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FOCUS: Protecting the Church
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Focus: Sound Doctrine
What does it look like to focus on truth when life feels chaotic? As we begin our new series, FOCUS: A Study in 1 Timothy, David Leventhal teaches through 1 Timothy 1:1-11, showing us that false teachers have always been in the church. Sound doctrine and discernment keep us from being deluded by them.
Good morning. How are we doing? Welcome. We are glad you guys are here. For those of you who are joining online, thank you for choosing to jump on the livestream this morning. We are starting a new series this morning. We're going to dive into the book of 1 Timothy for the next several months, and I'm excited. As we dive into that, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you a little bit about myself.
Since August or September of 1998, I've had pretty much the same identical daily routine, and I've had the same annual routine. Every morning, since about 1998, I get up, and one of the first things I do is I put my contacts in because I have really poor vision. If I took my contacts out right now, I wouldn't be able to see anything. Everything would be a blur. Because I have to do that every day, that means once a year I have to go to the eye doctor and get my eyes checked, because they're continually getting worse as I get older.
If you've been to the eye doctor, you know you sit down. They have you take off your glasses or your contacts, and they put this thing over your eyes and begin to use these dials to take you from, for me, a period that I can't see anything to slowly dialing in and helping me to get to a spot where I can see really clearly.
"Is it one or two?"
"Okay. Two or three?"
"Three or one?"
They keep doing that until they zero in on you having clear vision. The reason I share that with you this morning is because what we're going to be trying to do over the next several months is, using the book of 1 Timothy, we're going to try to dial in our focus, because we live in a world right now that is filled with chaos and confusion and a lack of clear sight, and like the church we're going to be looking at this morning in the first century, we need to find a way to bring it back into focus. We're going to do that through the book of 1 Timothy.
So, I want to let you know that's where we're headed for the next several months. I do want to let you know that in the middle of this series on 1 Timothy, we're going to take a small break and spend a couple of weeks talking about (sort of a series within a series) what the Christian's responsibility is as it relates to government and elections and all that stuff.
I don't know if you guys know. We have an event coming up in early November that a lot of people are getting frothed up about, so we want to equip you, as a body, to know what your responsibility is, if you call yourself a Christian, as it relates to government. I'll give you a hint. It has nothing to do with elephants or donkeys. It has everything to do with lions and lambs, the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. We're going to help equip us to be thoughtful as we head into November. So, that's what the next several months look like.
What I want to do today is I want to kick us off in the series. I'm going to divide our time into two big parts. First, I want to give us a high-level overview of the book of 1 Timothy, and then I want us to look at the first 11 verses in 1 Timothy, specifically, sort of what those verses mean and then what we do with that. How do they apply to our lives today? So, that's where we're headed. We're going to look at the high level, the whole book, the who, the what, the where, all of those kinds of things, and then we'll dive into a specific section of the letter.
The first thing to know is this is actually not a book; it's a letter. We are going to get to read someone's mail. The New Testament Epistles are letters that men have written to churches or to people, so we're reading somebody's mail. It's illegal for us today to do that, but we're going to be okay in God's Word. It was written by Paul. This is a letter to Timothy written by Paul. Just by way of reminder, Paul is the guy who wrote 13 of your 27 New Testament books.
If you don't know his background story, it's pretty wild. He was a very religious Pharisee. His name was Saul. He's going to tell us in this book that before he came to meet Jesus, he was a blasphemer and a persecutor of the faith. If you go back in Acts 7, you'll see that Paul was responsible for signing off on the execution of Stephen. The first Christian martyr after Jesus was a guy named Stephen. He was stoned to death. Paul took responsibility for that action. You can read that in Acts 7 and 8.
So, this man who's writing this letter, who wrote 13 of your New Testament letters, has a really troubled past. I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you right from the beginning that I don't know what your story is, I don't know what is in your background, what things you have done, what things have been done to you by others, but whatever your backstory is, Jesus Christ can bring wholeness and healing and restoration into your life.
If you are like Saul and your background is crazy, checkered, and colored, Jesus can change your name, like he did from Saul to Paul, and change everything, so that one day this man could raise his hand and say, "Follow me as I follow Christ." I don't know where you are, but I want you to know Jesus can bring healing and wholeness in your life. So, that's who has written this letter. It's written by the apostle Paul.
