Why We Fight

Timothy was charged to shut down the false teachers who were obscuring the gospel message. But we need to remember that this wasn’t just about debates; it wasn’t just about proving who was right. It was about the gospel, the same gospel that transformed Paul from being a Jesus-hater into a Jesus-lover.

Andrew Harder on September 29, 2019
Why We Fight
September 29, 2019

Why We Fight

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Passage: 1 Timothy 1:12-20
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We’re now in our third week studying Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve heard how the church in Ephesus was being harmed by a group of rogue teachers who were leading the church away from what they had been taught by the apostles. And Paul sent Timothy there to set things straight again and teach the church how they were supposed to function.

Beginning in chapter 2 of this letter, which we’ll get into next week, we’ll start to see those instructions Timothy was given for how the church was supposed to work. But today, we finish up chapter 1, which focuses on Timothy’s first priority in Ephesus, which was shutting down the false teachers.

We first heard about this priority in verse 3: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). And last week we explored the reason for this charge. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

Timothy needed to shut down the false teachers so that love could flourish in the Ephesian church. And exploring how that worked was the point of last week’s message.

In our passage today, Paul continues to speak to Timothy about this charge, but he does so in a way that is very personal. He speaks very personally about what this charge is going to mean for Timothy. And he speaks very personally from his own story about why this charge matters so much.

And so we’re actually going to work through this passage in reverse order. We’re going to start in verse 18-20, where Paul addresses Timothy. And then we’ll finish up with verses 12-17, where Paul shares his own story. And I think you’ll understand why we’re doing things in that order as we move though the message.


Entrusted with the Charge

One reason that we’re beginning with verse 18 is that this is where the main flow of thought in the first chapter picks back up. Verse 3 said, “remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). Verse 5 said, “The aim of our charge is love.” And verse 18 says, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child” (1 Timothy 1:18).

These words in verse 18 don’t introduce a new idea to us, but they do repeat this idea of the charge in very personal words. Paul’s language here is almost solemn as he tells Timothy that he’s been entrusted with this charge. It’s his responsibility now.

You can almost picture the general looking his lieutenant in the eyes and saying, “I’m trusting you with this mission.” And, in fact, the sense of a military mission isn’t that far off. Because look at how verse 18 finishes up. Paul describes Timothy’s mission as waging “the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18). Timothy’s mission to Ephesus was war.

And this isn’t just a metaphor. This was real warfare. Do you remember what Paul had written to the Ephesian church? “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). And there, in Ephesus, Timothy was fighting spiritual battle for the sake of the church.

Every conversation Timothy had with the false teachers was an act of war. Every sermon he preached was an act of war. Every prayer he prayed was an act of war. Satan wanted to destroy the church in Ephesus and every aspect of Timothy’s ministry was a military engagement with the forces of darkness.

So as General Paul entrusts Timothy with this difficult mission, he does what good generals do. He encourages Timothy with some words that will help him fulfill this mission well. And as we look at verses 18-20, we see that he does this in three ways. First, he reminds him of something God has done in the past. Second, he directs him with what he needs to do in the present, and finally, he warns him against what could happen in the future if he swerved from the mission. Past, present, and future.

That’s what we see in verses 18-20, and so let’s look at all three in turn.


Encouragement From the Past

The encouragement from the past comes in verse 18. “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18).

When Timothy had been commissioned to ministry, someone present had received a prophecy about him. We don’t know what the prophecy said, but obviously this would have been extremely meaningful. And it’s something that most of us don’t get. In fact,  maybe you think, “Oh, that would be nice! Just to have God tell me things about myself and give me a clear sense of direction. That would make it all so much easier.”

But I hope you notice that it didn’t necessarily make things easier for Timothy. For one, this is not the last time that Paul will need to remind Timothy about these prophecies (1 Timothy 4:14). Timothy had to work to remember them. Second, the prophecies may have given Timothy direction, but the direction they gave him was a difficult one. Would you want his job? And third, we can’t miss that the prophecies were not self-fulfilling. They did not exempt Timothy from fighting. In fact, they were the very things he needed to use as he fought. “That by them [that is, by these prophecies] you may wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18).

