September 22, 2013

Sermon, Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Christians Follow
Psalm 25, Jeremiah 13:15-21, 2 Timothy 2:19-26
Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
September 22, 2013

One of the great treasures of the Anglicans is our annual cycle of Scripture and worship.  We call it the Christian year because it marks time in Christian, rather than secular events and seasons. This is a custom followed from the Apostolic times of the New Testament Church, and from very ancient times in the history of God’s dealings with man after the Fall.  The first half of the year concentrates on faith, what Christians believe.  The second half concentrates on faithfulness, what Christians do.  To us, doctrine is not an academic pursuit for theologians.  It is vitally related to life.  As we learn in Scripture that God became flesh and lived and died and rose again, we also learn what it means to live our daily lives in the love and obedience of God.  Doctrine, then, leads us to ask with Francis Shaeffer, How Should We then Live?

Our recent sermons have been attempting to answer that question.  We have said, “Christians Answer” meaning answer God’s call.  “Christians Continue” meaning we persevere in the faith because God preserves us.  We said, “Christians Live”  “Christians Love” Christians Repent” “Christians Pray,” “Christians See.”  Today I want to continue talking about what Christians do, and the title and subject of today’s sermon is, “Christians Follow.”

The Bible contains some of the most famous words of all time.  This is not surprising, since it continues to be the best selling book of all time.  Of the Bible’s famous words, certainly some of the most famous are the words Christ spoke to His first disciples, “Follow me.”

Our reading in 2 Timothy also contains the word “follow.”  “Flee youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).  Having said that, let me now say that the Greek New Testament uses two different words in these two verses.  When Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John on the shore of Galilee, His word in Greek meant, “come with me and be on the same road I travel.”  When He met Phillip, He used another Greek word that meant to join with Christ spiritually, to become a learner.  I think no one has expressed this kind of following better than Ruth in the first chapter of her book, verses 16 and 17:
“Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried.”

I think this is the kind of following Jesus had in mind for His disciples, then and now, and forever

In Second Timothy 2:22, the Apostle Paul was writing to Timothy, who lived in Ephesus as the Bishop of the churches in that city and surrounding area.  Timothy’s task in Ephesus was to preach the word of God, and to ensure that the pastors of the particular congregations taught no other doctrine than the Gospel they received from Paul (1 Tim. 1:3).  Timothy was also called to ordain ministers, and especially to consecrate Godly men as bishops to oversee the small groups of congregations in Ephesus and the surrounding villages.  Thus, Paul, in First Timothy 3:1-7, gave the qualifications of bishops.  Timothy probably read this passage at the consecration services to remind the new bishops that this is the will and word of Christ for His Church and His ministers.

Second Timothy is a more personal letter than First Timothy.  Yet it also gives great instruction to Timothy as a minister of the Gospel, and was probably meant to be read to ministers, bishops, and congregations at ordinations and consecrations, and various other times and occasions.  In 2 Timothy 2:22 we find our word of the day again, “follow.”  But this is a different word from the ones Jesus used in calling the disciples.  This is a harder word.  This is the kind of word that would be used in 1 Samuel 31:2 and 3, “and the Philistines followed hard upon Saul… and the battle went sore against Saul.”  It is the word used in Philippians 3:14, where the Apostle Paul is saying he has not reached perfection nor is he even close to it, but “reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  “Press” in that verse is the same word translated “follow” in 2 Timothy 2:22.  It means to run down in hot pursuit as a pack of hounds runs down its prey.  So, while Jesus calls us to a spiritual oneness, which He offers and gives to us as His gift, and is an important part of what it means to follow Him, He also wants us to pursue some things, not timidly, not half-heartedly, but to chase them down with all the intensity and purpose in our being, like the Hound of the Baskervilles.

There are no surprises in 2 Timothy 2:22. We almost knew what it was going to say before we read it, even for the very first time; righteousness, faith, charity, peace.  Nor are there any secrets revealed by reading this verse in the original Greek.  Even the word translated “charity” is the familiar word, agape. The words are well translated in our King James Bible as righteousness, faith, charity, and peace.  No translation difficulties there.  In fact I much prefer the King James translation of the Greek word, agape as “charity.”  The modern versions all translate it as “love” and love has become such an over used and emotionally centered word it has little meaning any more.  Charity means a compassionate attitude that moves us to action for the best interest of others.  That’s what Christ wants us to follow.

What is surprising is that the Bible tells us to chase these things, to press them.  I wonder how many of us seek righteousness in such a way it can be said we are chasing it like a pack of hounds.  How many of us can say we press faith the way soldiers press a retreating enemy?  How many can say with Paul, I press toward the mark when it comes to charity or peace?  I admit that, to seek these things in this way is unnatural.  It is not the way the natural man works, and it is not the way our human nature leads us to follow God.  But we are not natural creatures any more.  We have been born again into a super natural realm.  A natural person suppresses the knowledge of God and seeks the fulfillment of his own natural lusts.  Read Romans 1 this afternoon and reacquaint yourself with the Biblical teaching on this. Natural people follow their lusts like hounds chasing prey.  Christians do not.  Christians press toward God and Godliness.  Christians follow God.

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