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Happy New Year and welcome to the Year of CommUNITY at TVCOG. This year we are going to build community in our fellowship by offering more classes and small groups for you to go deeper with the Lord and each other so that we are intentional about the continuation of unity in our fellowship, and we are also going to partner with a different organization each month that is making a positive difference in our community. This month, we have chosen to support Branches, the Domestic Violence Shelter. This Saturday you can come and help make a blanket that will be given to a child when he or she is removed from a dangerous situation. Inside the blanket there will be a toy and a snack. We are doing 50 of these blankets and sometime later this month, we will be presenting them to Branches, along with a small check to show our support for the way they are trying to help make life better for people in our area. If you want to help give toward the blanket-making effort, $10.00 will pay for one blanket, toy, and snack. There is a drop box outside of our office door, and you can place any donations for this effort there, or mark your check and place it in next week’s offering.

As we think about how to strategically partner with and impact our community, I want us to consider our personal responsibility to be community leaders, to set an example that others can follow. In Paul’s instruction to his young protégé’, Timothy, he gave a clear picture of the ways in which Timothy should set himself up as an example. Will you stand and let’s read this one verse together.

1 Timothy 4:12-Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

Paul began his instructions to Timothy with this phrase, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.” We typically think of older people as the “ones” who are supposed to set an example because they are supposed to be more learned, more disciplined, more settled, more wise, more mature. Paul said, “It is never too early to live as an example to others.” In other words, “Don’t wait to be an example.”

I wonder if Paul thought Timothy would take the opportunity to make an excuse for why he couldn’t lead or be an example, so Paul made a preemptive strike to remove the possibility of excuse.

Making excuses is something most people are good at. We can even be good at working God into our excuses. How about this story? One Sunday morning, a cop in a small town was parked at the curb when he saw a car swerving all over the road. Taking off in hot pursuit, he pulled the driver over, and recognized him as an alcoholic named Frank. The policeman said, “Frank, you’re driving all over the place.” Frank said, “I’m just trying to get to church, man.” Noticing a bottle on the seat next to Frank, the cop asked, “What’s that on your seat, Frank?” “It’s just water,” said Frank. “Give it to me,” the cop demanded. He took a whiff. “That’s not water,” he said. “That’s wine.” Frank just looked up to heaven and said, “Wow, He did it again.”

Excuses have to be moved out of the way if we are going to be the example those around us need to see. We might say we aren’t gifted with words so we couldn’t really talk to someone about Jesus. We might say we are too new to the faith and don’t know the Bible well enough to share Jesus with others. We might say we have lived too rough of a life or that we just don’t have the right personality to make disciples for Christ. We are too busy. We are too backward. We are too whatever. Paul said to Timothy, there is nothing that other people could say to you or say of you that is a legitimate reason for you to not set an example for them, so don’t come up with some lame excuse for not leading by example. And then, so that Timothy knew exactly what Paul meant, Paul listed the areas of life in which Timothy was supposed to be an example.

Speech-Christians are supposed to be an example in speech. When we drop cuss words, when we call people names, when we tell racist jokes, when we use sexually-charged sentences, when we get into petty arguments, when we over-do it in the bragging of our accomplishments, when we use language to try to “put people in their place,” when we get a kick out of negatively talking about what someone is wearing or how their hair looks or who they are dating or talking to, when we enjoy gossiping about all that is wrong with someone, what kind of example are we setting?

As we evaluate ourselves in this area, we might be thinking, “I’m not as bad as so and so with the way that I talk,” or “I only mess up when I get annoyed with someone,” or “I only let God’s name slip out when I don’t feel well or when I am tired,” or whatever other excuse we make, we don’t realize that in order to be an example, our speech needs to be several levels above the way that “everyone else talks.” We need to move from making excuses to being examples.

What does the Bible say? Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Sarcasm can sting. It can crush a person’s spirit. Bullying can change who a person was meant to be. Belittling someone with your words can mess with their confidence. Don’t let your speech be the reason someone thinks poorly of themselves, that someone doesn’t want to come around, that someone keeps to themselves, that someone won’t use the gifts God has given to them or that someone doesn’t feel loved. If it tears down, it shouldn’t be in our vocabulary. We are to set an example of the kind of language that builds people up. Have we been part of side conversations that were in hushed tones and then when someone walked into the room, we quickly and awkwardly tried to change the subject because we were complaining or being critical about the boss, a co-worker, or a friend? What kind of example does our speech set?

