The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
1 Timothy 6:6-16
Faith’s Foundation: Faith’s Good Fight
Proper 21, 26 September 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2a) Amen.
The lectionary has blessed us with an opportunity to look at faith’s foundation through readings from St. Paul’s letters to a young pastor named Timothy. Why did Christ come? “To Save Sinners.” And that’s also the most important thing about the Christian faith. Anything that obscures that message is a danger to faith. What was Paul’s godly advice last week? “Pray for All People.”
This morning’s second reading sets before us “Faith’s Good Fight.” We fight to remain faithful. Faith fights against the temptations of our time and place. And always, we fight against false teaching. The opening verses of 1 Timothy 6 set the context for what is printed on your bulletin insert.
Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
There is much disagreement about religion in 21st Century America. Nearly everyone can agree about that. The problem really isn’t that a husband and wife may disagree about faith matters. The big problem is not that congregations within a church body may disagree. The problem, at its heart, really isn’t that some pastors and congregations disagree about religious teaching. What’s the real problem?
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.
The real problem is when someone does not agree with the words of Jesus. If you quote sound, Biblical teaching, and someone disagrees with it, his or her problem is not with you. It’s with Jesus. And such people, from God’s perspective, understand nothing. That’s rather ironic, because many of these people have had much higher education and may even possess advanced theological degrees and think they know everything. The books in one’s library are not to show off what one knows, but rather, to keep a guy humble, continually realizing what he doesn’t know.
Doctrine is important. Biblical teaching is important. What good is telling others about Jesus if you get the facts wrong? What good is bringing friends to church if they would come to hear truth mixed with error? We need to keep Jesus’ teaching straight and get that pure message out!
We take for granted coming to confessional Lutheran congregations that proclaim Christ and Him crucified. We take for granted Biblical preaching and teaching. We take for granted sermons and pastoral care that properly distinguish between law and gospel. Not all Christians are regularly exposed to God’s Word in all of its teachings every week. Some pulpits are misused for social activism, progressive politics, or accommodating the church to political correctness. Some youth are exposed to “whatever feels good,” rather than godly guidance for life. And most importantly, many, many Christians are given more and more law and are deprived of the comfort of the forgiveness of sins proclaimed and delivered.
“So what!” some say. “Who really cares about doctrine anyhow? Aren’t we all just supposed to get along?” There are consequences to not caring about Jesus’ pure teaching. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
People have even used the church to gain wealth for themselves. You remember the televangelist scandals of the ‘80’s. Few things get more headlines these days than embezzlement, especially in public institutions, government, or the church. Many are turned off by any mention of money in a Christian congregation. They’d rather disengage themselves from the financial goings-on in a congregation because it’s easier for them that way. The opposite danger is there, too, focusing too much on finances and not enough upon faith’s foundation: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Faith also trusts that God will provide daily bread for each person and congregation
This brings us to the point of today’s assigned reading. Paul says what he says here to build upon what you’ve just heard.
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Godliness with contentment—there’s a winning combination. Often, we see grumbling godliness, which isn’t godliness at all. Contentment is impossible without godliness. The purpose of advertising is to get you to desire something you don’t know about and often don’t really need. No wonder we are so confused about the difference between “need” and “want.”
Contentment is a challenge. We can’t hardly believe the stories we hear about what it was like during the Great Depression. We can’t imagine WWII’s rationing of meat, rubber, nylon stockings, or gasoline. Today, we simply complain when we have to pay more for things that are still available.
But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. Paul was. Will we be? I pray that we will. Here the Christian strikes the delicate balance between greed and providing for one’s family. Paul writes what we know of as chapter six after writing this back in chapter 5: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” The Christian strikes the delicate balance. Thank you for providing for me and my family.
This congregation has been blessed for over sixty years now. It has not always had what it wanted, but the Lord has provided what the congregation has needed. You come to Divine Service primarily to receive, not to give. Christian service, from offerings to cleaning the building, is a fruit of faith. The means of grace fertilize faith. Faith needs to be fed before it can give and serve. Then, as you have received, freely give. The stewardship of all that we are and have flows from Christ. As the Rev. Andrew Steinmann writes, “We can and should praise God for the many things that He is and does. However, the greatest motivation for our praise to God comes from His love and compassion for us in His Son. Since our entire relationship with God is founded upon Christ, our praises always build upon His work for us.”
There are worse problems than the perception that there isn’t enough money.
Warren Bailey died July 14, 2000, at age 88. He had no family. And he wasn't much of a churchgoing man. To the best of anybody's recollection in the town of St. Mary's, Georgia, Mr. Bailey hadn't been to church in at least 20 years. [That should have been of concern to him, this congregation, and its pastor.] He did, however, make annual donations of around $100,000 to a 350-member congregation with an annual budget of less than $300,000. [This shows a deeper problem than a 20-year absence from church—a congregation and a series of pastors who may have cared more about money than another person’s spiritual health!]
It probably wasn't a great shock to the members at St. Mary's that the church was remembered in Mr. Bailey's will. But the amount of the bequest was indeed a shock. There was stunned silence among the assembled parishioners when the pastor broke the news that the man who owned 49 percent of the region's telephone company had left the church $60 million.
"It's all unreal to me," said the pastor. "This is a number that doesn't have any reality." Mr. Bailey's will included no instructions on how the money was to be used, so the church set up an advisory board to decide how to handle its newfound and unexpected wealth as good stewards.
The Pastor reports that he has been besieged by calls asking for money. And he admits to a worry that greed could consume the congregation. This was his lament: "How do we remain a Christian church?"
The Gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord is worth so much more than a mere $60 million, or the combined net worth of all the billionaires in the world, but what weighs more on your mind, money, or Christ?
Money is not the root of all kinds of evil. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. We are not the first generation, people, or culture, to bow down to the idol of money. This idol has had other names throughout history than “The Almighty Dollar.” Money will pass away. The Gift of Christ will never pass away. Money can be a great blessing when it comes to spreading and nurturing the faith. Yet, money tempts us all to wander away from the faith.
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
The world is full of temptations. Flee these things. You are forgiven. Go and sin no more. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. The Word is full of these things. Fight the good fight of the faith. This is not something you can muster up inside of yourself. God the Holy Ghost delivers and guards your faith, the gift you need the most. Without time in the Word, if you ignore the means of grace, faith can die. God doesn’t want that to happen. He created and will sustain your faith through the Word and Sacraments, so that the fight goes on, that your last hour would be blessed, and that you would leave this sinful world with gladness. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. Your Lord fought the good fight. He gave the good confession before Pontius Pilate. His life is alive in you, no matter what challenges tomorrow brings.
Paul’s letters to Timothy apply to you today. False doctrine still surround you. The allurement of wealth and get-rich-quick schemes are still tempting. The love of money is a powerful false god. You are a baptized child of the Lord. The Baptized are not to behave like the rest of the world. They have been forgiven. Remember your baptism. Confess and repent daily. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Flee the things that especially tempt you. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession. And regularly receive the Lord’s Gifts which sustain your faith. Christ is the foundation of faith. Jesus Christ came to save you. His Gifts sustain you in Faith’s Good Fight. Amen.
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (2 Timothy 4:22) Amen.