Whatever promises he had received, they still needed to be put to work.

The same is true for us, by the way. Jesus has given us some powerful promises, like the promise that nobody can snatch his sheep out of his hand (John 10:28). But these promises aren’t an excuse for us to do nothing. “If I’m safe for eternity, then it doesn’t really matter what I do.” That’s not how it works.

Instead, it works like verse 18 describes. God’s promises are the encouragement for us to keep fighting. They are our weapons in the battle. “Press on, because victory has been promised.” And that’s what Paul says here. “Remember the prophecies, and use them to fight.”


Direction for the Present

So that’s the encouragement from the past. Remember God's promises. In the present, Timothy is encouraged to put those promises to work, and to “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience” as verse 19 says. That’s what Timothy had to do now. Fight, holding faith and a good conscience.

Do these words sound familiar at all? Remember verse 5? “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

And if you were here last week you’ll remember that faith and a good conscience are the property of every person whose heart has been transformed by the gospel. They are what normal Christians experience as they believe the gospel. And these normal things are the very things that Timothy needed most in the thick of his battle.

Even though Timothy was a significant leader and was close with the apostle Paul, he was still just a Christian. And what Timothy needed most in his struggle was the simple fruit of the gospel. Faith in the promises of God. A good conscience, which comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven and then putting that sin to death by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How many times have we seen powerful, influential Christian leaders crash and burn because they were not applying in their private lives what they were teaching others do to in their public ministry? That’s exactly what Paul doesn’t want to happen to Timothy. And so he reminds him that his personal character and personal holiness are of utmost importance as he fights for the health of the Ephesian church.


Warning from the Future

And that leads us into the warning for the future that Paul finishes with in the rest of verse 19. “By rejecting this”—by rejecting a good conscience—“some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

Hymenaeus comes up again in 2 Timothy 2:17-18. He was a false teacher who taught that the end-times resurrection had already happened. In other words, he taught heresy. But you know what went wrong first? It wasn’t his doctrine. It was his heart. He rejected a good conscience. Maybe it started with getting comfortable with little sins. Making little compromises. And then he stopped coming to Jesus for forgiveness. And eventually he embraced his sin and rejected a good conscience all together.

Any time I have seen someone embrace heresy and shipwreck their faith, it has followed this pattern. It’s always started with the heart. With the character. With their conscience. It started with sin.

When I was the Young Adults pastor in Regina, I regularly had young men come to me and say that they didn’t really believe in this Christianity stuff anymore. And it pretty much got to the point where when I would hear this, I would say, “Ok, tell me her name.” Because in almost every one of those cases, their so-called “struggle with faith” started when they got involved with a girl. And then they started sleeping together. And they kind of felt guilty about it for a while. And all of a sudden, so conveniently, the things their atheist professors said about the Bible started to sound a lot better than whatever their pastor was telling them. Funny how that happens.

I have a friend on the mission field who described the same thing to me. He’s seen numbers of his colleagues—fellow missionaries—leave Christianity and convert to the religion they had just spent decades trying to reach. Talk about making shipwreck of your faith. But as he dug deeper, he discovered where it started for these people. It started with pornography. These guys were searing their consciences with secret sin for decades. And the result was total shipwreck of their faith.

That’s what happened to Hymenaeus and Alexander. And that’s what Paul does not want to see happen to Timothy. He doesn’t want him to be another pastor who lives a secret life of sin for years before finally having his public reputation crash and burn.

I want you to know that this is something I take very seriously. I’ve watched too many pastors live aloof and isolated from the rest of their church, and it’s really anyone’s guess how they are really doing and what’s really going on in their personal life. And I really, really don’t want to be one of those pastors.

So one of the very first things I did when I started here at EBC was establish a weekly accountability report. Every Monday the rest of the guys on the board get an email that shows how I’m doing in several areas of my life and gives them a sense of whether there’s anything they should be concerned about.

I’m not above the possibility of crashing and burning. Timothy wasn’t. And that’s why Paul talks to him so much about his own life and his own conscience. And we’re going to hear about this several more times as we move through this series.