Being angry isn’t an excuse for speaking poorly. Anger is something we are supposed to get rid of with God’s help. It isn’t something we are supposed to get out of our system by blasting people with our words. Colossians 3:8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

We aren’t supposed to be OK with an occasional slip up. I understand it may happen, but we aren’t supposed to be OK with it. We are supposed to set an example. I’m not trying to put anyone on a guilt trip, I am just saying that the Bible says we are to aspire to be different from the world, and I think in too many cases, the world has influenced the way we talk instead of the other way around. I am afraid we have let the world be our example instead of taking our responsibility to set examples as Christ-followers. I am 100% supportive of free speech, but I’m not for taking liberties at the expense of other people, and neither is God, according to His Word. It may be OK with the Law of the Land, but it isn’t OK according to the Law of Love, and that is the Law by which our speech must abide.

Could Jesus say to someone about you, “Watch him. Listen to him speak. He will demonstrate what it is like to talk like a Christian.”

Life-How can we be examples in life? You have set a good example to those who live near you by being here today. I guarantee your neighbors know it if going to church is your habit. Being a regular church attender is an awesome example to set. What kinds of movies we will watch, what habits we allow into our lives, how we represent the Lord, how our lives reflect integrity, honesty, and encouragement, all of these things can set us apart as examples to others.

Choosing to not make everything a big deal when someone frustrates or annoys us, going out of our way to do nice things for people, giving our best to our employer, all of these actions become influencers in our relationships with other people. Doing the right thing will speak to others. Doing the courageous thing will inspire others. Doing the sacrificial thing will compel others to make their lives count.

I love what Paul said to another protégé of his. His name was Titus. Paul admonished him in chapter 2 of Titus by saying, 6  Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7  In everything SET AN EXAMPLE BY DOING WHAT IS GOOD. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8  and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. Titus 2:6-8

Live in such a way that people cannot say: “He is a mean person.” “She is two-faced.” “He is controlling.” “She manipulates people.” “He has a drinking problem.” “She can’t control her spending.” “He has a chip on his shoulder.” “She holds grudges.” “He only cares about himself.” “She is so vain and shallow.” “He is so spoiled.” “She doesn’t know how to tell the truth.” “He is a total hypocrite.” “She is all about creating drama.” I could go on, but you get the point. Let your life point people to the Lord and a better way to live.

We are the ones who are commanded to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We shouldn’t expect non-believers to go the extra mile. That is the job we have been given. We shouldn’t expect non-believers to be the ones who are patient with people. That is our responsibility. We shouldn’t expect non-believers to be the role models for this generation. That is on us. We shouldn’t expect non-believers to give generously so that people can get a hand up. We’re the ones called to care about all who are hurting. We are to set an example by doing what is good in our daily life.

Love-How can we set an example in love? Loving people the way God loves us may be the most difficult thing we are called to do, but can we grow in that area to the point where we are an example about how to love God’s way? Loving well is critical because love has the power to transform people. Didn’t love transform you? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” Right? Without the love of God where we would be? It was the love of God that sent Christ to the cross in our place.

How many of you remember the hit 1965 song, “What the World Needs Now is Love?” The lyrics say, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, no not just for some but for everyone.”

That song was true then, and it is true now. In 2015 it was reported that there were 2.3 billion Christians in a world of 7.3 billion people. That means Christians make up roughly a third of the population. We are in the minority, but there are a lot of us. 1/3 of us have to figure out a way to love each other and to love the other 2/3rds of the population that can’t know what true love is unless we show them. This is a big deal. It can’t be a small effort. We need a revival of love to break out among God’s people. Instead of being disappointed with the culture or disgusted by it, we need to run right into the middle of it with the love of God.

Do you know that Jesus said everything hinges on how we love God and others. He absolutely did. It is in Matthew 22:40. Romans 13:8-10 says, 8  Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9  The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10  Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10.

God’s law works in the realm of love. That may seem contrary to our understanding of law with law enforcement, and judges and fines and jail time, but it is true. Paul said here, “Love does no harm to its neighbor.” You see, if we truly love people, we won’t commit adultery with someone else’s spouse. It we truly love someone, we aren’t going to lie to them. It we truly love people, we won’t slander them. It we truly love people, we will respect their property and won’t steal from them or vandalize their stuff. If we love people correctly, we will never violate the law because we would never want to hurt or violate a person. Jesus words were brilliant. All we truly need is to love God’s way. If I truly love you I will come and talk to you and not talk about you behind your back. Are we an example for the world in the way that we love?

