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"The Goal, the Game, and the Ground Rules"

Jan.12, 2014 1Tim.1:1-11


Are you "in the game"? A few months ago our church showed the movie Home Run. You may recall the main character was a pro baseball player; near the start of the movie he hits a home run, but then it's disqualified because he failed to touch third base. That's not the only way he's off track: a borderline alcoholic, he loses his temper with the umpire and is thrown out of the game.

In the game of life and faith, are you on track - or missing the base, and with it, the goal? What about us as a church? It's customary at the start of the New Year (and when preparing budgets and Annual Reports) to take stock, to evaluate our lives, make resolutions (as individuals), perhaps set some long term goals as a congregation: we need these periodic course adjustments.

Today's passage helps remind us both as a church and as individual believers what the main GOAL for us as Christians is, how to play the GAME God wants, and what the GROUND RULES are - lest we get disqualified for wandering too far when running the bases.


After the closing of the book of Acts about 63 AD, before Paul's martyrdom about 4 years later, we surmise he was released from prison and travelled in the Mediterranean area, revisiting some of the churches he'd planted. Already false teachers from Judaism were causing trouble in the church at Ephesus, as they had been in the church at Galatia. Paul delegated his younger side-kick Timothy to remain behind when he went on to Macedonia; Timothy would be a sort of "regional minister" in charge of appointing overseers in local churches, teaching, and generally maintaining contact between Paul and the congregations.

Who were these false teachers that were causing such controversy? The NIV Study Bible lists these characteristics: 1) teaching false doctrine; 2) teaching Jewish myths; 3) wanting to be teachers of the Old Testament law; 4) building up endless, far-fetched, fictitious stories based on obscure genealogical points; 5) being conceited; 6) being argumentative; 7) using talk that was meaningless and foolish; 8) not knowing what they were talking about; 9) teaching ascetic practices [like forbidding food and marriage]; and 10) using their positions of religious leadership for personal financial gain. Unfortunately there's always a market for a new twist on old familiar sound doctrine! These clever, imaginative hucksters were only too glad to spin superflous stories and fill their pockets.

Congregations still get off track today. One can think of local groups affected by legalism, or getting drawn into the minor details of Old Testament law, or even whole denominations attempting to stay 'relevant' by 'going with the flow' of culture, leaving behind Biblical moorings.

Right off the bat, one notes a certain tone in Paul's letter to Timothy that's significant in light of this shifting and challenging context. The writing is AUTHORITATIVE: for example, use of the word "command" in vv 1,3, and 5 - "an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour...stay there in Ephesus so yo may command certain men not to teach false doctrines...The goal of this command is love..." In v11 Paul's conscious that God has "entrusted" the gospel to him, there's a responsibility he's under. And v20 tells us he has already handed two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander (perhaps former elders) "over to Satan" on account of their blaspheming - this probably means expelling them, like the man who was sleeping with his father's wife in 1Cor 5. So Paul means business, he's conscious of his role in a chain of command that answers to God.

How contrary such an approach is to our "feel-good, do-what-you-want, have-it-your-way, me-first" culture! If we want to get anything from exploring 1Timothy over the next 6 or so weeks, perhaps we need to check our attitude first. Are we yielded, teachable, acknowledging our debt to God and Christ's lordship in our lives? Or do we have our back up, ready to pick a fight, set to challenge anything God attempts to tell us? There are some very socially unpopular admonitions in this book. But in the end what matters is not what WE or our culture thinks of something, but what the viewpoint of the Judge of the nations is!

What's the GOAL as Paul sees it? In baseball it's scoring a run at home plate; in hockey it's getting the puck in the net. What's the goal for Christians? V5 "The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." Let's break that apart carefully. "The goal of this command is love:" agape in the Greek - John MacArthur describes it, "the love of choice and the will, characterized by self-denial and self-sacrifice for the benefit of others..." The EMCC has been promoting "GC-squared", Great Commandment / Great Commission"; love is at the centre of the Great Commandment, Lk 10:27 "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Love is Jesus' "new commandment", Jn 13:34f: "A new command I give you: Love one another.As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." The apostle John in his first letter pointed out he wasn't inventing any new and strange doctrine, but the original thrust: "This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another." ...This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." (1John 3:11, 4:10-11)

The goal for the church, as for individual Christians, is LOVE. And not 'love' the way you hear about on the radio - the "I'm drawn irresistibly towards you because you're hot" kind of love. Our sins made us abominable to God, but He saw past that awful guilt and made a way we could be reconciled to Him. God's love is more than a feeling, more than nice-sounding words, more than affection prompted when a pretty girl coyly smiles back at you - this love finds expression in action. 1John 3(16,18) "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers...Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." The Mission To Haiti team is demonstrating this kind of love by laying down their lives - their time, their energy, taking on significant cost and risk - to help others who had no claim on them at all.