Who is he writing it to? He's writing it to a guy named Timothy. Now, we know from Acts 16 that Timothy met Paul in Lystra. We know that Timothy has a Jewish mother and grandmother, and we know that Timothy has a Greek father. We don't know much about his father. We do know a little bit about his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice and how they brought him up in the Scriptures. They were believers.
Evidently, Paul and Timothy hit it off really quickly. Paul was so encouraged and impressed by Timothy's heart and his desire to learn in his faith in Jesus, he said, "Hey, Timothy, why don't you come with me on my travels, and you could help me. I'll train you, and I'll work with you, and we'll do this together as coworkers." So Timothy jumped in with him.
Over the years and decades that followed, Timothy and Paul forged this amazing relationship, this amazing friendship. Timothy is actually mentioned, I think, 18 times in your New Testament by Paul. Paul calls Timothy his fellow worker in Romans. He calls him his beloved and faithful child in 1 Corinthians. He calls him his brother in 2 Corinthians, and in Philippians, Paul goes so far as to say, "I have no one else like Timothy." There was a great relationship there.
What's important to know, specifically as it relates to where we're going today, is that not only were they coworkers, but Timothy was Paul's, what's called, apostolic representative. That's a big word. Let me try to unpack it for you, because it's important. Imagine that I were to tell my 15-year-old daughter Caroline, "Hey, Caroline, I'd like you to go upstairs, and I'd like you to tell Lilian (7:12) and Madison (7:13) that it's time for them to clean their room and get ready for bed."
If Caroline goes upstairs, she's going to deliver that message, and my expectation is that Lilian and Madison will follow the instructions, not because Caroline asked them but because I asked them. If they disobey, they're not disobeying Caroline; they're disobeying Dad, and we don't want to do that. That's what an apostolic representative means. It means Timothy was Paul's representative.
Now, what's the big deal about Paul? Well, Paul was an apostle like the Eleven. If you take out Judas, the other 11 were apostles. In the New Testament, that's a technical term that means somebody who was with Jesus, taught by Jesus, and commissioned by Jesus to go. Paul, as you guys may or may not know, was not part of the Twelve. He came to faith in Jesus in the book of Acts, but he saw the risen Christ, and the risen Christ told Paul, "I am commissioning you to go to spread my message."
So Paul had a commission. It was Paul's authority that he was able to go and preach the gospel. He tells Timothy, "Hey, Timothy, you're going to be my apostolic representative. What I'm sharing with you, Timothy, you are to share to the church in Ephesus," which we'll find out in a second. "If they don't obey you, it's not that they're disobeying you; they're disobeying me as an apostle." That's Timothy's role. That's his function in Ephesus, which is where this letter is written to. It's written to Timothy, and the context, the place, the where, is the church in Ephesus.
Now, we know from the book of Acts that Paul spent a long time in Ephesus. He spent three years in Ephesus. We also know that Ephesus was a major first-century town. It was a major port center. It was a major hub of commerce and business and wealth. It was also a major hub for idolatry. There was a temple there to the goddess Diana, or Artemis. In fact, the temple was so beautiful it's one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was a major pagan center.
So, you have this huge city, this major, important city. It's a lot like Dallas. It's a big city, a lot of things coming and going. There's a lot of idol worshiping going on in Ephesus. Luke tells us in Acts, when he's recording Paul's journeys, that when Paul goes to Ephesus to share the gospel, the gospel makes such a significant impact in this city that the men in the city who were responsible for making and selling idols, little metal idols…
They got so upset because they began to see their livelihood about to be flushed down the toilet, because if you know Jesus, you don't need to worship anything else. These guys said, "Hey, our livelihood is about to be in jeopardy," so they caused a riot, and they caused all kinds of trouble. We know that Ephesus was a place Paul spent three years in, that it was a city where the gospel was hotly contended, and Paul was heavily invested in that church. The letter of Ephesians was written to that church.
So, that's the who: by Paul to Timothy, specifically dealing with the church in Ephesus. Now what's the big deal? What's going on in Ephesus? Well, we're going to see as we move through the book over the coming months that this church was entrenched in false teaching, in disorder and chaos. They were not in focus. We know Paul in Acts 20, after he spends three years with this church… He's getting ready to leave, and here's what he tells the Ephesian elders. Acts 20:28-31:
"Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears."
Paul, evidently, after having spent three years with this church and this people and this town knew that when he left, it was likely that the waters were going to get rough, so he was trying to prepare the elders of the church. "Get ready. Be on your alert. When I leave, you'd better be expecting wolves to try to make their way into the flock."
