Read 1 Timothy 1
There is the story of an Italian boy’s confession that has made the rounds a few times.
'Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I have been with a loose girl'.
The priest asks, 'Is that you, little Joey Pagano ?'
'Yes, Father, it is.'
'And who was the girl you were with?'
'I can't tell you, Father. I don't want to ruin her reputation'.
‘Well, Joey, I'm sure to find out her name sooner or later so you may as well tell me now. Was it Tina Minetti?'
'I cannot say.'
'Was it Teresa Mazzarelli?'
'I'll never tell.'
'Was it Nina Capelli?'
'I'm sorry, but I cannot name her.'
'Was it Cathy Piriano?'
'My lips are sealed.'
'Was it Rosa DiAngelo, then?'
'Please, Father, I cannot tell you.'
The priest sighs in frustration. 'You're very tight lipped, and I admire that. But you've sinned and have to atone; therefore, you cannot be an altar boy now for 4 months. Now you go and behave yourself.'
Joey walks back to his pew, and his friend Franco slides over and whispers, 'What'd you get?'
'Four months vacation and five good leads.'
We don’t all start out as altar boys. Sometimes starting out as an altar boy isn’t all it is cracked up to be.
Sometimes we come to the Lord only after a somewhat rocky start. Sometimes it is an outright rebellious start.
We know of 4 missionary journeys for the man that we refer to as Paul in most of the New Testament. He did go by the name of Saul for awhile, especially when he was hunting down Christians.
He was a man with a mission.
He was driven.
He sought out authority to rid the Promised Land of these followers of “The Way” and even went so far as to track them down to Damascus, or at least almost to Damascus.
Then came this Road to Damascus encounter with the risen Lord.
Then came the most significant thing that ever happened in this man’s life.
Then came the biggest turnaround that we see in the New Testament.
Paul, once the sworn enemy of anyone who followed Jesus, was sent into the world as his apostle.
He was sent.
We use this word “sent” for missionaries and apostles.
He didn’t just go into the world. He was sent on a mission.
He didn’t just go out and share the gospel. He was sent to proclaim good news.
He was still driven.
He was still determined.
He still acted within the authority granted him, but he was sent by Jesus into the world to proclaim good news.
This was no longer one man’s quest for accomplishment.
This was one man’s obedience to God, and this one man by the name of Paul was sent into the world.
And as Paul advanced the gospel into the world, he directed a young believer, perhaps a young pastor, by the name of Timothy, to “stay.”
Stay where you are.
Stay in Ephesus. There is work for you to do there.
Paul was still on the move, but he told Timothy to stay.
When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he said, “One plants and one waters.”
Paul is telling Timothy, “Stay there and water.”
Paul is telling Timothy, “My mission is over the next horizon. I am sent. Your mission is right here. You are to maintain and defend what we have here.”
If we move ahead on the timeline to some point in the future, Jesus speaks to the angel of the church in Ephesus and tells him to recapture their first love. This is the same church that Paul is telling Timothy to lead.
Jesus says, “Remember the height from which you have fallen and repent. Do the things that you did at first.”
So as we consider this city called Ephesus, we see the birth of a new church body and almost immediately, we begin to see problems that needed to be addressed on a full time basis.
We have probably known similar experiences. We join an organization, start a job, or even become a member of a church, and things just seem right at first. We experience a natural high. Everything just seems to click. There are very few rules. Everyone just “gets it.”
Then something happens and so there has to be a rule. Then somebody questions the fairness of the rule only in this instance, and it is applied in several instances and in different circumstances. In a year or two or three, everyone is so concerned about the rules that they forgot why they joined the organization in the first place.
Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to hold firm in the faith as people wanted to beat up these new Christians with all sorts of rules. Timothy was to actively combat false doctrine, dispel the myths that were being attached to Christianity, and discharge the importance placed upon the ritual of circumcision among those who had come to righteousness by faith.
I can almost visualize Paul smiling out of the corner of his mouth as he was being run out of city after city and occasionally stoned or imprisoned, thinking, “You got the sorry end of the stick, Timothy. You got the tough end of this bargain.”
“Yes, young man, you know where you will sleep tonight but you also see the problems that surround your ministry. You see the good news under attack, but I left you there to hold on and stand firm.”
In World War I shortly after the Marines distinguished themselves at Belleau Wood, came the battle of Soissons. A young first lieutenant by the name of Clifton B. Cates found himself up against overwhelming odds.
Cates himself was wounded a third time, a shell fragment that cut his leg. Holding a captured bit of trench, he sent back a scribbled message to his battalion commander, Major Holcomb:
I have only 2 men left out of my company and 20 out of other companies. We need support but it is almost suicidal to try to get here as we are swept by machine gun fire and a constant artillery barrage is upon us. I have no one on my left, and only a few on my right. I will hold.
