At home I have a photograph that was taken at my confirmation. Which also happened to be my 15th birthday. I had become a Christian just a few months before. And in the picture I'm stood with the Assistant-Minister of my church, who was called Mark, and who was the one God had used to show me the gospel. And the Bishop who had confirmed me. And 12 of my friends who had like me, just declared their faith in Jesus Christ before all of our friends and our families. We're all excited and smiling. It was a great day. And I remember looking at that photo with Mark sometime later. And as he looked over my shoulder he said, 'Do you know, Dimitri, statistically in 10 years time only half of those people will still be coming to church and have an active faith in Christ.' Well, he was wrong. 10 years later ¾ of the people I was confirmed with had left the church and no longer had faith Christ. And as far as I know today, 18 years later, only 2 or 3 of them are still going as Christians. All the others have fallen away.
Just the other day I was going through the HTG database. Did you know there are over 1000 people on the HTG database! And I went through all the names of the people I didn't recognise with Rod. And lots of them were one-off visitors, or have moved on. Some of them have got married and moved away, a couple have died. But there were also times when I would say a name and Rod would say, 'I don't know where they are…they just stopped coming.'
If you've been a Christian for any time at all, I'm sure you know people who at one time seemed to really be going for it. Their faith seemed alive and active. But now…they're nowhere. The question for us is, how can we make sure that the same doesn't happen to us? How can we make sure that we don't fall out-of-love with Jesus? And away from his Church? How can you ensure, that you endure?
Do you remember why Paul wrote this letter? Timothy was a leader of a church in the city Ephesus. And Paul had heard that false teachers had come into the church and were teaching lies. And so Paul wrote to his young disciple Timothy, urging him to stand up against the false teachers. Do you remember back in 1.18-19, Paul urged Timothy to
fight the good fight, holding onto the faith and a good conscience.
He wanted Timothy to protect the church from false teachers, to fight for the faith and to guard the gospel. Now how was Timothy supposed to do that? Well in chapter 2 we saw that first of all Timothy was to pray for peace, so that Christians could go on living Christian lives without being persecuted by the government. Then he was to make sure that the men in church were prayerful, …that the women in church were modest, making themselves beautiful through good deeds, …and that the order in church reflected what God had set in place in creation.
In chapter 3 Paul told Timothy that he would guard the church against false teachers by making sure that the right people were in leadership.
And at the beginning of chapter 4, which we looked at last week, Timothy was to protect the church against false teachers by expecting them, recognizing them and revealing them as wolves in sheep's clothing. mThat, so far, is how Timothy is to "fight the good fight, hold onto the faith".
And now in 4.9 – 5.2 Paul says there's something else Timothy must do. And at first might come as a surprise. Because the next way for Timothy to protect the church from false teachers, is by making sure that he doesn't become one himself. Look back at 1.3-6. When Paul first urged Timothy to hold onto a good conscience and a sincere faith, …look at v6 and now look at 1.18-20a…
How did Hymenaeus and Alexander shipwreck their faith? By rejecting faith and a good conscience. Do you see the point? The false teachers, who were now preaching lies in the church, had once believed the truth. They had once had faith. They had once, at some level, believed, believed the truth but they wandered away…until they final rejected it. And so one of the ways that Timothy must protect the church from false teachers is by making sure that the same thing doesn't happen to him and that he doesn't become a false teacher himself? How is he going to do that? The answer is in 4v16. Paul says it is by watching his life and doctrine closely.First of all then, Paul says…
1) Watch your doctrine closely
Look at v.9-10… The gospel which Timothy believed and which Paul believed, is the truth about the living God. How did they know? How could they be sure? Well, because the living God himself had taught it to them. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians puts it like this...
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Jesus himself appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, and taught him gospel. And Paul, in turn had taught the gospel to Timothy. The gospel, the good news, is that there is a God who holds all of our lives in his hands… Who gives us breath and life every day. And to whom we owe everything. And if we put our faith and trust in him then he, through his Son Jesus Christ, will save us and give us fullness of life not just now but for eternity.
Paul gave his life, he labored and strived, v10, to preach this gospel. And if Timothy is going to be a good minister and not a false teacher, then he must, as it says in v11, "command and teach these things." And nothing else. He is to watch his doctrine closely by simply preaching the gospel of the living God, given to us by the living God. And how is Timothy to make sure that that is all he teaches, …and that he never wanders away or rejects the truth?
Timothy would hold onto God's word by devoting himself and the church in Ephesus to Scripture. To the OT which had been handed down to him, and the NT which the Apostles were now writing. Timothy would watch his doctrine closely by making sure that when he stood up to preach and teach he didn't speak his own ideas and thoughts but only what the Bible says. But that's not all he had to do to avoid becoming a false teaching. Paul's second command to Timothy is to…
2) Watch your life closely
Timothy had to make sure that his whole life was obedient to God's Word. He was to set an example in his speech. Not just when he stood at the front, preaching and teaching, but at all times. Never gossiping or lying. Not being mean and tearing down with his words, but being kind and building people up. He was to set an example in life. The way he lived, and the things he lived for, his goals and ambitions were to be God's goals and God's ambitions. Using the gift God had given him, v14.