Sure enough, within a few years after Paul's departure, the wolves found their way in and Paul decided to dispatch Timothy as his apostolic representative to the church, and then he follows that up with a letter to Timothy to help encourage and strengthen and guide Timothy and the church. So, that's what's going on.
If you were going to ask me what the key verses of 1 Timothy are, I would take you to 1 Timothy 3:14-15. Paul says, "I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth."
"I want you to know, Timothy, how you're supposed to behave in the household of God. We need to bring this group of people back into focus on how we behave in the household of God." Some of the themes we'll talk about over the coming months… The term doctrine will come up a lot, this idea of sound teaching and truth.
You're going to hear a lot about godliness. It's used 10 times in the book. What does it look like to live a life that is characterized by devotion and respect and admiration for God? We're going to talk about church leadership and what that looks like, and we're going to be, hopefully, doing what the sermon series is called. I'm going to bring us back into focus. Paul is going to tell Timothy, "Your task at the church in Ephesus is to bring these guys back into focus," and he's going to give him five ways he wants him to do that.
He wants him to help bring them back into focus out of the chaos by reasserting sound doctrine, he wants Timothy to help them to resist unruly behavior in the church, he wants Timothy to put in place and maintain strong godly leadership, he wants Timothy to keep prayer and orderly worship at the forefront of the church, and he wants Timothy to model a life of godliness that others can imitate. That's going to be the recipe, if you will, for bringing that church back into focus.
Now, I don't want you to be fooled by the placement of this letter in your New Testament or what it's called. First Timothy is often lumped together with 2 Timothy and Titus, and they're often called the Pastoral Epistles, which is a little bit unfortunate, because it gives us the impression as a reader that these letters are only for pastors, and that's not true.
Timothy would have received this letter, he would have read the letter himself, and then he would have read the letter to the church, because Timothy was Paul's representative. This is not a letter just for guys who stand up front on weekends and teach God's Word. This is a letter for the church. Not just for pastors but for the church.
By the way, if you're curious, the reason those are lumped together like that is the New Testament epistles by Paul are in order in your Bible from longest to shortest, first by letters written to churches, so, Romans to 2 Thessalonians (Romans is the longest, and it works its way down), and the second set are Paul's letters written to individuals, longest first to shortest. That's how it's organized.
It's not super like, "Huh. That's how they did it?" Yeah, that's how they did it. That's the order we have it in our Bible. It's not in the order they were written or anything like that. So, it's a little bit unfortunate that the Pastoral Epistles have been lumped together as "Hey, that's only for the professionals." First Timothy is for all of us, as I hope we'll see this morning. So, that's a quick, high-level overview of the book. Now let's take a look at the first 11 verses of this amazing letter that Paul penned. Let me read it to you all the way through. First Timothy 1:1-11:
"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted."
These 11 verses break up roughly into three sections. You have an introduction, which we've talked about. It's from Paul to Timothy. We've talked about that a little bit. It has verses 3-7, which is where Paul is kind of saying, "Hey, here's what I want you to stop, and, Timothy, here's what I want to make sure you focus on, you don't forget." Then verses 8-11, which is "Here's what's not the issue." Paul is going to say, "Listen. There are some problems, but here's what's not the problem. The problem is not the law."
So, let's dive into those one at a time. We've already talked about the greeting a little bit, so we'll move past that. What to stop and what to aim for. Paul points out two things in these early verses that he wants stopped. One is that he wants certain persons to stop teaching different doctrine. It's like you telling your spouse, "Hey, you need to go deal with your kid." You can't even say his name. Paul is saying, "You need to deal with these certain persons who are teaching a different doctrine."
The fact that Paul says there's a different doctrine implies that there is already established a set of doctrine we should be teaching from. What that is Paul is going to say later. In 1 Timothy 6, he tells you what it is. He says, "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."
In other places in this letter, this doctrine is going to be called the faith, the truth, the sound doctrine, the teaching, the good deposit. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that says Jesus became man (fully God, fully man), and he lived a perfect life, he died a criminal's death, he was buried, and on the third day he rose from the dead, and that by faith in him as a free gift you can be reconciled to God. That is the sound doctrine that Paul is saying, "Hey, people are teaching a different doctrine. They need to stop, because that's not true."
