Does the world really need the church?Well in some ways the answer seems to be a fairly straight forward 'No', doesn't it?Year after year we're told that the number of people going to church is shrinking (at least in this country) and that the average age of people who go to church is going up.Only this week someone told me, quite matter-of-factly, that if the church doesn't change, it's going to die.The church seems out of date, and out of touch with our modern world.And not only do many people think that the world won't miss the church when it's gone, many would also say that we would have been better off if it had never existed.They look at the world around them and not only do they see that religion doesn't seem to have any answers, but it's actually the cause of so many of the problems in this world.Abuse, harm, division and even wars are all seem to be the fault of the Church.And if we needed the Church once upon a time to provide healthcare and education and humanitarian outreach, well now we've got the NHS and social services and hundreds of other charities to do all that, haven't we. Perhaps once upon a time the world needed the Church.
Look at chapter 1. Paul, v.1, wrote this letter to Timothy, v2 his disciple and protégé.And he tells him why in v.3. Timothy was the leader of a church in a city called Ephesus. And false teachers had come into the church, so it was Timothy's job to stand against them. And we're never told told exactly what the false teachers were teaching, but we can get a good idea from the things that Paul focuses on in this letter. Look at v.7…These guys fancied themselves as teachers of the OT law.But Paul tells us that they didn't know what they were talking about.In v.8-11 he showed how the false teachers thought that the law is for righteous people, and of course they think that they are righteous. But Paul says, that's completely wrong.The law is for sinners.God gave us the law to show us what wretched sinners we are and how much we need a saviour.
That's what we saw 2 weeks ago.
And then last week we saw why that is such good news and why Paul thinks that's such good news. v.15, because he knows himself to be the worst of sinners.Do you see?
The false teachers were claiming that they understood the law, and that they should be listened to and they should be leaders because they lived such righteous lives.And Paul says that's nonsense.The law isn't for people who think that they are good.It's for sinners, like Paul, in need of a saviour.That is the gospel of Jesus. And Paul commanded Timothy, as we saw last week, to fight for the gospel. He urged him to 'fight the good fight,' v.19, 'holding onto the faith and a good conscience.'
I think the false teachers, as far as we can tell, were Judaizers.That is, they wanted to hold on to the old Jewish ways, go back to the OT and forget Jesus.There are 2 things that save you, or so they thought 1) being Jewish (which is why they were so obsessed with 'endless genealogies' v.4) and 2) keeping the law perfectly (which is a myth). And so Paul writes to Timothy to encourage him to fight for the true gospel, the good news of Jesus, and to keep the faith. (Look at the way he ends the letter in 6 vv 20-21…)How is Timothy going to do that? How is he going to fight the good fight?Well really that's what Paul is going to explain in detail for the rest of the letter.And the first thing he tells Timothy to do is…
1)Pray for Peace, v.1-2
The first part of Timothy guarding the true gospel is to pray for those who are in authority.That they might rule in such a way that Christians who are living godly and holy lives can live in peace and quiet in society.Now let's just stop there for a moment.What is Paul's aim for Christians in this verse?His aim for them, and their own aim for their lives should be godliness and holiness.
If you are a Christian then God has called you to live a godly and holy life.That means a life that is following him, following the example of his son Jesus and obeying him.And Paul's desire for them, and what Timothy should be praying for them, is that they might live in a world where being godly and living a holy life doesn't bring opposition and persecution, but is peaceful and quiet.
Now just as a side note, notice that Paul says that our aim in life should not be peace and quiet, but godliness and holiness.We say sometimes don't we "I just want a bit of peace a quiet."Well Paul says, peace and quiet are good, but they are not to be the aim of a Christians life, their aim is to be godly and holy.Is that true for you?Sometimes we set the goal of living a quiet life above living a godly life, and that's not Christian says Paul.
But notice also that Paul says our desire should be that our godliness and holiness doesn't cause trouble either for us or for the people around us.Our aim is to live godly and holy lives, but our desire is for peace and quiet.Is that true of you?Sometimes we fall into the trap of liking confrontation, even liking a fight, and that's not Christian either, says Paul.
Let's get back to Timothy.Paul says that the first way to fight the good fight and to hold onto the faith is to pray for peace.Now why is that?Why does Paul say that Timothy's first call as a church leader who is to guard the truth of the gospel is to pray that Christians in Ephesus can live godly and holy lives in peace and quiet from the authorities?Why? Because the world needs the Church Because if the authorities make it illegal to be a Christian…If the rulers of the people decide that it is against the law to say that Jesus is the Son of God, or that there is only one God, or that all other religions are wrong.Or if they make it illegal to meet up as a church.And if Christians who are seeking more than anything else to live godly and holy lives are put in prison for being faithful to the truth…Or killed for preaching Jesus…And rounded up and arrested when they go to church.If the authorities drive out Christianity altogether, well then…They will lose the only source of light in the world.Why is it so important for Timothy to pray that Christians can go on living distinctively Christian lives in society?
2) Because the only source of light in the world is the Church, v.3-7
There is only one true God.And there is only one way to come and know him, and that is through his word. Now that may seem blindingly obvious to you this evening, but I forget it all the time.There is only one God, and you can only come to know him through his word.You cannot come to know God through nature.You cannot get to know God through meditation or philosophy.You cannot think your way to God.You cannot come to know God through any other religion in all the world.Not Buddhism, not Hinduism, not Islam not Shintoism, not Taoism, not Animism, not even Judaism, which reads all about him in the OT.