He was to set an example in love. He wasn't to love the things of the world, possessions and prestige and power and the praise of men. He was to love the things that God loved, righteousness, holiness, faithfulness and most of all his Heavenly Father. He was to set an example in faith. Showing in his life that he trusted in the God that he preached. Choosing to obey God's word no matter the cost. Not being worried about tomorrow, or trying to take control of his own life, but trusting in God. And he was to set an example in purity. His life was to be transparent. He was to be utterly trustworthy, with money, with the opposite sex and with everything else. His life was to be above reproach.
If Timothy was to make sure he didn't become a false teacher he would have to watch his life closely. And in particular he was to make sure that his relationships with others were appropriate.
Timothy was a young man. The best guess that Church historians make is that he was probably in his early thirties at this point, which was young for a leader. And so Paul says that it's especially important that he gets his relationships right with the different members of church, 5 vv 1-2… For Timothy to be a good minister of Christ Jesus and not a false teacher himself, it wasn't enough for him simply to teach the right things, …he had to live a life which showed that he believed what he preached and was obedient to God. The church in Ephesus needed not only to hear the truth about the living God from Timothy, they needed to see that truth being put into practice, v15. Timothy has to watch his life and doctrine closely.
And the same is still true today. One of the greatest threats to the life of HTG comes from me and Rod. If we wander away from the truth, either in our doctrine or in our lives, then the gospel and the church will be compromised. I think we've already quoted Robert Murray McCheyne in this series, the old Scottish pastor, who said "My people's greatest need is my personal holiness." HTG's greatest need is Rod's personal holiness. So we need to pray for Rod. And I need you to pray for me, and we need to pray for Chris when he arrives in June. And we need to pray for for Tom as he considers going into church leadership. We need your prayers that we would watch our lives and doctrine closely. Will you pray for us? Church leaders need to watch their lives and their doctrine closely, so we must pray for them.
But that's not all we see in this passage.
Timothy watching his life and doctrine closely is not only the way for him to safe guard the church… Paul says it's also how Timothy will save himself. Do you see? Watching your life and doctrine closely isn't just a command for church leaders to avoid becoming false teachers. It's also how all Christians can avoid wandering away from and rejecting the truth. It's the way to ensure that you endure. Now as Christians we don't often talk about how we save ourselves do we?! After all we know, or at least I hope we know, that the Bible tells us that because we are sinners we cannot save ourselves. And that the only way to be saved is to put your faith in Jesus. But that's not what Paul is talking about here. He's talking about once you have become a Christian how you keep going as a Christian.
How we ensure that we endure. And again ultimately that is God's work in our lives. But that doesn't mean we just sit back and relax. No, we have a part to play. And the way to ensure that you endure, is to watch your life and doctrine closely.
First of all then,
1) Watch your doctrine closely
How do you do that? Well your doctrine is simply what you believe. So let me ask firstly… Do you know what you believe? If someone asked you what you believe, could you tell them? If a friend turned to you and said… "You're a Christian, what do you think about other religions, they're all the same aren't they? Would you know what to say? Do you know what you believe?
What if they said… "I think I'm a pretty good guy, I've lived a good life, I'm ready to take my chances before God." What if they said… "You're a Christian aren't you, do you think I'm going to Hell?" What if they said… "You're a Christian aren't you, so why does God allow tsunamis, and terrorist attacks and tornadoes?"
What if they asked you what sin is? Or grace? What if they said 'I'm too bad to get into heaven' mWhat is Heaven? Who gets in and who doesn't? And why? What is good and what is bad and what is right and what is wrong?
DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE?
Q. Do you know why you believe it?
You see it's no good just knowing what you believe, or what you think you believe… You need to know why you believe it. Let's start somewhere simple, 'Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.' Where? Where does the Bible say that Jesus loves you? Do you know? Where does it say that not all religions are the same? Or that there is life after death and a real place called Heaven and real place called Hell? Do you know that you believe? And do you know why you believe it? If you don't…then you're not watching your doctrine closely. And when life gets hard, or you are asked difficult questions, then your faith will be at risk. If we want to ensure that we endure then Paul says we need to watch our doctrine closely.
2)Watch your life closely
Believing the right things is important, but it's not enough if you want to ensure that you will endure. We also need to watch our lives closely. Because if you're not living an obedient life, well then sooner or later your doctrine will change to suit the sin that you want to indulge. So let me ask you another question. Are you checking how you live? Are you daily holding up you life next to God's word to see if you're being obedient? What sins do you keep coming back to? What are your struggles? What are the areas in your life where you know you need to grow in holiness? Where does temptation come for you?
Do you know the answer to those questions? If you don't then I would suggest that you're not watching your life closely. Let me tell you the single most helpful thing I have ever done to help me watch my life closely. It was saying to a friend of mine called Sam, "Sam, can we meet up to pray for each other? And when we do, could you ask me some tough questions about my life. Ask me what I'm watching on TV or looking at online. Ask me what I'm spending my money on. Ask me what's making me anxious." Do you have a friend or two who you really trust who you could ask to meet up with? We need to watch our lives closely.
I am no different to the 12 other people I got confirmed with 18 years ago. I'm not more godly than they are, I'm certainly not less sinful. Sadly, we all know people who used to come to church and who used to call themselves Christians, but now… They seem to be nowhere. How can we make sure we don't go the same way? If you are a Christian then ultimately it is only God who can complete the work he has begun in you. But you and I still have a role to play. How can we ensure that we endure? Paul says, we must watch our lives and doctrine closely.