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The Blasphemy of Hidden Grace

May 12, 2024 Speaker: Robert Jackson Series: Timothy: The Household of God

Passage: 1 Timothy 1:18–20

My wife, Julianne, and I always joked that we wouldn’t know what to do if we ever had kids with the same personalities as us but in the opposite genders. Julianne is really quiet and reserved and she always told me, “Babe if we have a daughter like you I don’t know what I’m going to do.” I, on the other hand, am a little more on what you might call the high-energy end of the spectrum and so I said yeah, if we end up with a son who enjoys the calmer things in life I’ll have to figure that one out too. Well last year we were at a birthday party and they passed out cake and I look over and see that while most of the kids are hopped up on ice cream and frosting and and loudly talking over at one table, my son is at his own table, sitting in the sun, quietly enjoying his cake, and doing this hum he does when the food is really good. And I looked at Julianne and said “your kid.” Well about 2 minutes later they start up presents and my daughter is in the middle directing traffic and giving orders like some kind of sugar-crazed drill sergeant. She’s telling the birthday kid what present to open and how to open it and then when it’s time to move on to the next present and what to do with that one and Julianne just points and says, “your kid.” 

 

Even in a crowd of kids you can pick out yours not just by their appearance but by their actions. Paul starts out his letter to Timothy referring to him as “my true child in the faith.” And this is a theme he will return to again and again throughout the letter, the idea that the household of God includes family relationships like mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, parents and children. Paul and Timothy aren’t biologically related, but as has often been remarked, baptismal water runs thicker than blood. What that menas is, the family of Christ is a more permenant, significant, and visible family than even your biological relatives. Oftentimes your biological and spiritual families overlap and that’s wonderful, but at the end of the age it will be the names written in the Lamb’s  book of life, not what’s written on your birth certificate, that really matter. Whether Paul had biological children or not we don’t know - probably not but it doesn’t matter because he’s saying that Timothy is his true child. And then he goes on to talk about how the charge he had received from God the Father, he has passed down to Timothy, his son. And Paul talks about how his life had been changed by the gospel, from a life of blasphemy to a life devoted to visibly displaying the grace of Christ, and he tells Timothy, you’re my child, so your life should follow  that same pattern of transformation. 

 

And in our passage today, Paul mentions two men by the name of Hymenaus and Alexander, two of his other spiritual children who had not been faithful, and there is an implicit contrast set up. These other sons fell away, making shipwreck of their faith, but you, Timothy, as my true child, stay faithful. Even in a crowd of kids you can pick out yours not just by their appearance but by their actions. See, in many ways, the book of Timothy is sort of a church-focused version of the Sermon on the Mount. Remember how we studied that a couple years ago as a church, and talked about how it was all about this inner righteousness that would work itself out, as opposed to the outer righteousness of the Pharisees that could never work its way in? Well in this letter, Paul is repeatedly making the point that the gospel must get out. It must get out of your heart and mind and into your actions. It must get out of you, Timothy, and into other faithful men who will then teach others also. It must get out of the church and into the world. It must become visible. And actually, studying 1st Timothy specifically is where the whole Head/Heart/Hands thing that we do here came from. Because throughout the letter, Paul is constantly calling Timothy to preserve a right understanding of doctrine that produces Christlike love that works itself out into visible displays of righteousness in the church. Head, Heart, Hands. 

 

Later in chapter two Paul says women will be saved through childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness. Come back in a couple weeks if you want tohear Jim explain what that one means. :) But to continue in faith, love and holiness is another way of saying we should be faithful in our Head, Heart, and Hands. In chapter 4 he tells Timothy to not let anyone look down on him because he’s young, but to set an example for others in faith, in love, and in conduct and speech - Head, heart, hands. In chapter 6 he says pursue faith, love, godliness, righteousness, steadfastness, and gentleness. Do you see the pattern? An exhortation to guard the doctrine of the faith, an encouragement to love others, and then an increasingly larger emphasis on the visible display of that faith and love through actions, conduct, speech, and behaviors. Every time he gets to the hands part he uses more words because it’s supposed to get more and more visible. Paul sees the gospel as this ever-expanding thing that starts small and grows, almost like a really really tiny seed that grows into a really really big tree or something. I wonder whatkind of  seed starts out really tiny and grows really big… But not just in the individual, also in the community, it starts with you Timothy, but it can. Not. Stop. With. You. The gospel must get out. In fact, it’s sinful when it doesn’t. It’s almost like you’d be putting a light under a basket or something… Or maybe you could say a Christian that doesn’t visibly display the grace of the gospel is like salt that isn’t salty anymore. Man it’s like we’re back in Matthew. 