Where's this real "agape-love" come from? The second part of v5 tells us - "love...comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." Take these one at a time.

1) "A pure heart", literally a CLEAN heart, free from soil or stain, one that's had a 'catharsis' (Gk root). A heart that's repentant, confessed, forgiven; not too stuck up to admit it's made a mistake, but humble, penitent, ready to admit it's fallen short of God's holy standards. Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart [clean in heart - cauterized], for they will see God." John assures us, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify [CLEANSE] us from all unrighteousness." How? "But if we walk in the light...the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies [CLEANSES] us from all sin." (1John 1:9,7)

Are you finding it hard to love God or others? Maybe you need to take some time to examine and confess your moral failures, your bitterness, your pride - get rid of that "junk" so God can find space in your heart for His love.

The second place love comes from? V5 "A good conscience." The Online Bible lexicon defines conscience this way: "the soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad, prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending one, condemning the other." MacArthur comments, "God created man with a conscience as his self-judging faculty.Because God has written His law on man's heart (Rom 2:15), man knows that basic standard of right and wrong.When he violates that standard, his conscience produces guilt, which acts as the mind's security system that produces fear, guilt, shame, and doubt as warnings of threats to the soul's well-being."

Interesting that God has designed our moral selves to be so wrapped up in being able to love. Conscience is key; Paul said, "So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." (Ac 24:16) George Washington urged, "Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."

The third ingredient in agape-love, as Paul lists it: v5 "A sincere faith." Sincere is literally 'undisguised, without hypocrisy' - not 'faking it', we'd say. Is my trust TOTALLY in God and what Jesus accomplished on my behalf at the cross - OR do I think I can "add to it" to achieve (earn) my salvation? That would be works-righteousness not Jesus-righteousness. Hebrews 10:21-23 "and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience...Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." He is faithful, worthy of our trust, our complete reliance upon Him rather than our own efforts.

The author of Hebrews mentioned holding to "the hope we profess" - what's that? What's your 'hope'? Is it just heaven, eternal life, streets of gold, a fire escape? You're missing the point. Back in v1 Paul let the cat out of the bag as to what our hope OUGHT to be: "Christ Jesus our hope" - it's Jesus Himself that we're hoping for. His life in us now by the Holy Spirit, and being with Him forever.


Our GOAL, then, is love; but what's the GAME - what's the broader picture of what we're about, what we're trying to accomplish? In vv10-11 Paul refers to the "sound doctrine" (or, 'healthful teaching') that conforms to "the glorious gospel of the blessed God..." Paul's purpose in life is all wrapped around sharing the Good News, preaching wherever he goes. For the church, that's the other "GC" in GC-squared - the Great Commission: Mt.28:18-20, "Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.[NOTE THE AUTHORITY / COMMAND EMPHASIS: SETTLE THAT FIRST! Jesus continues] Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."" What's the game plan? Make disciples, baptizing, teaching - there's a lot of training in the word, learning the commands there. So the church's mission is much more than just doing good works or 'social gospel'; there is special divine POWER in God's word, the divine "spiel" capable of radically transforming lives. God designed people in such a way that our attitudes and thinking need to change before our behaviour patterns will change; the message or word or explanation is needed for repentance, re-thinking.

What's the fundamental 'kerygma' or proclamation of the Christian church? 1Cor 15:3-4 "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..." We sharing news of an event, a Story that has changed OUR story.

