This week we start a new sermon series called, Simply Church: God’s Original Plan for Our Life Together. Have you ever noticed how we, humans, make things more complicated than they have to be? Methodists can do that about as well as everyone. We have to have a “method.” That started out with John Wesley preaching to thousands and setting up small groups to get together after he left. They discussed one simple question. “How is it with your soul?” If you went to the group, you were a Methodist. If you stopped going, you were no longer a Methodist. It was as simple as that. Over the last 200 years it’s gotten infinitely more complicated. In the United States, it became its own denomination. The local churches metamorphized into committees on top of committees on top of committees. The intention was good, to make sure that everything was done in an orderly and organized way, but for many churches it has gotten to where people are spending so much time in meetings that there isn’t any time for ministry. That is why many churches, including this one, has moved to a Single Board Governance model. We can spend less time meeting and more time in ministry.
However, it is something that we have to constantly watch. How do we make sure that we are concentrating on the right things? One way is to go back to the basics. Make sure that we not some kind of club, but that we are Simply Church.
In today’s Scripture, we will be looking at the Apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy. It may have been Paul or another prominent leader in the church. Paul had started churches among the Gentiles all over the eastern Mediterranean. He did not do this all by himself. He had a whole team with him. This included Luke, Barnabus, Silas, and Timothy. Paul met Timothy in Lystra when he was with Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Paul adopted Timothy as his son in the faith and trained him to be a leader in the church. One time, Paul heard about problems from false teachers influencing the church in Ephesus. He then sent Timothy to get things straightened out. While Timothy was there, he wrote this letter with additional instructions.
Our passage is from 1 Timothy 4:1-10. This is on page 1848 of your Pew Bible, but this week I will be reading from The Message, which is more of a dramatic interpretation. I think that it will help bring this passage to life for us today.
[Paul says:] 1-5 The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars. These liars have lied so well and for so long that they’ve lost their capacity for truth. They will tell you not to get married. They’ll tell you not to eat this or that food—perfectly good food God created to be eaten heartily and with thanksgiving by believers who know better! Everything God created is good, and to be received with thanks. Nothing is to be sneered at and thrown out. God’s Word and our prayers make every item in creation holy.
6-10 You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers.
There was a very rich man in England back in the 18th century. He had everything that you would think would lead to a comfortable life. He had money, position, good health, a wife, friends, but he lost it all. He had no wife, no friends, no money, and no food. He was destitute and desperate. His health gave way, and one day repossessors came to take the very bed he was laying on. In this desperation he tried to commit suicide. He was in a very dark place.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, heard about this man and went to visit him. As they talked John found that the man hated the Bible. He didn’t believe one word in it. He said that he believed in God, but the Bible was nothing to him. He said, “All is dark and my thought is lost, but I hear that you preach to a great number of people every night and morning. Pray, what would you do with them. Wither would you lead them? What religion do you preach, and what is it good for?”
John replied, “I do preach to as many as desire to hear every night and morning. You ask what would I do with them? I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves and useful to others. Whither would l lead them? To heaven. To God the judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant. What religion do I preach? The religion of love. The law of kindness brought to light by the gospel. And what is this good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God in themselves. To make them like God, lover of all, contented in their lives, and crying out at their death in calm assurance. ‘Oh grave where is thy victory? Thanks be to God who gives me the victory through Jesus, My Lord.'”
Jesus says to us, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) Very often we don’t feel like a light. Like the man we feel like all is dark. There was a time in his life when John Wesley would have said that same. He spent the first half of his life concerned about his salvation. Then one day at a prayer meeting he was listening to Martin Luther’s introduction to Romans, and he says that his heart was strangely warmed. He knew the saving love of Christ, and that it was not something that he had to earn. God does it. God’s grace, God’s gift was free, and it had been given to him. From that time he allowed the light of Christ to fill his life. The darkness was pushed out, and the potential of how he could serve the Lord and share the good news filled his life with possibilities.