 

So today, as we look at this text, I want to ask a single question that I think sums up the argument of this text. The question is, what are we saved to? Not, “what are we saved by,” but what are we saved to. And you can biblically answer that question a lot of ways, so don’t hear me saying that today we are seeing the only two answers. But Paul does specifically mention two things in this text that we are saved to. So it’s true, we are saved to more than these two things, but let me be clear, nobody is saved to less than these two. And the two things we are saved to are these: we are saved to a fight, and we are saved to a family. So first, 

 

  1. We Are Saved To A Fight

Now, it is interesting to pair fight and family together, isn’t it? Interesting because, in an ideal sense, fighting and family should be the furthest two things from each other. Even more interesting because, in a practical sense, fighting and family all too often go hand in hand. But it’s important to read carefully here because Paul is mixing his metaphors a little bit. And if you don’t catch that, you can get the impression that this letter is almost calling for a fight with your family. Like, Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus so that he could whoop his disobedient brothers, Hymenaus and Alexander, into line. But that’s not true. The fight mentioned in this text is not against the family. In fact, later in chapter 2, Paul has a whole section describing how people should behave in the hosehold of God and it involves men praying without quarrelling. Later in chapter 6 Paul says that those who Timothy is to confront are teaching a different doctrine, puffed up with conceit, and producing dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people. So Timothy has been tasked by Paul to stay in Ephesus so that he may charge these brothers not to teach any different doctrines or to devote themselves to these myths and speculations that cause division.

 

Paul then in verse 13 contrasts himself with these quarrelsom brothers. This is what Dr. Swain preached on last week. Paul essentially makes the point that God saved him out of his quarreling, divisiveness, and ignorant misunderstanding of the Scriptures. Formerly Paul was a blasphemer, a prosecutor of the brothers, and an insolent opponent of the truth.  Blasphemy, by the way, means lying about God. And you could do that several different ways. You could say God is something he isn’t, or vice versa, or you could say God did something he didn’t do. Anything that deliberately distorts the truth about God is blasphemy. In this particular case, it means saying God didn’t do something when he did. Paul said the Messiah hadn’t come, that Jesus wasn’t the Christ. He was a blasphemer. Then Christ saved him. And the grace of God overflowed from Christ, into Paul, and then out into his life in a way that was visible. Paul says “I received mercy for this reason. God saved me for this purpose. This is why I no longer blaspheme, this is what I was saved to: that in me, who was previously the foremost sinner, might now be judged faithful by God, appointed to his service, and made into a “display” of Christ’s perfect patience as an “example” to those who were to believe. And so Paul says in light of this, “may honor and glory be given to the invisible God.” Do you see? Paul is saved to visibly glorify the invisible God. That is the mission that God saved him to, appointed him to, and entrusted him with: visibly glorifying the invisible God.

