state and federal parliaments? When we look at the political situations of other countries, such as the USA, Syria, Great Britain, and South Sudan for example, these are people and nations who need our prayers so that people of every nation can live in peace and come to know the truth of Jesus.

Paul then talks about being people who ‘live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity’ (v2 NLT). The mission strategy of the New Testament is that when we are living ‘peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity’ in the way Jesus taught, his kingdom comes into the world through us and his will is done in us as we connect his grace with the people around us. Ultimately, people do not come to know the truth about Jesus through programs or campaigns. People encounter the living truth about Jesus by encountering Jesus and his love in us, through our words, our actions, our relationships. Program and campaigns can help those relationships grow, but the most powerful place where people meet the truth of Jesus in us.

We had an example of how to live ‘peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity’ a few weeks ago in the concluding instructions from the letter to the Hebrews (13:1-8,15,16):

  • Love each other as brothers & sisters
  • Show hospitality to strangers
  • Remember those in prison or being mistreated
  • Honour & remain faithful in marriage
  • Be satisfied with what you have
  • Remember those who taught you the Word & follow their example
  • Offer a continual sacrifice of praise
  • Do good & share with those in need

What becomes important is that we are living faithfully as Jesus’ followers, always ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Jesus for anyone who asks us (1 Peter 3:15).

It is important for us to be continually looking for God’s will in our lives. A good starting point is what God has already told us about what he wants for us in the Bible. In 1 Timothy 2:3 & 4 God is clearly telling us that wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth of Jesus. It is good for us to keep this in focus so that everything we do as individuals and as community grows out of this understanding of God’s will for us. As we pray ‘Your will be done’ in the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying that all people are saved and come to know the truth of Jesus. We are also praying that God’s will is done in and through us.

More to think about:

  • When you think about what God’s will for your life is, how often do you start with what God has told us about his will in the Bible? How might that help you find what God wants for you in other areas of your life?
  • What do you think of when you pray ‘Your will be done’ in the Lord’s Prayer? How might this text help you when you pray this prayer?
  • How often do you pray for others? How often do you pray for our political leaders or the leaders of other countries? Try spending some time each day praying through what you might read in the newspaper, online news reports or even during the TV news (remember: being a disciple involves discipline).
  • How might your life be different if the starting point for your understanding of God’s will for you is that he wants all people to be saved and come to know the truth of Jesus? How might this faith shape your relationships with others?
  • How might the faith that God wants all people to be saved and come to know the truth of Jesus shape the purpose, character and activity of your congregation? Spend time asking God how his will might be done in your church.

A Trustworthy Saying (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

jesus-saves-02

I haven’t met too many people over the years who like to be told they are sinners. In fact, talking about sin in our culture is something that is largely avoided because we tend to believe that people are essentially good. We might make mistakes from time to time, but the starting point for any discussion about the nature of human beings in our Western society is that we are basically good.

However, when I read the Bible, look at the state of the world in which we live, or examine my own life it seems clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with our human nature. No matter how much we try to do the right thing, too often we end up saying and doing what is wrong. This indicates to me that there is something wrong within us which we can’t fix ourselves. While we can think of sinners as being morally bad people, we can also think of ‘sinners’ as people who need to be saved because we find it impossible to get things right, no matter how hard we try.

I’m not saying this to make people feel bad about ourselves. Over the centuries, the church has done wrong by using language like this to burden people with guilt. However, we still need to be honest with ourselves about the reality of who we are. The trustworthy saying Paul passes on to Timothy, and to us, is that Jesus came to save sinners. If we do not identify as sinners, then how can we be saved? The writers of the Gospels wrote that Jesus often talked with sinners and even ate with them, something for which Jesus was criticized by the religious leaders of his day (see Luke 15:1,2). If we are not willing to sit with the sinners, then how can we be sitting with Jesus?

Recognizing that we are sinners can help us find freedom to be ourselves. When we acknowledge that we get things wrong, we can be honest with ourselves and with others about our flaws and failures. We don’t have to pretend to be better than we are, and we can more easily seek grace and forgiveness from each other. It also means that when other people do wrong, we can extend grace to them more easily. We can be more compassionate and understanding towards others because they get things wrong just like we do.

Paul’s intention in passing on this ‘trustworthy saying’ about Jesus coming to save sinners is to bring us good news. He continues,

… God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:16 NLT)

Paul is using his own life as an example to show us that if God can save him, then he can surely save us too. Paul had done some really bad things before he became a Christian. As he explains briefly in verse 13, he had blasphemed against God by trying to stop the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he had persecuted Jesus’ followers and had even been involved in some of their murders (see Acts 7:54-8:1; 9:1,2). Paul is arguing that if God can show mercy and patience to him after all the terrible thing he had done, then he will also show us mercy and patience. Paul wants us to understand that we get things wrong, but Christ Jesus came into the world to save us. Jesus’ death on the cross for us means that we can be forgiven, no matter what we might have done. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead gives us new life as children of God whom he loves and who bring our heavenly Father great joy (see Luke 3:22). If Paul can find grace and new life in Jesus after what he had done, then we can also find grace and new life in the love God show us through Christ.

This means that we can never be simplistic about our experience of Christian the life. One the one hand, we are sinners who need to be saved. However, we are also God’s saved children whom he loves and who bring him great joy. One of the great gifts Martin Luther gave to the church is the idea that we are both sinner and saint at the same time. There will be times in our lives when our sin will weigh us down and we will need to hear the liberating words of grace and forgiveness. There will also be times when we will need to be reminded that we get things wrong and we need Jesus to save us.

The main purpose of these words from Paul are to point us to Jesus. We all get it wrong in different ways and at different times in our lives because there is something wrong with us. We constantly need to be reminded that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. This becomes good news for us, though, because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and to give us new life as God’s children whom he loves and who bring him great joy.

More to think about:

  •  What are some of your experiences, positive or negative, of talking about sin in the church? Do we talk about sin too much? Not enough?
  • What are some ways in which 1 Timothy 1:15 can be heard as a threat by people? How might people hear these same words as a promise?
  • Do you tend to hear these words more as a threat or a promise? Can you explain why you hear them that way?
  • When you hear or read about some of the things Paul did before he became a Christian, would you say you are as bad as he was? How can his self-description as ‘the worst of sinners’ help you find God’s grace in Jesus?
  • How might Paul’s words that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ help you in your relationships with other people when they do wrong to you?