Timothy the young pastor was responsible for the souls of many people long ago. I imagine his congregation was just like any other congregation in all the important ways – sinners, struggles, sanctified things too. As is true for us here, there were there many, many dangers. Some rapid-response sorts of situations. And others, lurking, seeping, growing things – cancers to cut out and check on. A particular tension for Tim was false teachers, people who taught “other things” than God’s things. Paul called them “conceited” and people who “understand nothing”, who “have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”
As our theme this morning implies – Christians have a right relationship with wealth – there’s obviously a wrong relationship that can be had. Paul describes it for Timothy like this: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” As Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Surely you’ve had the situations that prove that true. Job lost and still a mortgage to pay. That’s legitimately scary – what will you do? At least you’re tempted to worry…to discontent with how things are and with what you’ll have. There’s comparative richness – your friend’s new bike and new game system and new clothes – and your old things. The balance of your marriage/family relationship and the workload you will take on – a temptation to be constantly working and not tending to what’s most important – because there’s always a possibility for more advancing and more money because those will make things better. Some of the things are harmful desires – when you do all sorts of unscrupulous things for love of money and work yourself into all kinds of trouble, or when you work to get what you have to have but your working leaves no consideration for what God says you have to have. There are foolish things – time and money you spend for stuff that breaks, stuff that loses its lustre in a week, stuff you didn’t start with when you came into the world and can’t take with you when you leave. The love of money, the pursuit of money, the plots for money, the longing for money – can be a real trap.
As with the false teachers Paul warned about, the love of money certainly could be a danger for your pastors – dissatisfaction or false desires and twisted teaching that could grow all this and put us in our “best life now”. But it’s a danger for you too – you also are people of God. Paul warns just like Jesus: “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” When money is your master, it breeds discontent – there’s always more to get – and it argues that what God has given is never enough. Which finally, tests the truth of your trust in him – do you trust him if you constantly serve another who you consider supplies you better? And why do it if God can’t really supply what you need, if what he demands might actually hamper what you want? Is it any wonder Paul says, “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs…
Paul’s letter to Timothy was a warning to help keep people away from such an end. It is a package of encouragements and directions for how to be a godly minister to God’s people – and at the same time, it’s a model for Christian people of any age. Here, how to respond to a love of money that threatens to replace love for God. What Paul’s encouraging for people of God instead is a proper response to these things. It’s like one you know…
You can still see it in slow-motion. It started with a tingle, a sense. Something in your peripheral vision. Everything your side of the highway was clear: three lanes, fast-moving traffic, median strip empty grass, Bob Marley singin’ “Don’t worry…” But there was a white puff – smoke. A shake. The tractor-trailer heading north, wobbled east, and dove west. Puffs of grass, furrows of dirt. It tore through the median and into oncoming traffic – your traffic. Two lanes away. Headlights like Thanksgiving serving platters. Your children sleeping in the backseat. And like in some Marvel movie time slowed… It slowed because, for you, everything was speeding up. In response to this hulking, speeding threat, your brain kicks into action – your sympathetic nervous system and your adrenal cortex shoot commands to glands and muscles and release over 30 hormones into the bloodstream. And, in a fraction of a second, hundreds of things happen. Some of which include: your heart revs to 7,000 rpm; pupils dilate to see as much as possible – what’s wrong and what to do; your smooth muscles relax and oxygen floods your lungs; digestion and immune systems and everything else not necessary right now shut down for emergency mode; veins in your skin contract and push blood to your major muscle groups, fuel for the fight; blood-sugar rises – sugar-rush and hormone flood cause your muscles to tense up like the Incredible Hulk’s… And by God’s grace, you exercise more control over the mass of your mini-van than the greatest Formula 1 driver – you thread the needle between cars, tromp the gas, pump the brakes in an unthought and automatic response that you couldn’t repeat on purpose… and you slide into safety at the side of the road. And then it took about 20 minutes before you were good to drive again – before stuff relaxed and your heart calmed down and you could breathe right.