The other thing he wants them to stop is devoting their time to myths and endless genealogies that lead to speculation rather than the stewardship from God that's by faith. Myths and endless genealogies? What in the world does that mean? Good question. Paul is going to tell us in a couple of verses that these men wanted to be teachers of the law. When the term law is used in your Bible, it refers to the first five books of your Bible…Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy…the Pentateuch.
You'll hear Jesus talk about the Law and the Prophets. That's what he means: the first five books of the Bible. So, these men were wanting to be teachers of the law, of the Pentateuch, but they didn't understand what they were talking about. What was likely going on is that these guys, these certain persons, were getting hung up in all of these genealogies in the Law and also in two other extrabiblical Jewish writings that were popular in the day.
One was called the Book of Jubilees, which documented and retold the story of Israel from creation to the giving of the Law with a lot more detail, and it embellished the genealogy section. The other one was the Jewish Antiquities of Philo, which was another popular book which did the same thing. It retold the story of Israel from creation to the death of King Saul. Both of these books had in common these embellished genealogy sections.
So, these guys were essentially obsessing about their Ancestry.com profile. "Look. I'm probably closer to the line of Aaron and Levi, which makes me a priest." They were having all of these discussions and these endless debates on this. It was creating speculation. It was vain discussion. It was pulling people off the main thing. It was creating problems in the church. Paul said, "It has to stop."
It would be like if I pulled up my 23andMe profile, and I was like, "Hey, we're going to have a debate on my 23andMe profile. I think I'm closer in lineage to Troy Aikman than you are." Troy Aikman, the greatest quarterback who ever quarterbacked the Dallas Cowboys. If I said, "Hey, we're going to have a debate about who's closer to Troy Aikman, because whoever is closer gets to be the captain of our flag football team," you'd be like, "That's a waste of time."
That's what these guys were doing. They were pulling people offside by these endless debates on genealogies. Paul says, "That has to stop, because that doesn't lead to a life that is well ordered to the stewardship of God." Paul says, "Listen. Your whole life should be managed in such a way that it honors God by faith. When you get people sidelined on genealogies and myths and other nonsense, when you teach about the Law but you don't even know what you're talking about, you're not moving people to ordering their lives around God, and that's the task."
Then Paul, right in the middle of that, says, "This is what I want to stop, but, Timothy, here's what you can't do. Here's what you've got to keep doing." In verse 5, he says, "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience…" "So, while you have some who are teaching, and their teaching is leading to division and speculation and vain discussions, our teaching, Timothy, your teaching… The target should be love. It should be love that has its origins in a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith."
Listen to me. The goal of teaching, whether it's from me or whether it's from you in your small group, your Community Group, a Bible study, or when you're just having coffee with somebody… The aim of our teaching should always be to point people back to God, to live a life in full devotion to God that is grounded in love that points people back to the fact that God loves them and reconciles them to himself through Jesus Christ. All teaching should drive us to that truth. That's the target. The target is not genealogies; it's love issuing from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
A teacher's job is not to create unnecessary debate or ill-advised controversy. Now listen. There are times for a teacher to stand up and say, "I'm going to make a statement. It's going to seem controversial because the world is saying something completely different." There's a time and a place for that. Paul is saying these guys are doing it about nonessential things, and it's creating problems in the church, and it has to stop.
Then Paul goes on to say, "I told you that these guys want to be teachers of the law and they don't know what they're talking about, but let me remind you, Timothy, the issue is not the Law. The problem we're having here is not with the Law, with the first five books of the Bible." That reminded me, as I was thinking about this… Do you guys ever see those websites, the clickbaity stuff that says, "30 Things You're Not Using Right" or "30 Things You've Been Using Wrong"? I want to be efficient, so I tend to get sucked into that, like, "What am I doing wrong?"
I realized that the Chinese food container folds out into a plate. I just use it to carry my food from the restaurant to the house. I didn't know it was a plate. Now I'm wasting time getting a plate. I could have been using that. I didn't know you're supposed to put liquids in the blender first and then the fruit, because the liquid creates a vortex that pulls the fruit down. That's why my smoothies don't work well. I'm not using my blender right.
Or you're supposed to put the conditioner in your hair starting from the ends and work your way in because the ends are drier. That explains why I look like this. I never knew. It's because I'm using my conditioner wrong. You're not supposed to use as much toothpaste as I use, apparently. JD just told me it's not a backslash; it's a forward slash. I thought it was a backslash. Watermark.org/health. I was like, "Is it a backslash? Have I been using that wrong?" I question everything in my life now.