 

So then in verse 18, just as God judged Paul faithful, and appointed him to this work, now he entrusts Timothy with this charge. A “charge” is an “appointment” from a commanding officer. As Paul was appointed by his Lord, now he charges or appoints Timothy to the same thing. He literally opens the book with the phrase, “Paul, by command of God our Savior, to Timothy.” He is passing this charge down the chain of command. Furthermore, to “judge somebody faithful” is to trust them. As verse 12 says Paul was judged faithful and given stewardship over this task, so Paul now “entrusts” Timothy with it. And not just Timothy, because in his second letter Paul says “what you have heard from me, “entrust” to faithful people who will be able to teach others also.” These are marching orders coming down the chain of command. The same charge Paul has, he is giving to Timothy to then give to others. That’s explicitly clear in verse 5 where he says, “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” 

 

This phrase, “Good conscience,” by the way, I take to primarily mean a reference to good or faithful behavior. I take that for several reasons, including the fact that it is frequently mentioned in the New Testament in conjunction with faithful actions. When you act poorly or fail to act rightly, your conscience bothers you. It is a barometer of the faithfulness of your actions. So, for example, Peter exhorts us in 1 Pet. 3:16 to be gentle and respectful, so that we might have a good conscience, and that when people revile our good behavior they might be put to shame. In other words, have good bevaior so that 1) your conscience will be clear and 2) nobody will have any grounds to slander you. There’s a direct link between a clear conscience and good behavior - in particular gentleness and respectfulness. So to exhort a person to have a clear conscience is, in effect, to encourage them to behave towards others in such a way that their conscience would be clear. And it’s better than merely saying “do the right thing” because the objectively right thing isn’t always clear, particularly in relational situations like the ones being referenced in this passage. So don’t just do the right thing, but do it in a way that will preserve your conscience. 

 

So, when Paul says that the aim of our charge is love that overflows out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, he’s saying that what we are aiming at is loving people with our head, hearts, and hands. It’s whole-person, integrated love. That’s what we are trying to do. And remember why we are trying to do that? Same reason Paul was saved: to visibly glorify the invisible God. The charge is this: love people with the kind of whole-person love that makes the glory of God visible to them. That is what it means to “wage the good warfare.” That is what it means to hold both faith and a good conscience. That is what Hymenaus and Alexandar have swerved from, making shipwreck of their faith and blaspheming God. The fight is not really against them, they have left the fight. They are not the enemy per se, they are desserters. They have abandoned the charge. 

 

Instead of fighting to make the glory of God’s gospel visible in the world, Hymenaus and Alexander swerved into vain speculation, divisiveness, quarrels about words, and became insolent blasphemers. They became blasphemers because rather than making the glory of the gospel of God visible by holding to the faith and displaying the love of Christ, they have distorted the truth which has caused them to be quarrelsom and insolent rather than humble and loving. Here we see they are lying about Christ by their failure to love others, abandoning the charge to make the gospel visible by their conduct, and in 2nd Timothy we find out they are also lying about Christ with their teaching by distorting the Scriptures and saying that the 2nd coming and the resurrection of all people had already happened. Their story is the opposite of Paul’s. He was saved to the fight, they got saved and swerved away from the fight. 

 

And so Paul says, “you want to leave? Go. See if Satan makes a better commanding officer.” And here he draws a stark but instructive contrast. To abandon the charge of Christ is to take up the charge of the enemy. There are no desserters who are not also, in some sense, defectors. There is no neutral ground. But I think this is an example of why it’s helpful that Paul sometimes mixes his metaphors. Because if you just stick with the military perspective, what is the consequence of dessertion? Of defecting to the other side? Well, It’s death. That’s treason. You don’t let soldiers go to see if they like it better on the other side, that they might learn it’s much worse and come back. That doesn’t sound like a commanding officer. But it does sound like the Father of a prodigal. And this brings us to our second point…

 

  1. We Are Saved To A Family

In Paul’s letters to Timothy, family language is everywhere. There is so much that could be said on this subject that much of it will have to wait for future sermons in this series, but as we have said, God primarily views and describes the church in relational terms. They are his bride. They are to be known by their love for one another. They are to treat each other as family members - older men like fathers, older women like mothers, younger men like brothers, younger women like sisters. And in doing so, they are fulfilling both the biblical structure of society and the great commission. Remember, as I preached about last month from Proverbs 3, love is scalable because the bible sees the vocation of humanity as spreading throughout all the world through the replication of family. This was the cultural mandate, and now it has become the Great Comission. 