John was able to use all that he learned to bring light into the darkened room of the man. What does a committed disciple of Jesus look like? John tells us. He shows us what it is in the core of our being. To think that our invitation is to be virtuous and happy, easy in ourselves and useful to others. That’s what it means when we are called to be Simply Church.
Over the next seven weeks we will be looking at what it means to be Simply Church here at Joseph United Methodist Church. What it means to be a part of the body of Christ with others in the world. Have you ever been on an outrageous limb before? I invite you follow me way onto this outrageous limb. We will be looking at how God has invited us as a church and as God’s followers to be a part of his mission of making all things new. God says in Revelation 21:5 that he is making all things new. It began at Jesus’ resurrection. Before he ascended into heaven, he invited us to be his partners. Our role in making disciples, bringing the Kingdom of God, is making all things new.
It is our job to steward the process. How does the Bible teach us that we are to steward? Say “steward.” How are we to order our lives together as Jesus’ devoted disciples? This is the question that we will be exploring over the next seven weeks.
What do you usually think of when you hear the word “steward” in church? It’s money, right? Is this sermon series about money? Yes, in part, but it is about much more than money. The word steward simply means to manage or take care of something. A wine steward is someone who manages a wine collection. That was the original function of a butler. I did learn something from watching Downton Abbey. We are to steward, care for or manage, the resources of the earth. We are to do the same with the business of the church, our time, and yes, we steward our money, both our household, and the church’s resources for ministry.
So, over the next several weeks, you will be asked to prayerfully consider your giving for 2019. When you receive your estimate of giving card in the mail, open the envelope with joy, because “the Lord loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7) We will ask you to bring it back the first Sunday in November.
As I said, we steward our whole life with God. We are called to order our lives to Simply participate in God’s mission to make all things new.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy we heard that there was some disorder going on. They were focusing on unimportant things. What are the right and wrong things to eat. Whether people should get married, and more. We don’t necessarily have the same kinds of issues, but we still get bogged down with distractions that keep us from focusing on the main thing. The problem in Timothy’s church is that the people causing the confusion were loud and convincing. Of course that never happens today, right? It most certainly does. People say things that tickle our ears that sound enticing, as we talked about a few weeks ago. (2 Timothy 1:43) It’s important to think about who we are training ourselves to hear. What are we really listening to? Basically, what Paul tells us is to forget about things that break our relationship with God.
Instead, Paul tells us to go to the gym. Where we see exercise, workout, or train in verses seven and eight actually use the Greek word gumnazō, which is where we get the word “gym.” However, this gym is not for a physical workout. Paul admits that physical fitness can be of some value, but no, he wants us to have a spiritual workout. We need to train our spirit to be godly. This is what helps us to keep a healthy relationship with God. We can actually be more godly. Another way that we express it is being Christ-like. In Leviticus, God says many times, “Be holy as I am holy.” We have the capacity to be holy, but we have to train.
How do we do this? Paul gives us some help with this in a couple of his other letters. In Romans 12:1-2 he says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The renewing of your mind, that is by study, training. Why is this important? So, “you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.” That was one of the problems in the church in Ephesus. The people didn’t know the message well enough yet. They didn’t have the advantage of the New Testament yet. They had to rely on the Older Testament, teachers, and apostles, like Paul. No, they did not have the gospels or the letters of the New Testament yet, but they had another very important resource. They had the people who had learned directly from Jesus, the disciples, who became known as the apostles, and the people who learned directly from them. When those people were “no longer available,” so to speak, the letters became so important for guidance. That is when the gospels were written, as a resource to train the church going forward.