Paul says the issue is not with the blender or with the forward slash or with the Chinese food carrier; it's with how they're using it. The law has good. The law has its place. The law is meant to show us our inability to keep the law and to point us back to God to ask for mercy and grace. The law was meant to act as a deterrent to keep us from doing dumb things, to restrain evil. It was to educate us, to teach us, and to exhort us. That's what the law is for. The problem, Timothy, isn't the law. The problem is how they're using the law. They're putting their conditioner in at the scalp instead of the ends.
So, that's the first 11 verses. Now, from those first 11 verses, as I prayed and processed, here's what I felt like… How do I move that to where we are today? Here's what I think God would have me communicate with us this morning as we put wheels on this cart, if you will: false teachers have always been in the church, and sound doctrine and discernment keep us from being deluded by them. I think that's the big idea for us today. Let me unpack this in two parts.
First, false teachers have always been in the church. What was happening in Ephesus wasn't the first time it happened, and it hasn't stopped happening. What we see today in our culture, in our world, is not new territory. There have always been false teachers in the church, and it's our job to make clear… As we've said here for 20 years, we want to be firm on the areas that Scripture is firm, and we want to be flexible on the areas where Scripture is flexible.
There's a lot in Scripture that's flexible, and there's some stuff in Scripture that is not flexible. Jesus Christ, fully God, fully man…not flexible. Jesus Christ dying on the cross for our sins and being raised from the dead…not flexible. Salvation is a free gift of God, not as a result of works…not flexible. Jesus Christ is coming back in bodily form to get his church…not flexible. What is flexible is when he's going to come back and in what manner.
You know, is he going to come before the rapture? Questions that most of us aren't even asking. There's some, like, "Well, we're not really sure, but what we do know is that he is coming back." How he's going to come back and the time he's going to come back… There are some reasons to be like, "Here's what I think makes sense," and "Here's what I think." We can disagree, but we can't disagree on the fact that he's coming back. He is coming back.
So, within the church, there are things we're going to hold tightly to that we can't flex, and there are a lot of things we would say, "Man, I think there's room for diversity of opinion." It's our job, as believers, to recognize that there have always been people in the church who are going to want to pull us offside on those things that are not flexible, and we have to be aware. It was true in Ephesus; it's true today.
The other thing I want us to be aware of is this is not just a preacher problem. False teaching makes its way into the church not just through guys who stand up on stages. False teaching makes its way into the church through guys like me who stand up on stage, but also through members of the body, through books we read, through podcasts we listen to, through conferences we go to, through social media.
False teaching makes its way into the church in a variety of back doors. This is not just a preacher problem, although, I'll tell you, it's a preacher problem in some churches. Let me give you really quickly, just so you can have some handholds, five examples of how false teaching makes its way into the church. These are not the only five, but these are five I thought would be helpful.
First, false teaching makes its way into the church through outright heresy, when people deny the core tenets of the faith, when they say to you, "Salvation is Jesus plus…" Anything after the plus is not right. Salvation is a free gift. If they were to tell you that Jesus didn't really rise from the dead… These are things we would call outright heresy. That's 2 Peter 2.
It can sneak in through those people who simply want to tickle your ears by saying things in a really creative way with zero substance. That's 2 Timothy 4:3-4. You'll find guys and gals who will tell you, "Hey, Jesus wants you to live your best life now; he wants you to be happy," and there will be no mention of sin, of repentance, of judgment, of the fact that there is one God and one mediator for man, Jesus Christ. There's going to be nothing that's going to make you uncomfortable, because, "Goodness gracious, I want you to be happy, and I'm not really concerned about your holiness." Men who tickle your ears.
It can sneak its way into churches through those who want to create speculation by taking minor issues and making them major issues. We just talked about that in 1 Timothy 1:3. It can sneak in through teaching that seeks to divide the church by creating factions. That's Jude 18-21. It's folks who want to bring strife into the church and bring disunity by making certain practices, like the marker of spirituality, or by undermining church leadership and spreading it throughout the body. They want to create division and factions.
It can come into the church as folks want to try to personally profit off of the flock. That's 1 Timothy 6. We'll see that later in the series. You'll find guys who want to exploit the church by saying, "God wants you to be healthy and wealthy, and the reason you're not is because you need to sow a twenty-dollar bill to our ministry, and if you do that, God will open the floodgates of heaven, and your $20 will be returned to you fivefold."
