Saturday, September 20, 2014

The God-centered church - An Overview of 1 Timothy

1 Timothy 3:14-15 "I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth."

1 Timothy 4:6 "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a goodservant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."

So many suggestions are made today as to how we ought to have church. Some suggest that the church ought to run like a business, with the pastor being like a CEO who has a head for business, implementing program strategies and casting a vision. Others picture the church being more like a team, where there is a coach and players. Still others suggest that the church is to be a place of entertainment where we do bigger events to draw people and keep them happy. Which is right? Is any of them right? Is there a little bit of truth to each one or is one more right than the others? 

Thankfully when it comes to figuring out how we ought to do church, there is a series of three Divinely Inspired Church manuals that tell us what do to and how to do it - what are commonly called the "Pastoral Epistles". The author of all three (1&2 Timothy and Titus) is the Apostle Paul. The recipients are young men who are pastoring their first churches and who need wise counsel. Though the letters themselves are 2,000 years old, the subjects they deal with are essentially no different than what is experienced in the 21st century church. Though we term them "Pastoral Epistles", their instruction and truth is just as much for the person in the pew as for the man behind the pulpit. 

A quick note about 1 Timothy
Today's post is specifically interested in looking at the first of these "Pastoral Epistles" - 1 Timothy. Timothy of course is the young pastor to whom the letter is written. Timothy's charge was to take the very strong Ephesian church and lead it. According to what we read in the background passages of Acts 19-20, the church at Ephesus was founded at the end of Paul's 2 1/2 year ministry in that city. Ephesus was the "crown jewel" of Asia Minor, and the church that would be planted would become the greatest church of the Apostolic age. 

Near the end of Paul's time in Ephesus a riot had broke out, and the aftermath required the establishment of strong spiritual leadership. In Acts 20 the Apostle Paul established Elders to provide the needed anchoring for the then fledgling congregation. By the time we come to Paul's letter of 1 Timothy, the church at Ephesus would had been a few years old. 

Timothy had been called by God to preach the Word and love the people. Many challenges would lie ahead: Timothy's timidity, increasing pressure from the pagan culture and competing heretical teachers operating within the church itself. 1 Timothy 3:14-4:6 operates as the heart of this first epistle to Timothy, with 1 Timothy 3:16 being the key verse. The theme of this letter is: "The God Centered Church". 

What does it take to be a God-centered Church
The value of the book of 1 Timothy in our New Testaments is that we learn what it takes to be a God-centered church. All ideas about how to do church and what it means to be the church must be measured against 1 Timothy and its two other companions (2 Timothy and Titus). As we briefly fly over the contents of 1 Timothy, I will submit to the reader the following four necessary ingredients for having a God centered church.

1. God-centered Pastors. 1 Timothy 1:1-14
In this opening section of 1 Timothy we find out that one cannot have a God-centered church without a God-centered leader. What does a God-centered Pastor do? According to 1 Timothy 1:1-7 the pastor needs to be a stable leader: doctrinally, morally, personally and spiritually. Then we discover in 1 Timothy 1:8-14 the God-centered Pastor is a man who preaches the Gospel faithfully. So a God-centered church needs a God-centered pastor, but notice secondly...

2. God-centered focus. 1 Timothy 1:15-17
Three times in 1 Timothy we find the Apostle Paul talking about "faithful sayings". In 1 Timothy 1:15 we comes across the first of these: "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all." What ensures the God-centered focus of a church? The Gospel. The Pastor and the flock of God is charged to preach and live out the Gospel that saves the sheep. Whenever we get our eyes off of the Great Commission and its companion the Great Commandment, we have gotten our eyes focused on the wrong thing. If we ever expect to be a God-centered Christian and church, we must have God-centered pastors and a God-centered focus on the Gospel. Now notice the third necessary ingredient for the God-centered church...

3. God-centered fellowship. 1 Timothy 1:18-3:16
As Paul develops further this major theme of "The God-centered church", he deals with a subject that many Christians think they know about but often don't - fellowship. What is fellowship? Is it just about "dinner-on-the-grounds"? Certainly coming together and enjoying one another with food is Biblical (Israel had feasts and the early church had its love feasts!). 

However fellowship is far more than just about food. 1 Timothy 1:18-3:16 gives us a crystal clear picture about what constitutes God-centered fellowship. With God-centered pastors, focus and fellowship explained in the first three chapters of 1 Timothy, we can now focus on the final necessary ingredient for a God-centered church...

4. God-centered living. 1 Timothy 4:1-6:21
What is the purpose of God's people coming together? Why do we have houses of worship today? We come together in the walls so that we can be equipped to make Christ known outside the walls. As is the pattern of Paul's letters, the first half is devoted to right-doctrine and the second half is devoted to right living. You cannot live right unless you believe right. Likewise, one cannot prove they believe right unless they are living rightly. 

God-centered churches can only demonstrate they are such when they are living out what they believe. A God-centered church or Christian is one that not only has God at the center but also at the circumference of daily life. The subjects we see mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:1-6:21 include wise decision making, morality, health, handling of money, family, widowhood, compensation of the pastor, men's treatment of women, women's conduct before men, avoidance of gossip, one's testimony and other important issues. How many of those subjects do you find being experienced in the average church today? Answer: All of them! When we say we want to be God-centered, that not only includes the songs we sing and the sermons we preach but also the lives we live 24-7. 

Closing Thoughts:
Today was about doing a fly-over of 1 Timothy and understanding the main ingredients of a God-centered church:

1. God-centered pastors. 1 Tim 1:1-15

2. God-centered focus. 1 Tim 1:16-17

3. God-centered fellowship. 1 Tim 1:18-3:16

4. God-centered living.. 1 Tim 4:1-6:21