Paul said to the church in Phillipi, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
“Continue to work out your salvation…” Work it out, figure it out, research it, train your mind about your salvation. When you turn your life over to Jesus and believe that he came to rescue you by dying and rising, you have salvation, but that is not the end of the journey. There is this process of sanctification, the process of being made more holy, more like God, more Christ-like. That is why the metaphor that Jesus uses of being born again in John chapter 3 is so helpful. When you are born again, it’s like you are a baby. You have life, but you don’t know anything. You have to learn. You go from having milk to solid food. As you get older you have to study. You are participating in making yourself new, but you also learn about helping others to do this too. In this passage from Philippians, Paul is addressing the whole church. They are to do this together. This way they can encourage each other along the journey. As a group we can make a change. We can work with God in making all things new.
In Revelation 3:20, Jesus tells us that we are not alone. He is in it with us. He says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” With all of the noise that we are bombarded with all around us every day, it can be easy to miss the knock. When we train ourselves to be godly, we arrange our lives so that we can hear the knock of Jesus. We have to take the time to listen, so we can dine with Jesus.
Paul tells us that training comes with promises for both now and the future. In the NIV it reads this way, “Godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8b) It’s for the here and now, not just the hereafter. The Message says, “You can count on this.” The NIV, “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.” (vs. 9) When Paul says it this way, he is not merely offering his opinion (though he does that sometimes). He is saying pay attention! This is important! We need to train to be godly.
One of the purposes of the church, of our church, is to be a spiritual gym. We come together to train to be Christ-like. We do this in several ways. One of them is coming to worship. Collectively, they are called by different names: spiritual disciplines, spiritual practices, sacred rhythms. John Wesley called them the “means of grace.” These are things that work with the Holy Spirit to transform us, but we have to be open to the work of God in our lives. We humans are stubborn. We can fight against it, but it makes life so much harder. But if we continue to do these things, we will see the changes in our lives.
Just like when you go to the gym for a physical workout, there are different spiritual exercises that strength different areas of our spiritual life. It was this kind of thing that made the Methodist movement unique when it started. John Wesley believed that we could participate in the movement to being more Christ-like. We could arrange our lives in such a way to be open to the work of God in our lives. When they asked the question, “How is it with your soul?” That is what they focused on. What is going on in your life that is drawing you closer or pulling you away from God? What could you be doing differently that would help you to draw closer?
Arranging our lives to be open to seeing the work of God there … That’s how the church started. If you will look in Acts 2, you will see that on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came over the disciples who were waiting. Peter got up that day and preached, and about 3000 people were added to their number in response.
These people were baptized then they did four things:
- They listened to the teachings of the Apostles. [That is effectively what we do when we read the New Testament. The teachings of what the Apostles learned from Jesus were written down by their students.]
John Wesley referred to this as searching the Scriptures to know our story, the whole story, to get caught up in it, to be amazed by the love of God, and find our place in that story. Because … “Man does not live by bread alone but on every word of God.” (Deut 8:3)
- The new church enjoyed fellowship or hanging out together. Here they would encourage and lift each other up. They would offer hospitality and invite others to join the journey.
- They would share in the breaking of the bread, or communion (more than just eating together.
- They would pray.
We have an opportunity to find ourselves in God’s Word, but you have to look for it. I am always looking for new ways to help us as a church to engage in God’s Word in meaningful ways. One of those ways is with the Bible study we are beginning this week, What Is the Bible? It’s not too late. If you want to know more about the Bible, join us this Wednesday here at the church at 6:30 pm. (Actually, it would be good the first time to come a few minutes early.)
And in January, we will be reading the Bible all the way through in a year. We will be doing it as a part of TheBibleProject.com. Whether you use the internet or not, you will have an opportunity to participate. This is your advance notice. Your homework is to go and familiarize yourself with the website. Look at a video or two. If you don’t use the internet, you can see videos here at the church. They are helpful for engaging with the Bible. Through this process, you will know our story better than ever before. You can also invite others to join us on this journey.
Remember, the church is like a gym, a place that we go for spiritual training, a place to be encouraged to move forward with Jesus, a place to grow into Christ-likenss together.
Simply Church, training together.