The only way for us to come to know the one true God is for that one true God to reveal himself to us.And he has done that in his word, the Bible.Now don't misunderstand me.I know that God can appear to people in dreams, or write on walls. He can even speak to people through their donkey's if he wants.He is God, nothing is beyond him.But he has chosen, primarily, to speak to us through his word.The only way he has promised to speak to people is through his word.And even when people do miraculously come to know God through other means, they still need to come to the Bible to know him fully.
There is only one God.And there is only one way to be saved by God and from God, and that is through God.Through his Son, Jesus Christ, he is our mediator. That is to say he brings us and God back together in a right relationship.How?By giving his life as a ransom for all men. There is only one God and only one way to be saved.And how has God chosen to make himself and his salvation known? Through the Church. It is one of the greatest mysteries in the world.Of all the infinite ways that God could have chosen to make himself known to mankind. This is what he chose.Of all the places he could have stored the secret of his existence and the treasure of salvation…this is what he chose.In his infinite wisdom, and to my constant amazement (!)God chose that the one way he would tell all the world about himself was through US! The Church!The good news of Jesus, the treasure of the law which shows us that we need a saviour, and the treasure of the gospel which shows us that God has provided a saviour.
God chose to store that good news HERE! In the Church!No wonder Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 v 7 says that Christians are like jars of clay, worthless, grubby, ugly thing, filled with priceless treasure!
I don't know if you saw in the news this week that a secret art collection was found belonging to the son of Hitler's personal art dealer.Apparently he had collected 1400 works of art including works by Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Renoir, which are worth in total £850million.And he kept them in a farmhouse!£850million, in a farmhouse!!!But that is nothing compared to what God has done.He has taken his greatest treasure, the gospel, and put it in the Church.
Jesus came and taught the good news. He lived and died and rose again.And he commissioned his Apostles to go on preaching that good news, v7… Paul passed that gospel onto Timothy, a gentile…And now Timothy was to pass it faithfully onto the church in Ephesus.So that they would tell others and they would tell others and they would tell others.Until one day, someone sat down with you and with me, and they told us the truth.
If you are a Christian here tonight, then you are part of that chain.You are part of the Church.And now you have this treasure within you.And that is why Paul calls Timothy and us to pray for peace.Because the only source of light in this world is the Church.The first way for Timothy to fight the good fight and to hold onto the faith is to pray that the rulers and those in authority would lead in such a way that allows Christians to go on living godly and holy lives in society…So that they might tell other people about the one true God and the only way to be saved.
What should we take away from this? We need to ask ourselves, are we praying for our leaders?Are we praying for the Prime Minister and his government?For MPs in the House of Commons and for those serving in the House of Lords?Are we praying for local authorities, for school governors, for those in the civil service and for all those who have any say over public life?
We must be praying for them.Our aim is to live godly and holy lives, but our desire is to be able to do that in peace and quiet, not for our own sakes, but for the sake of the world around us so that we can tell them the truth.And we should also be praying for our brothers and sisters around the world who don't enjoy that freedomFor the millions of Christians who live in countries and societies and families where living godly and holy lives means facing persecution and opposition and hardship and even death, every day.Let's pray for their leaders that they would change, so that the Church can be the Church in peace and quiet.
2) We must take our calling seriously
In Britain and here in Gateshead we have the enormous privilege of living in a world where we can live godly and holy lives in peace and quiet, more or less.We are allowed to be the Church, so the question is…Are we being a source of light to the world around us?We are free in Gateshead to live godly and holy lives which is good and pleases God.Why?Because God wants people from all over the world and here in Gateshead to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
Now how are they going to do that? How are people in Gateshead going to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth?How are they going to hear about the one true God and the only way to be saved? From You and from Me!!
We have this treasure, we have this truth, we have this knowledge IN US.Do you want to know God's plan for reaching Gateshead?Its YOU and its ME.THE CHURCH is God's plan to save the world!Do you remember what it says in Romans 10, v. 9, 13
That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
And then Paul asks the question, v14…
How, then, can they (non-believers) call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
The only way these people will hear the gospel and have a chance to be saved is if you and I tell them!God has no other plan. We are it!The only source of light in this world is the Church. So what are we doing about it?What are you doing about it? And what am I doing about it?This isn't a theoretical question. This isn't a hypothetical.This is a real question which I am asking you and I'm asking myself right now.What are we doing?What are we going to do to reach the Old Fold, and St James' Village, and Felling and Low Fell and Pelaw and Bensham with the gospel?The only source of light in this world is the Church.Now we need to be careful when we ask these questions.It's right for us to ask them, it's crucial that we ask them, but we must be careful.But we must not take on a burden that is not rightly ours.The lives and souls of the people around us are not in our hands, they are in God's hands.The name of every one of his children is already written down in His Book of Life, and nothing we do can either add or take away from that list, praise the Lord.
And at the same time we must never think that God is incapable of saving people without our help.If we fail in our task to reach out to those who live in Gateshead, then God is more than able to raise up other Christians and other churches to do his work through them.The truth that we must always remember is that God will save those he has chosen with or without us.
But if that is the case, if God can save souls in Gateshead either with or without us…Well then…why not save them with us!!!If he's going to send someone into the Old Fold to preach to them about the one true God, and if he's going to send someone into Low Fell to tell them about the only way to be saved…Then why not you!!And why not me?!