“Handed Over”

Before we move on, I want to draw our attention quickly to this phrase at the end of verse 20. After mentioning Hymenaeus and Alexander, Paul wrote that he had handed them “over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20).

What is that talking about? Does it sound like some ritual or practice or weird ceremony? In reality, Paul is describing something very straightforward. He’s talking about the final stage of church discipline, when someone has refused to repent of their sin, and so the church removes them from out of their fellowship.

We know that’s what this means to because of 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul very clearly uses this language of handing someone over to Satan in the context of removing a man from the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5:2,5).

The background to this phrase is the understanding that this world, this present evil age, is under the power of Satan. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” says 1 John 5:19. But here in the church, we are not under Satan’s dominion. We belong to the Kingdom of God. And the church is an embassy of that kingdom. Jesus is our Lord, and when we gather together, He reigns over us as king.

But when a church disciplines someone by removing them from their fellowship, what are they essentially doing? They are sending them out of the embassy and back into Satan’s domain. And that’s why the early church used this phrase. When they removed someone from their fellowship, they were handing them over to Satan.

But I hope you can see that the goal of this was not to punish the people but to see them restored. That’s what verse 20 says. These men were removed from the church, or handed over to Satan, “…that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20). This discipline was for their good. It was meant to teach them something. It was so that they would recognize their sin and repent and come back to the truth.

But Paul doesn’t want Timothy to ever get to the point where he needs that to happen to him. And so that’s why he mentions Hymenaeus and Alexander. It’s a subtle warning of what happens when you reject a good conscience.

So, this is Paul’s encouragement to Timothy. A reminder from the past, instruction for the present, and a warning from the future. And with that, chapter one is concluded.


Celebrating the Gospel

But this message is not concluded, because we still need to go back and understand verses 12-17 and how they fit into this big chapter about Timothys’ charge. And really, the best way of describing verses 12-17 is that they are like a sidebar in a newspaper or magazine. You often see something like that when the article mentions a word or an idea that needs more attention, and so they’ll put a bar or a box on the side of the page where it’s explained in more detail.

And that’s kind of what’s going on here. It started back in verse 11, where Paul was writing about all of those sinful behaviours which are not “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (1 Timothy 1:11).

That’s what verse 11 says. And it’s that last statement that just grabs Paul’s attention. The gospel of the glory of the blessed God has been entrusted to him.

And just remembering this caused Paul’s jaw to drop once again. Because Paul knew who he was. And he could never get used to the fact that God had saved him and that God had entrusted him with the gospel. It just blew his mind.

And so in verses 12-17, his mind gets blown all over the page for us to read. These verses show him marvelling again at God’s grace to him as he tells his story and praises the God who saved him in such an extraordinary way.

Now here’s why these verses are so important in this chapter. Timothy has been charged to shut down the false teachers who were obscuring the gospel message. But Timothy, and us, need to remember that this wasn’t just about debates; it wasn’t just about proving who was right. It was about the gospel, the same gospel that transformed Paul from being a Jesus-hater into a Jesus-lover.

So we can put it this way. Timothy needed to shut down the false teachers so that more and more people could do what Paul does in verses 12-17. So that the church can rejoice in the gospel and bring glory to God together.

That’s why verses 12-17 are a perfect place for us to wrap up this morning. Because this is what it’s all about. This is why Timothy had to fight. This is why we fight.

So let’s look at verse 12. “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Timothy 1:12–13a).

You’ll remember from the book of Acts that, before Jesus literally stopped Paul in his tracks, Paul hated the gospel and was doing whatever he could to stop the growth of the church, including throwing Christians into prison. He was a sworn enemy of Christianity.

“But,” as he says in the rest of verse 13 into verse 14, “I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:13b-14).

When Paul says that he acted “ignorantly in unbelief,” it could sound like he’s minimizing his sin. But that’s not the case, given all of the references here to mercy and grace and what he’s about to say in verse 15. Instead, it’s more likely that Paul is comparing himself to the false teachers. He harmed the church, but he didn’t actually know Christ or believe in Christ. He acted in the ignorance of unbelief.