Or, as we saw recently in the last couple of years, "God wants you to send in money so I can buy a $65 million jet to do God's work." It's nonsense, and it's heresy. It's false teachers. False teachers have always been in the church, and sound doctrine and discernment keep us from being deluded by them. The solution, according to Paul, as we're going to see in this book that he's giving Timothy of sound doctrine and discernment…
He's going to say to Timothy throughout the rest of this letter, "Hey, Timothy, I need you to wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:18-19). Timothy, I need you to train yourself in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). Timothy, I need you to devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13).
Timothy, I need you to practice, to immerse yourself in these things, in the sound doctrine, so that you're not shaken (1 Timothy 4:15). Timothy, I need you to keep a close watch on yourself and on your teaching so you don't let bad theology, bad doctrine, slip into the body (1 Timothy 4:16). Timothy, I need you to persist in all of this, because that's what's going to save you, and it's going to save those who are listening to you (1 Timothy 4:16).
Timothy, I need you to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11). The solution to bringing the church back into focus, Timothy, is for you to teach and exhort the body to not get sidelined by all this nonsense. Teach the sound doctrine, Timothy. Fight to make sure we stay on track."
How are we doing? What does this look like in real life? Let me give you a couple of examples. Here's what it looked like in Acts 17. Paul, after he got shuttled out of Thessalonica and created a riot, goes over to Berea. It says in verse 11 of chapter 17 that when Paul went to Berea, the Jews in Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica because they received the word of God with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were true.
So, they heard Paul, they were excited about it, and then they went and fact-checked Paul. "Is he feeding us something that's not good? Is he feeding us nasty boiled brussels sprouts that nobody wants to eat or is he feeding us the truth?" For us today, here's what it might look like. It might look like you and me spending time in God's Word, individually and corporately, in our Community Groups, with our friends, reading and discussing and studying and processing and praying together.
Bible study should be a team sport. It's totally great if you want to have time carved out in the morning and the evening to get alone with God's Word, and, of course, you have to have your cup of coffee because it doesn't work if you don't. That's awesome, but you were meant to live in community. Study God's Word together. Paul said, "Don't neglect the public reading of Scripture." Read Bible together. Ask, "What do you think this is saying? What do you think God is trying to communicate in this passage? Here's what I think. Does that make sense?"
It might look like you today, after you listen to me finish talking, going back with your Bible and your friends, your Community Group… "Hey, is what Leventhal said true?" If it wasn't, flush it. If it was, ask the Lord, "What do I need to do to alter my life to fall more in line with your truth?" It should look like you and me thinking more critically about the books we're reading, about the podcasts we're subscribing to, the conferences we attend.
Just because something is labeled Christian does not make it Christian. We are allowing, I think, far too often than we would like to admit, false teaching to seep its way into our brains and into our hearts. All of these things I've talked about lead us to an ability to have greater and greater discernment. Discernment is being able to look at something and determine, "Is it real or is it fake?" That's what discernment does.
Have you guys heard the story that the way they teach government employees to spot counterfeit bills is by studying all the time on the real ones? I've heard that for years too, and I was like, "Is that true?" So I did some research. You know what? It turns out that's basically true. That's what they do. They study real money, and they get to know it really, really well so they can spot the fake one.
While I was doing this research, I discovered something on the U.S. Treasury's website that I thought was kind of interesting. They have a list of "Here are eight things you should do if you think you've been given counterfeit money." The eighth thing, of course, is to hand it over to a properly identified police officer or Secret Service agent.
But they have this note at the bottom of the website that made me kind of chuckle. Here's what it says: "Please note, there is no financial renumeration for the return of a counterfeit bill, but it is doing the right thing to help combat counterfeiting." Here's what that got me thinking on. I realized that that means the government is saying I am responsible for a counterfeit bill.
If I choose to accept a counterfeit bill because I don't know what a fake one looks like, once I choose to accept it, I am now responsible for it, and I can do one of two things with that counterfeit bill. I can give it to you, which would be bad, or I can turn it in. If I turn it in, they're not going to give me a real twenty to thank me for their fake twenty. I'm out the money, but it's my responsibility to know what to do with that fake dollar bill.
I think the same is true for us. We are responsible for the teachings we choose to accept, and we are responsible for the teachings we choose to share with others. So, if you can't spot the fake and you're inadvertently sharing the fake with other people, you're responsible. I'm responsible. Can I just gently remind you, especially to our high school students and our young adults, that just because something has a lot of "likes" or has been shared a lot of times doesn't make it true.
