Well, I guess the Seahawks and the Patriots will be duking it out on the field tonight. How many of you are rooting for the Seahawks? Go ahead and stand? Now let’s see the support in the house for the Patriots. Go ahead and stand. Just raise your hand if you don’t care, but you’re going to watch for the commercials or half time show. How about a show of hands from those of you who just show up to some party for the food?
Football is complicated, at least from where I sit. So, let me simplify it for us all. It involves two teams, a fully inflated ball , and an end zone. The goal is to get the ball to the end zone as many times as possible, preferably more than the other team. That’s it, right? But it is about so much more than just game day. It is every day. It is constant training. It is grueling mentally. It is rigorous physically. It is a daily commitment to do what it takes to make an impact on the field the day of the big game. Even the down time for a professional athlete has purpose and intention. They view every day as preparation day for the next big day.
That’s what I want to focus on this morning. Training. Getting in the right shape. Developing the discipline to possess a winning strategy. Being prepared so whatever day presents itself as game day, you will be ready to be on the field to impact the outcome of the game for yourself and others.
The passage we will read from I Timothy 4 is a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to help Timothy pastor the church in Ephesus. If there was ever a city that needed a strong church with a strong pastor it was Ephesus. It was the swinging city of 350,000 people back in that day.
The Temple of Artemis, the goddess of the Ephesians was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The emphasis in the worship of Artemis was prosperity and constant change. Change was definitely constant in Ephesus as it was a melting pot of cultures. It had a Greek heritage, but Romans made their way there when it became part of the Roman Empire. There was also a decent sized Jewish community and a mix of a lot of other ethnic groups.
Sports were huge in Ephesus. There were gymnasiums of sorts that had been built for Greek athletic contests and a stadium that had been designed by the Romans for gladiator combat. Eventually, the violent and bloody Roman battles became the most popular.
Sex was a huge part of the economy. Art was about sex. Commerce was about sex. Various sexual perversions were celebrated. The Romans established a kind of ancient country club where upper class members of both sexes would bathe/swim in the nude. Prostitution was rampant. Divorce was common, multiple marriages were no problem, abandoning children, and neglecting the elderly were just commonplace.
Many religions got mixed into Artemis worship. Magic became a preoccupation with many people. People in Ephesus were all about deal-making which had a negative effect on spirituality and religion. It promoted compromise and manipulation.
Paul saw this as a great place for the preaching of the Gospel. He preached there a lot, and his preaching made a huge impact on the culture. The practice of magic and the deal-making in the temple really took a nose dive as a result of the Gospel message going forward. As Paul was leaving Ephesus into the hands of Timothy to become their pastor, he had instructions for Timothy. Victories won would need to be maintained, and many more victories needed to be won. If Timothy and the Christians in Ephesus were going to continue to have an impact in Ephesus they needed to follow Pauls’ instructions regarding ongoing training.
Please stand as we read I Timothy 4:7-16 where I believe Paul was encouraging Timothy and the church there to train their head, hearts, and their whole lives to have a maximum impact as we will see in verse 16.
1 Timothy 4:7-16 7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10 (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. 11 Command and teach these things. 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. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Appealing to their love for athletics, Paul spoke in verse 8 about how physical training is beneficial, but there is another kind of training that will serve us in this life and in the life to come. That is the kind of training each of us needs to be most focused on. Don’t skip your walking, aerobics or weight lifting, but make sure your spiritual training is priority.
1. Train Our Heads to believe and live by the Truth of God’s Word.
There are a lot of things we can study. There are a lot of ideas bombarding us all of the time. There is no shortage of philosophies seeking to consume our mental energy. Training for maximum impact will include what we give our thoughts to. You better believe when the Patriots and Seahawks take the field they will have already determined what their minds will be entertaining. A winning strategy is going to have a mental focus which also means excluding unhelpful thoughts.
Look again at verse 7 where Paul tells us to have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales. Godless myths and old wives’ tales. Something else was problematic in Ephesus is discovered in chapter one of I Timothy where Paul tells us people were teaching false doctrines and people were devoted to endless genealogies which promoted controversy rather than the work of God.
Attention to these kinds of things starts early, doesn’t it? Complete this sentence for me. “Step on a crack and break your mother’s ____________.” How about this one? “Find a penny, pick it up and all day you’ll have good ______________.” Have you heard the wives’ tale that death seems to come in threes? How about the one where you aren’t supposed to breathe when you go past a cemetery because you may breathe in the spirit of someone who has recently departed? Have you embraced that Friday the 13th is a bad or cursed day?