That is God’s in-built, automatic reaction system in our bodies, designed to preserve us in moments of danger – or at least give us a fighting chance. It can happen in a car crash or if you have a crazy phobia or when you give a speech in class. We call it fight or flight. Technically they call it the acute stress response.
This morning Paul calls people of God to respond to the sinful world that threatens faith. Call it the Ardent Spiritual Response. It’s the reaction of people who are saved. To be who they are: people of God – his people – people who are owned by him, but also who are willfully for him by faith. They are zealous – ardent to do his will. They are spirit-created people – people of faith. And how do they respond to the stresses of sin? It’s flight and fight.
Paul says, “But you, [person] of God, flee from all this…” Run away from the temptations of satisfaction in this world – the dream that all the things you could buy, the comforts you could make, can even compare with the peace God gives – eternal peace with the sovereign eternal. Don’t dabble, experiment, test out and see. Flee, that is, turn away from and run from those sins that have snagged you, the traps of wealth that have pulled you in. Repent and retreat from these. Run after those things your master above loves. For…
- God loves righteousness – when you live as his holy people, rejoicing in the fact that you don’t stand before him on the basis of your goodness but that you have perfection in Jesus’ forgiveness of all your sins and his holiness;
- God loves godliness – respect for God and his ways that shows up in your daily life, that others can see, that wins them from allegiance to other things and to him instead;
- God loves faith – trust in God above all others, that he will supply you with what you need, that when he gives you what you have it is enough…
- God loves love – when you know in your heart no matter how rewarding this life is that your reward is with him, because he has poured out rich love for you in his Son, and you are so well supplied that you are free to love others in the same, generous, undeserved and unreserved way.
- God loves endurance – bearing up under the temptations and the struggles of this sinful world because you are confident in him.
- and God loves gentleness – the humility you have because you know his love for you and his power and might and that you are just like every other sinner and so you suffer or you are persecuted or you are abused but you are never better.
God loves, in your flight from sin, that you run after these – so that they run through you, they flood your life and fill your thoughts.
And you can imagine, if you are so filled with and running after God’s will, you will not passively receive sin’s temptations. You will “fight the good fight of the faith”. The word is the one that athletes of every age have done – they fight for the win. They do countless sprints, they hit the gym, they train their bodies, they beat back the distractions and with regimented discipline they press hard to win the prize. Paul said, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) Here, Paul calls you “take hold of eternal life”.
How do you do it? You people of God discipline yourselves in two ways. 1) You rest in what God has done – “you were called” to this eternal life by his powerful Spirit. He planted faith in your heart and made you his own. Rehearse and know that fact – you were called out of darkness and into God’s marvelous light – by his power, his work. And 2) you live what you’ve confessed – “you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Paul reminds Timothy of that moment because it was Tim’s own recognition of who he was. You’ve done that here – in a close fellowship way, whether by transfer from some other place where you did it first, or by public declaration in a church service after a course of instruction, you stood up and said, “These things I believe…” That beautiful good confession said that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life and you serve nothing else, no one else, more than him. Rehearse that, review that, renew that each week as we gather around God’s Word and witness to one another. And – called and confessing – you will be fighting for the faith – holding boldly on to what God has given and letting go of everything else.
God’s people respond to this sinful world in this way – this flight and fight. And we are not alone. Just as Paul said to Timothy, so it is for us. In God’s presence we live – the God, who gives life to all things and is concerned with your lives; Jesus Christ who made the perfect confession of doing God’s will so that you and I could do anything by faith in him. So take hold of eternal life – with the intent of holding on to it instead of this; with the confidence of those around you who confess this faith too. Keep it blameless and pure – holy and honestly – until when Jesus returns.
And know that the God you serve is king of all kings, he is living light and unapproachable majesty and no one has seen him – but by Jesus’ work you will. In his own time, he will return. Honor and power and glory be to him – especially in how we keep his commands.