But those guys causing problems in Ephesus should know better. They say they know Christ. So how do they explain what they’re doing to the church? That seems to be his point. He’s not trying to excuse his sin or sweep it under the carpet. And verse 15 makes this very clear.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15–16).

Do you know you’re a sinner? Does your conscience bother you? Do you feel unworthy when you come into this place with the rest of the people here?

Paul was a worse sinner than you. And Jesus saved him. Why? So that you and I can say, “If Jesus was patient with him, if Jesus saved him, then Jesus can save me. Or that relative or friend of mine whom I pray for. He can save them to.”

And all those years later, Paul just couldn’t get over that. It just blew his mind, that Jesus would come into the world to save him. It’s like that song we sang earlier. Paul stood amazed in the presence of Jesus and said “how marvellous, how wonderful, is my Saviour’s love for me.”

And in verse 17, he finally overflows in praise at this God who saved Him. “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17).

We sang some of these words earlier today in that song “Immortal, invisible, God only wise.” And this is our God. The one who is King over the ages—this age and the age to come. The one who is immortal, who cannot and does not die. The one who is invisible, who we cannot see and yet who has been revealed to us in Christ. The God who is unequaled—“the only God.”

And this God made a way for blaspheming, persecuting, insolent opponents like Paul to be saved and come to know and love and enjoy this God forever. And as Paul reflects on who this God is, and how this God has loved him, he is taken with a desire for this God to be worshipped and honoured forever. To Him “be honor and and glory forever and ever” (1 Timothy 1:17) he writes in verse 17. Paul is in awe of this majestic God who saved him and he wants this God to receive as much glory as he can.

Do you see where worship comes from? It comes from a true understanding of who God is, and it comes from a heart that is awestruck and how good this God has been to us. It reminds me of when Jesus told us that those who have been forgiven much will love much (Luke 7:36-50).

I want to ask you this morning: do you praise God? Do Paul’s words here of praise to God ring a bell in your heart? If the answer is no, then perhaps you’ve forgotten some things. Perhaps you’ve forgotten how bad you really are. How much of a sinner you actually are. What you really deserve and where you’d belong if Jesus had not come and found you.

But maybe you’re thinking, “That’s not my problem. My problem is that I can’t stop remembering my failures. I can’t stop thinking about how bad I am. I’m so aware of my sin and how disappointed God must feel in me all the time.”

And if that’s you, then you, too, need to remember. You need to remember that Jesus died for those very sins that you feel guilty about. And when He said, “It is finished,” He meant it. It’s really finished. He paid for your sin, including the sin of pride that makes you think that you’re the one special person whom Jesus doesn’t love and didn’t die for. That sinful thinking was paid for by Jesus, too.

Whether you think you’re too good for God’s grace or too bad for God’s grace, you need God’s grace. So confess your sins and believe the gospel. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Including you. Believe that, and receive the forgiveness that Jesus died to purchase.

And you know what will happen as you do that? You’ll experience what Paul describes in this passage. You’ll experience awe in God. You’ll experience love for God. You’ll experience a desire for God to be worshipped and glorified.  And you’ll experience a desire for others to taste this same grace that you’ve been tasting.

So please, this morning, would you believe the gospel? Would you ask God to help you believe that this grace is for you? Would you ask God to help you taste the freedom that comes from knowing you’ve been rescued and forgiven? Would you ask God to give you a passion for His glory, a desire to see Him worshipped, that comes when we really believe and love the gospel?

And then, would you commit yourself to take up faith and a good conscience, and join the battle for the sake of the gospel? Join the fight to make sure that this church never forgets these things, never obscures them, never gets distracted away from them?

Would you do what Paul told Timothy to do—remember God’s promises, hold on to pure faith, fight your sin, and don’t stop coming to Jesus for forgiveness?

We’re going to be celebrating the Lord’s supper next week. A wonderful way to apply this message would be to prepare your heart for that. Don’t let it sneak up on you. Spend the next six days reflecting on this good news, and all that that means. And come ready next week to rejoice and worship the God who saved you.

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