We have bought these wives’ tales, these lies hook, line and sinker. Were you told not to cross your eyes as a kid because they would get stuck that way? I know, right? And guess what? Reading in dim light or sitting close to the TV won’t hurt your eyes either! And let me just clear up a few more wives’ tales for us. Swallowing gum won’t hurt your digestive system, and it won’t take seven years to digest! Cracking your knuckles won’t cause arthritis, and you don’t have to wait an hour after eating before swimming. Are you glad you came today?
What is more, hanging a horseshoe over your door won’t give you good luck, making a wish before blowing out candles or wising on a star won’t make the wish come true, knocking on wood and keeping your fingers crossed will only hurt your knuckles or stretch out your fingers. A watched pot will still boil, and the lines in your palm say nothing about the number of children you will have or what your future will look like. And let me just throw it in for good measure that you won’t be reincarnated. You didn’t have a past life, and there is no such thing as Karma or “good energy.”
And since I have the microphone, can I just mention one more popular form of superstition that is floating out there on the internet? Posting something that says, “If you love Jesus” or “If you aren’t ashamed of Jesus” you will share this or post it on your page and sending people notes that say they must forward them to ten people in ten minutes in order to receive a blessing is not a way to encourage people or a way through which people receive God’s blessing. It is a form of superstition and manipulation, and it isn’t something Christians should be promoting. (“Amen” or “ouch?”) Our faith isn’t in a chain letter promoted by a well-meaning friend. It is in a dynamic, ongoing relationship with Jesus.
Did you know the cult of Mormonism is based entirely on myths about early history in America that can’t be supported one iota from history or archaeology? The Book of Mormon is a book of myths. Mormon people are some of the finest, moral and upstanding people anywhere but they are deceived. You came here for the truth, right?
The genealogies Paul was speaking of dealt with the Jewish tradition of keeping strict records of their blood lines, tracing their heritage and their ties to one of the twelve tribes. The whole thing became way too important to the Jews. They had kept records to try to identify the Messiah in the heritage, but now as the Messiah had come and the ways the Jewish people had kept themselves distinct from other nations was to cease, Paul said the genealogies were just endless and unnecessary, and focusing on them was causing arguments.
So if those things aren’t to be occupying our minds, what is? Verse 13 sums it up beautifully: “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” If there is one thing you can’t go overboard on it is the Word of God. The Bible says to meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1) and that your life will be planted or established as a result. You can’t get too much Scripture. In fact, in just a few weeks, the Lenten season, the 40 days that leads up to Easter, will begin. I am challenging all of you to read the entire New Testament in 40 days along with me. 7 chapters a day will get it done. You can indicate on the back of your blue card today that you will take the 40-day NT challenge.
2. Train Our Hearts to Hope in Christ Alone. “We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.”
Verse 10 says it well. Your hope cannot be in people who will disappoint you. Your hope cannot be in your health because everyone will grow weaker and deal with the complications that come from living in an earthly body. Your hope cannot be found in your good looks because beauty is fleeting. Your hope cannot be found in your networks because people can turn on you in an instant. Your hope cannot be found in your paycheck because it could be gone tomorrow. Your hope cannot be found in the acquisition of things because they are only temporary and quite frankly can be repossessed, burned in fire, or sold when economic times get tough.
“In Christ alone, my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song. This Cornerstone, this Solid Ground, firm through the fiercest draught and storm.” “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.” Christ needs to be our Source for hope. That means when the unexpected or unwanted happens, He is the FIRST place we go. It’s not a phone call to a spouse or friend that we should make FIRST. It is to Jesus first that we should go because He has the ability to impact how the tough times will play out! I’d rather have Jesus guiding me through a bad situation from the beginning of it than waiting until I am in the middle of the deep waters to call upon His name. Why should I get myself emotionally and physically out of kilter, trying to keep myself afloat in the deep when I can let Him carry me through it all from the beginning of the storm?
On Wednesday night I talked about the Feast of First Fruits during which people would bring the first of the Harvest to the Lord in an offering. It symbolized not only that they were grateful God was giving them a Harvest, but it showed that trusted God for the rest of the Harvest Season and future harvests to follow. We learned that when the first of our harvest is blessed of God, the rest will also be blessed of God.
How does this tie into hope? Hope means we live in a constantly blessed state. When I am never without hope I am blessed. Hope takes me forward. Hope fuels my faith, and faith fuels my hope. Hope helps me see God’s promises the way He intends. Hope keeps me praying. Hope keeps me connected to the Body of Christ here at church where I can get help. Hope keeps me from giving up. Hope gives me peace in my mind and my heart. If you have nothing the world would call important today, but you have hope you are blessed and highly favored!
Proverbs 3:5-6 needs to be followed by the verses that follow it. Proverbs 3:5-10 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. 8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. 9 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
When our lives demonstrate that our hope is in Him by the way we honor Him with our firstfruits and in our seeking of life’s path, then we are living the kind of life God can bless. Perhaps the best questions we can ask ourselves are, “Am I living the kind of life God can bless? Is my hope in Christ alone?” When our hope is in multiple streams, rather than in the Living Water alone, God can’t direct our path and bless us as He desires.