 

So we understand there is more to making disciples than just making babies. In fact, many of us are called to singleness or not given the opportunity to be biological parents. But Christians in such circumstances are no less capable of participating in the call and mission of humanity that has been restored to us in Christ. And even for those who have biological children, all of us are capable of making more disciples than we are children. So when Paul calls Timothy his “true child in the faith,” he isn’t being condescending. He’s being affectionate and recognizing Timothy as the result of God’s multiplying power through him. And he’s elevating his relationship with Timothy beyond merely that of merely a “commanding officer.” But he isn’t only elevating his relationship to Timothy... You can see the same attitude being displayed towards none other than Hymenaus and Alexander. 

 

See, service in the military is usually a tour-of-duty type situaiton. In the Roman Army it was a bit of an extreme tour, but still technically a limited term. You served for 20 years plus five in reserve, but then you were free to retire and given land to do so. And if you deserted the Roman army, your fellow soldiers were required to kill you on sight. The point being, even honorable service ends, and there’s no coming back from dishonerable dessertion. But when Paul speaks about Hymenaus and Alexander, extreme as it may sound to “hand somebody over to Satan,” notice the purpose of it. “That they might learn not to blaspheme.” In other words, “let them leave, that they might choose to return.” Said no commanding officer ever. 

 

Timothy was Paul’s true child in the sense that he was the faithful one entrusted with the charge. But he wasn’t Paul’s only child. Timothy is being tasked with staying in Ephesus to “charge” certain persons, namely Hymenaus and Alexandar, not to teach any different gospel nor to devote themselves to myths. Notice he didn’t say Timothy was to urge them to stop teaching entirely - or to get them to shut up and leave. Rather he was to charge them to stop teaching a different gospel, and to stop devoting themselves to myths and geneologies that produce arrogance and quarrels among believers. The implication is that they should once again devote themselves to the true gospel, which produces humility and reconciliation. Check this out. The word “charge” is used 3 times in our passage. Paul says in verse 3 that Timothy is to “charge them,” then he refers to the aim of “our charge,” in verse 4, and later in verse 18 he refers to the charge he entrusts to Timothy. But the charge he entrusts to Timothy is the same one Paul says Hymenaus and Alexandar have swerved from. So I don’t think we are talking about 3 different charges here. I think Timothy is entrusted with the same charge that Paul has, the same charge that Hymenaus and Alexandar have rejected, and the same charge that Timothy is tasked with calling them back to. The charge of displaying the grace of Christ in a way that makes visible the glory of the invisible God. 

 

So you know what that makes Timothy? Not only is he the “true child” of Paul… He’s the faithful older brother. Maybe not physically older, but being more experienced and mature spiritually, he fits the mold. So now we have all the characters in place. The rebellious sons, insolent and over confident, leaving the household and instruction of their Father. The loving Father who desires for his sons to be faithful, but is willing to let them leave in hopes they will be miserable where they are going and decide to come back. And finally we have the older brother who is faithful to his father. Except this time, rather than allowing his brother’s departure to make him bitter, this older brother is given a charge to remain at Ephesus, meaning to be separated from his spiritual father, and go after his siblings who left. Do you see the story playing out? It’s like a more redemptive version of the prodigal son parable. The difference being that Timothy is meant to be the sort of older brother that Christ was. The sort of older brother that goes after the siblings who leave and calls them to return. Timothy has been given a charge from his commanding officer, but more than that he has been entrusted with a task by his father. Rather than killing his fellow soldiers who desert, he’s been sent after his brothers who left. Paul really knows when and how to mix a metaphor. 

 

Conclusion

 

In one sense, Timothy is being called to act like his spiritual father, Paul. Paul was saved from a life of blasphemy into a life of displaying the redemptive work of Jesus, and now Timothy is charged with displaying that grace in the same way Paul has since done, by making it visible to others. But in another sense, Timothy is being called to not only act like Paul, but to act like Jesus himself. Because what better way to display the glory of the grace of the invisible God than to be the visible representation of the older brother who goes after his straying siblings? Formerly, all of us were blasphemers of our Father. We denied him, insolently demanded our inheritance, and defected to the enemy. And rather than sending Christ to hand out the punishment due to deserters by killing them on sight, the Father sent his true and faithful son to die for the defectors - to bring back his brothers. And that act of going out after those who leave is one that we, as believers, are charged with emulating.