Faith-How do we set an example in faith? Do people see us growing? Do they see changes in our lives? Do they see us reacting to life’s challenges with faith or are we stressed and afraid about what tomorrow holds? Do they hear us saying that our prayer life has given us peace? Do the words of Scripture ever come out of our mouths in conversation with other people? Are you all-in as a Christian or is Jesus a part-time or casual relationship for you?

How are you trying to grow your faith? Are you looking for ways to exercise it more? Are you seeking opportunities to learn more about the Word of God? How dusty is your Bible? Have you tried to memorize Scripture? Are you teaching the Word of God to your children? Are you leading your family in prayer and not just saying the routine, “God is great, God is good” prayer before eating? Are you asking questions that can help you grow spiritually? Are you taking advantage of the things we are offering to help you become a better disciple of Jesus?

Are you the kind of example that if people followed your faith, it would point them to Jesus? Paul said to the Corinthian believers in 1 Corinthians 11:1, Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” If people followed your example of faith, how close would it take them to Christ?

Purity-How can we set an example in purity? I know there is nothing new under the sun, but it does seem to me that this world is more perverse than ever. I hear of children, elementary children, who are addicted to pornography. I hear of sexual exploration beginning in elementary school beyond what might reflect mere curiosity. I hear about kids drinking and drugging from the time they are 11 and 12. I’m not finding fault with these young people. They don’t know any better. I am finding fault with those who have introduced these kinds of behaviors to children and have now led them to believe that what they are experiencing is normal behavior. It isn’t normal. It isn’t just abnormal. It is perverse.

Now when the church speaks about purity or holiness, to those on the outside, it is like we are talking about something irrelevant and outdated; something that is crazy. Our world needs to see not only what purity looks like, but they need examples of purity so they understand why it is important. God is holy, and He wants us to live holy lives because impurity changes who we are and who we are meant to become. It reroutes our destiny. It causes us to suffer. It has heavy consequences. We will experience enough suffering in the world without also having to endure the suffering that comes into our lives when we engage in unholy behavior. Satan wants it to appear normal because he wants to ruin our lives and derail our relationships with Jesus.

Ephesians 5:1-3 1  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2  and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3  But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

Our world needs to see young couples engaging in pure dating relationships. Young girls need to see women who can dress modestly and still be feminine and beautiful. Young boys need to understand that lust is a dangerous playground and that pornography and reducing women to objects will absolutely alter their brain chemistry just like drugs will. People need the example of people who choose to live with healthy, holy boundaries regarding their sexual expression and the way they use their bodies in general. Where else will they see a godly example if not in the church?

This whole sexting thing really has me baffled. When I was in high school it would never have occurred to me that someone would bring a nude picture of themselves and show it to people or give it to someone to keep. I really don’t think that happened. I don’t think people had the nerve to do things like that in 1987. But now, it is nothing for kids and adults, and I am talking Middle School and beyond, to snap naked pictures of themselves and send them to someone who has the power to show it online to the entire world. This is perverse. It is not the “in” thing to do. It is messed up.

Unless we stay as far away from these kinds of behaviors as is possible, there won’t be enough distinction between us and other people for them to see the difference that holiness makes. Did you see what Paul said? “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity or greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Paul said, “Timothy, be a young person who is committed to being an example of purity.”

Be an example. Well, we are all examples, aren’t we? We’re either good examples or we’re bad ones. What is it that keeps us from being the kind of examples in these areas that God wants us to be? Here’s what I think: We value conformity. We like fitting in.

I suppose that is human nature. It feels good to be part of a group. No one wants to feel like an outsider. So, I have an idea—How about we become a group? How about we all strive to be examples in these areas? How about we band together, and commit that we will be a group together? How about we also partner with other like-minded Christians to shine a little brighter, to set the standards a little higher, and to inspire others to follow. It isn’t about perfect, but pursuit. I do know this, we will never be a godly example if we aren’t trying to become one.

Our world is so messed up, they aren’t sure if there is absolute truth or if morality matters, let alone if there is a God. It is time for God’s people to step up and stand out like never before. If 12 disciples could turn the known world upside down for Jesus during the first century, what if just the Christians in this room decided to give up excuses and become an example that would inspire people in the areas of speech, life, love, faith and purity. What kind of example do you want to be in 2019?