Not only do we need to train our heads to believe and live by the truth in God’s Word and train our hearts to hope in Christ alone, but finally, we also need to
3. Train Our Whole Lives as an Example For Others
I Timothy 4:12 is the theme verse for our youth ministry. “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.”
Regardless of our age, we need to be training to become the kind of person others could desire to follow as they follow after Christ. There will be moments in the Super Bowl tonight when the officials will make calls that are obvious, cut and dried, so clearly seen by all people, that without too much commentary, the game will simply go forward. There will be other calls, however, that the officials make that will cause a great reaction. Some will cheer. Others will boo. Some will give commentators room to discuss, criticize and even argue with each other about what really happened because the play in question will have been so close to in while at the same time being so close to out that the call could be made either way. It won’t be clear. It will be disputable. There will be room to question what really happened.
Paul says in verse 15, “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” Train so that people can clearly see how far you have come. If we once were lost and now we are found, we need to make sure we aren’t living like a lost person, but like a found person. Lost people talk differently from found people. Not only might there be swearing and perversion and gossip and slander that flow from the lips of a lost person, but a lost person may also be negative, critical, and angry. Those words ought not to characterize the life of a found person whose words should be instructional, helpful, seasoned with salt, and speaking only that which is true and worthy of being presented or repeated.
Lost people may live life to live for the moment, to live it up, to feel good, to live for the applause of others, and to acquire things. Those ideals ought not characterize the life of a found person whose life is devoted to Christ alone and making Christ known.
Lost people may live for love based on the world’s definition of love where love involves lust and gratification, manipulation and self-satisfaction. Those ideas of love are transformed in the life of a found person who begins to embrace that love is patient and kind. It isn’t jealous or rude. It isn’t self-seeking or record keeping, but it involves sacrifice and laying down our lives for the lives of others.
Lost people may view faith as a crutch, something to lean on just to help you get by in life. Others may view it as unnecessary to be happy in the now. Found people know that faith isn’t merely a belief, but it is a pattern for living that connects us to the dynamic, powerful, life-giving, life-changing presence of the Almighty God who makes a home in all who are willing to receive Him which not only impacts the now, but also impacts eternity.
Lost people and purity. I wouldn’t expect them to view purity as important. If there is no relationship with God, then there isn’t a standard for living a person should follow. Purity? What is that to a lost person? A way of life that keeps you from having fun? An outdated idea that makes dating difficult and a rough road to have to take? But found people know that the best possible expression of sexuality is within the boundaries God has ordained in a marriage between a man and woman. Found people learn that our bodies are temples of the Living God so God does have a say in how they are used. Found people know that intimacy is better than sex and intimacy is only truly cultivated within the marriage relationship.
Paul said in verse 14 that Timothy should strive to become a Christian example of what it means to live for God in speech, life, love, faith, and purity. In every area of your life, Paul encourages that we should strive to leave no room for doubt. Don’t let it be a close call. Don’t be so close to the line in your speech, in your life, in your love, in your faith, or in your purity that others will question if you are the real deal. You might be a Christian, but on the other hand, you might not be. Let your life speak so clearly that if people want to follow Christ they don’t have to question if following you would lead them closer to that desire.
I don’t know a lot of Christians who willfully set out to sin. But I do know a lot of Christians who allow compromise into their lives which leads to sin. What happens when we compromise is that our consciences become desensitized to sin, and sinning becomes more of a natural inclination than holiness does.
You see, Satan doesn’t have to get Christians to sin. He just has to get them to compromise. No one who embraces compromise becomes the kind of example Paul is urging Timothy and his church to become.
Why are these three areas of training so important? Because lives are at stake. It’s way more than a Super Bowl trophy or ring that hangs in the balance. Verse 16 says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Your example could lead to the salvation of others.
Louis Pasteur, the pioneer of immunology, lived at a time when thousands of people died each year of rabies. Pasteur had worked for years on a vaccine. Just as he was about to begin experimenting on himself, a 9-year-old, Joseph Meister, was bitten by a rabid dog. The boy’s mother begged Pasteur to experiment on her son. Pasteur injected Joseph for ten days–and the boy lived.
Decades later, of all the things Pasteur could have had etched on his headstone, he asked for three words: JOSEPH MEISTER LIVED.
Our greatest legacy will be those who live eternally because of our efforts. (Source: Leadership Journal)
It’s not JUST about getting to the end zone for us as Christians, but it is about helping as many others as possible get there to celebrate too. Living to make an impact means we train our heads, our hearts, and our whole lives to reveal to other people who Jesus really is.