 

The church may be engaged in a fight, but we are a family, and that means our commitment to each other goes beyond the temporary alignment of military service. Discipline in the church, as in the family, is therefore perpeutally redemptive. When you’re born into a family, for better or worse you remain family until death. But what happens when you are born into a family in which death has been defeated? How do you get out of that one? Even at the most extreme stage of church discipline, where an unrepentant brother or sister might be excommunicated, the intent is still redemptive. To bring them back to repentance. Handing them over to Satan, extreme as that may sound, is not putting them out of reach. The Father allow them to go, but he does so knowing that he will send the Son after, and he is ready to welcome them home. And you and I are called to make Christ’s pursuit of sinners visible, going after them with the knowledge that Satan has never been able to take or keep persons whom Christ has purposed to redeem. But this notion of the church as family doesn’t only have application for extreme cases like church displine. 

 

We have talked a lot about dechurching here at OGC, and about how the data shows that so many who left did so because of relational disconnection in the church, and how so many of them would be willing to come back from nothing more than a personal invitation. But I can also tell you that some of the elders have been noticing a recent increase in departures from people who say they were unable to relationally connect at OGC. Thankfully most of those people are going to other churches rather than dechurching, but that doesn’t bode well for our ability to prevent dechurching either. Or for the relational connectedness of our family. But it’s something that we as pastors can only do so much about, because there is no way that the 9 of us can provide sufficient relational connection for all 550+ members and regular attenders here. That’s a charge that we have to share with all of you. So no, the application isn’t for you to come ask us after service who is going to a different church and track them down. I’m glad there are so many other gospel-preaching churches in the area and people do not have to stay here. But the application is to make the love of Christ visible in the way that you love your family members in this church. And that does mean that if you see somebody is missing, reach out to them. If you see them giving up on the charge, go after them.

 

And, if you are not in a community group, I would encourage you in the strongest possible terms to consider finding one. You do not have to be a church member to join a community group, and if you need help finding you can fill out the community group interest form at orlandograce.org/community. It’s hard to notice who isn’t hear on a Sunday morning with 500 people split between two services, so community groups are the easiest way to relationally connect with others in the church. But all of these are just practical ways to support a relational reality that the church is a family. A family that we are saved to. 

 

So whether it means fighting the good fight or working to demonstrate the love of Christ in the family of God, the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience. Meaning love that doesn’t stay in the heart, but works its way out into our actions in ways that are consistent with the truth. In doing this, we are taking up the charge to make the gospel of the glory of the invisible God visible to the people around us. Baptism, which we saw earlier, is a perfect picture of this charge. And it was a delight to welcome Olivia, Hayden, and Jacob into the family, with each of them taking a step to make the grace of Christ in their lives visible through baptism. At the end of the service, we have another perfect opportunity to celebrate that same grace by taking communion together - a family meal where we visibly proclaim the gospel of Christ to one another.

 

Hiding the gospel in our lives is the opposite of evangelism, the opposite of worship, the opposite of our charge. And it can be a form of blasphemy, because it denies the grace that God has given to you. But it’s not unforgivable. The way to repent of hiding grace is to make it visible. But you can’t show what you don’t have. So before you are asked to show it to anyone, you are invited to have it for yourself. As much of it as you need. Wherever you are at in your walk. Whether you’re at the beginning of your journey looking forward and wondering how you are going to keep yourself from becoming like Hymenaus and Alexandar, whether you’re looking back with regret on times where you have swerved from the charge, or whether you are currently sitting in the camp of the enemy and realizing it is not what you thought it would be and you wonder how you could ever come back, the solution is the same - have the gospel for yourself. Have Christ for yourself. Let’s pray. 

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