I will hold.
Paul is telling Timothy to hold what he has and defend the faith against all attackers.
Paul could have said, “You have a glimpse into what people with deal with in the 21st Century.”
Now circumcision and the Law of Moses are not really hot topics today, but following Jesus is. Coming up with your own religion and claiming it to be on a level with God in the flesh loving us to the death, that is an issue.
Attacking Christianity as offensive to anyone and anything has become an issue. It may not have any sort of tangible foundation as an issue, but that doesn’t stop people from attacking the faith just because they can.
The church as a whole being consumed by issues instead of taking the good news to the world, that is an issue in itself.
There are so many today who claim to be Christians but behave like the bell cow of discontent. They say that they follow Jesus, but truly the only thing they follow is a selfish desire to stir up more controversy as if controversy were a valuable commodity.
Some want to be teachers but don’t know what they are talking about, and I will add this corollary to Paul’s words, are not willing to invest the study and effort and time required to become a workman approved.
Too many people want their opinion to be regarded as the truth, but will not seek the truth before formulating an opinion.
Some people just want to beat Christianity out of existence.
Paul reminds Timothy of a truth that could easily be obscured. He says, “And I was the worst of them all.”
Paul tells Timothy and tells us that as bad as these people who attack the church are, I was worse.
He says, I was worse but God saw fit to use me. He saw fit to use the most useless of his people and make him an apostle to the nations.
And so Paul tells Timothy—who he left in the middle of this controversy while he gallivants across the globe—to defend his faith with love. He says the reason that I am leaving you here with this less than desirable mission is love.
So fulfill you mission with a pure heart, with a good conscience, and with sincere faith.
A pure heart.
A good conscience.
He tells Timothy that people will use the Law of Moses to attack faith in the Lord. He reminds him that when the law is used with good purpose, it produces good results.
It shows the rebel and the lawless where they have fallen short. It prepares the soul to accept the truth.
He says that the righteous don’t need the law, they are living by faith.
It is the very people that try to manipulate the law against the gospel who need it the most—the lawbreakers, the rebels, the ungodly, and the sinners.
The people who wield the law against the true faith are carrying the very instrument by which they may see the truth. The law can bring conviction and ready the sinful person for the truth. The law can render a teachable spirit out of a rebellious heart.
The Spirit stands ready to lead those convicted by the law to the truth and to life.
Paul is telling Timothy, this is your fight. This is your battle. This is your battlefield. This is why I am leaving you’re here.
Timothy should not have too much to complain about as Paul left Titus to defend the faith among a bunch of Cretans.
In later correspondence, Paul would relate to Timothy that his race—Paul’s race—was coming to an end. He would say, I have run the good race, fought the good fight, and kept the faith.
In this earlier correspondence that we have examined, he tells Timothy to run the good race right there in Ephesus, fight the good fight right where you are, and keep the faith in this place that you now call home.
Today, nearly all who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior will be called to defend their faith right where they live. A few will be sent. Most will be called to follow Jesus right where they live.
With a pure heart.
With a good conscience.
With sincere faith.
Sometimes our message of good news contains a heavy dose of theology. Sometimes our weekly challenges are more reflective than hands on, but sometimes, they are like the instructions that Paul left with Timothy.
Defend the faith right where you are.
Do this out of love.
Do it with a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.
Do it with power, love, and self-discipline.
For most Christians, this is what we are called to do.
Some will be sent. Most will be left to reclaim the love you first knew in the church, to defend your faith out of love, and to live a genuine faith right in your own back yard.
Most of the ministry that most Christians do will be accomplished with 50 miles of where they live.
You are called to grow in grace, to grow in faith, and to recapture that first love that you knew in the church before the church was confounded with rules and issues and with anything that keeps us from our mission of life, love, and salvation.
How do we accomplish this? How do we do this when the church, the faith, is under attack? How do we repel this attack?
Not with condemnation, but with a pure heart.
Not through retaliation, but with a good conscience.
Not in desperation, but with sincere faith.
We defend with power from God himself. Resist the Devil and he will flee.
We defend with love. We are made in God’s image and God is love. We defend the faith not with the cleverness of the world but with love itself.
We defend with self-discipline. Trusting in God with everything we have and not in our own understanding. Acknowledging God with every step and he will keep us on course. Our persistence in trusting God keeps us on course. We stay the course.
Where do we accomplish this?
Usually right where we live.
We do not become burdened by issues but become engaged in living our faith right where we are: With a pure heart, a good conscience, sincere faith, power, love, and self-discipline.
Some will be sent.
Most will live out their faith right where they are with power, love, and self-discipline.