There's a lot of nonsense on social media that people keep forwarding because it's pithily worded. "Oh man, that's so well said," or "That seems intuitive," and it's absolute garbage. Just because it has a thousand "likes" on it doesn't make it a thousand times right. It just makes it garbage that has been "liked" a thousand times. You and I are responsible. How are we doing at training ourselves for godliness? We need to chase after that which is true, which is what Paul told Timothy to do.
All of those things I just read to you… We're responsible for doing the same thing, for fighting the good fight, for immersing ourselves in God's Word, for being around God's people to sharpen our thinking. How are we doing? Are you more familiar with the Enneagram than you are with Ezra or Esther or Ephesians or Ecclesiastes or any other book that starts with an E? Are you more concerned with your podcasts than you are with the Psalms?
Are you more concerned about filling up your library with the latest Christian pop book than you are with filling your mind and your heart with God's Word? We are responsible for what we take in. There's a lot of nonsense being peddled out in the world today being called Christian, and it's not, and you're responsible and I'm responsible. If you're a day-one believer, it's okay. You may say, "I don't know how to do that." That's okay. You're on a journey. You're not competing with anybody else in the room.
Day by day, you just walk with Jesus, and you open your Bible. "Okay, God. What would you have me do today?" Those days will turn into weeks, and those weeks into months, months into years, years into decades, and you'll look up and say, "Man, I am so much more discerning today than I was a week ago, a year ago, 10 years ago," because we're growing in God. You don't have to have all of the answers today. You just have to be committed to going to God's Word to find the answers, to going to God's people to talk about it. "Does this make sense?"
We should repeatedly be asking ourselves if the content we're taking in is going to lead to speculation and vain discussions or if it's going to help order our lives in such a way that everything is stewarded by faith to the glory of God. If it's not, we need to jettison it. Paul took that really seriously, because he knew that false teachers have always been in the church and sound doctrine and discernment keep us from being deluded by them.
Once Jesus got ahold of Paul, he went all in on this truth, and he lived his full life. He suffered greatly for his faith. He's going to write another letter to Timothy. We call it 2 Timothy. How creative. In this other letter to Timothy, he tells Timothy, "Listen. I'm in chains. I've suffered." He's pretty sure he's going to die. "But it has been worth it. I have fought the good fight. I've finished the race. I've kept the faith."
He tells Timothy, "Join with me in suffering for the gospel." He says, "Timothy, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Timothy, if you do what I'm asking you to do, because I've done what Jesus asked me to do… It has cost me greatly." Paul got his head lopped off in a Roman prison. Timothy took that call seriously, and according to church tradition, he spent the next decades serving and loving in the church in Ephesus.
Church tradition says somewhere about AD 97 (he would have been an old man at this point), Timothy saw a bunch of folks going out to celebrate one of the idols in the city, so Timothy goes to this mob and rebukes them. He tries to remind them that there are no other idols. There's only one God. He called them to repent, and they turned on him and beat him to death in AD 97. It cost him his life.
I want you to hear me say we are growing in a world that is increasingly becoming more and more intolerant of Christianity…more and more tolerant of everything else and more and more intolerant of somebody who says, "I think there's an objective truth. I think there's a right and a wrong. I think God meant what he said. There's one way. There's one means by which a man can be saved, and it's through Jesus Christ."
As our world becomes increasingly intolerant, are you and I going to be ready to suffer for it like Paul did, like Timothy did? Paul wraps up his second letter to Timothy in chapter 4. He says, "As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." He's asking us the same question. Are we going to fulfill our ministry?
Father, thank you for Paul, for his faithfulness. Thank you for Timothy and his faithfulness. God, thank you that you have left these letters to us to remind us of what's true, to remind us of how we can live our lives with confidence, knowing that one day you are coming back, knowing that we have staked our lives on that which is true. God, I know there are people in this room who are trying to figure out if this whole thing is even true, and I pray for their hearts, that you would draw them to you.
I pray that those of us who know you would be emboldened to study your Word; to be diligent to make sure we understand sound doctrine; to be gentle and kind in the way we share it with other people; to remember that we were once lost, separated, far from you, and we needed grace and kindness, and we needed your gospel to come in and penetrate our hearts, just like our friends around us might need that. Would you help us to be all of those things for them? We pray all this in Jesus' name, amen.