V6 - Paul relates that the false teachers had 'wandered away' (from clean heart and conscience and true faith) and turned to "meaningless talk". Our gospel is verbal, but what stops it from being mere talk? What's the verbal "plus" factor? What's our game, what are we to 'promote'? V4 "These [wrong teachings] promote controversies rather than God's work - which is by faith." The term "work" here is literally "economy", stewardship; such as a household steward, the farm manager, the city treasurer. The master of the house ENTRUSTS the steward or 'head butler' with the running or administration / management of the household. If you've been watching Downton Abbey, that would be Charles Carson, chief butler: Lord Crawley entrusts the running of the house to Carson so he can get on with other matters (dealing with his 3 daughters!). God entrusts the church with stewardship of His Kingdom on earth. Back to implementing GC-squared: How do we find expression for LOVE, to God and to neighbour?


The Olympic Winter Games are coming up at Sochi in Russia; you can be sure a lot of stress will be laid on officiating - the judges and referees need to be absolutely impartial and 'on the ball' if a game is to be fair. Games need agreed-upon rules that apply to both sides; for example, the offside rule in broomball or hockey - you can't shoot the ball far ahead to a single player parked on the crease who's snuck in behind the defence.

God has provided basic "ground rules" for living called the Ten Commandments. We see them reflected in vv8-10: Paul says the law is made for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious - these oppose the first 4 commandments dealing with honour and respect for God, His image-uncapturability, His name, His day (the Sabbath). Next Paul mentions "those who kill their fathers and mothers" - which the 5th commandment deals with. "Murderers" - 6th commandment; "adulterers and perverts", more accurately "fornicators and sodomites" - those transgressing the boundary of sex in marriage, the 7th commandment. "Slave traders" - those who steal people, such as kidnapping children; stealing is the focus of the 8th commandment. "Liars and perjurers" - the 9th commandment deals with false witness.

We need ground rules - but they're not the game. V8 The law IS GOOD if used properly / law-fully: the law is like my GPS while driving in England; they had photo-radar and it would be easy to get continuous fines there! But I had my GPS programmed so it sounded an alarm when I was approaching a controlled-speed zone and I was going too fast. I was so thankful for my GPS, it saved me many tickets! The law is like the GPS - tracking your speed, warning you when you're about to do your soul some damage, but THE LAW IS POWERLESS TO MAKE YOU SLOW DOWN. Galatians 2:16 "know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ."

The Life Application Bible comments: "The law is meant to reveal our sin...The law has a descriptive, not a prescriptive, role.It brings us face-to-face with our problem but does not tell us how to solve it.The Good News challenges us to respond in faith to God, who, through Christ, will forgive us our sins." It is the gospel, not the law, which imparts "that righteousness whereby the believer HATES those sins the law is directed against." (Illumina Comprehensive Commentary)

The false teachers Timothy had to contend with were clearly off-track. V3 They were teaching "false doctrines"; v4 "myths and endless genealogies". The Jewish Talmud added fables to the history of the Old Testament. The truthfulness of the books in the "Apocrypha" (included by Catholics between Old and New Testaments) is questionable. Johnson (PNT) notes that "Philo, a learned Alexandrian Jew who wrote a little before Paul's time, built up a whole system on genealogies.The names in the genealogies with him represented the various conditions of the soul." What a waste of time - and diversion of energy from what the church is SUPPOSED to be about!


Did you notice what Paul said in his greeting at the start of this letter? V2 "To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord." In most of his other letters, which are to churches, Paul just uses the phrase "Grace and peace"; but in his letters to Timothy, the pastoral overseer, Paul said "Grace, MERCY and peace..." Mercy here is a very loaded term because it's used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the key term "lovingkindness". Again, highlighting the main task of the church: "The GOAL of this command is - LOVE." Mercy. Demonstrating in visible, tangible ways God's love for the world. 1Jn 4(9,12) "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him...No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us."

The Mission To Haiti expedition this week is one example of making God's love felt in a hurting world - loving orphans, digging gardens, distributing goats, building simple homes. Believers from various denominations are laying aside their theological differences to share God's mercy.

Another example would be the World Help bloggers going to Africa June 17-22. My daughter Emily has been invited to go to Uganda and Rwanda to do art with orphans and help raise funds for new "rescue centres" for children who've been abandoned. I'd like to close today with a short 3-minute CLIP about that mercy-project...

...How might the Lord be nudging YOU to share His LOVE - which comes from a clean heart, good conscience, and sincere faith? Let's pray.