Thursday, August 19, 2010

Preserving the Progress of the Gospel

My two-year-old son last week lined up all of his cars end to end, and announced to his mommy and daddy that he had made a car train.  He then proceeded with a people train and a book train.  Car train  The book train was especially interesting, because after constructing it he realized that it would serve as a great track.  He placed one of his motorized toy trains on the “book train”—the books were laid flat—and tried to make his toy train go down the new track.  The problem was that every other book was thicker than the ones next to it, so after every couple of books he had to assist his motorized train in going forward.  It was a ton of extra work, but he didn’t care as long as his train was making forward progress.

His quirky and fun resolve made me think.  Seriously, I wish I had as much resolve for the forward progress of the gospel and the glory of God!  He was so diligent, but I get lazy.  That’s the concern that Paul had for Timothy in writing the letter we call 1 Timothy.  He wanted to ensure, as much as possible, that Timothy (and we) preserve the progress of the gospel.

At this point in the series we have seen that, like Timothy so long ago:

1. We are to protect the integrity of the gospel of Christ.
    (1 Timothy 1.3-4)

2. We are to promote the goal of the gospel of Christ.
    (1 Timothy 1.5-7)

3. We are to proclaim the grace of the gospel of Christ.
    (1 Timothy 1.8-11)

4. We are to preserve the progress of the gospel of Christ.
     (1 Timothy 1.18-20)

You’ll notice that we skipped verses 12-17 for the moment.  That’s because in this miniseries of posts we’re looking at the command that Paul instructed Timothy to place before the Ephesian church.  The folks in Ephesus, certain teachers in particular, were commanded not to teach strange and false doctrines (v. 3).  The same Greek word for command is used in verses 3 and 5, and then we see it again in verse 18.  Some folks write off the instance in verse 18 as Paul moving on to another idea and simply using the word again in a different sense.  I don’t think so.  I think he’s finishing the thought he has been explaining and illustrating since verse 3.  We talked a little about that loving command in the intro post.

So here Paul concludes that thought, beginning in verse 18:

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.  Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1.18-20, NASB).

Paul is carefully reminding Timothy that it will cost him to keep the glorious gospel (v. 11) advancing.  To do so, he must maintain a faithful heart and a good conscience (v. 19).  At times, he must contend (fight) for the faith (v. 18).  At times, he must exercise gracious and tough discipline on those who have strayed from the faith (v. 20).  All of these things will be difficult at times, but each of them is necessary to preserve the forward progress of the gospel of love and grace.

It even took Paul to prison, but that didn’t stop the gospel from advancing—it actually aided its progress:

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear (Philippians 1.12-14, NASB).

What a life to be lived: one in passionate pursuit of the glory of God to the degree that personal temporary (earthly) sacrifice is a norm, in order that others may hear and know of the glorious gospel!  Because of what God has done for me in giving me a future and hope, I desire to do all that I can to preserve the progress of that good news, and to model it and share it with those who don’t yet have the hope that Jesus provides.

So Paul starts off his letter to Timothy with a loving command for the church there.  The command?  Don’t teach strange doctrines.  Instead, they and we along with them, are to protect the integrity, promote the goal, proclaim the grace, and preserve the progress of the gospel of Christ.  It’s for the glory of God, and it’s for our good.

[This is part 5 of 5 in a miniseries titled, A Loving Command.  The larger series on 1 Timothy is called The Community of Truth.]