First Timothy

Sermon: Prayer, Time and the Transformation of the World, Part II, I Timothy 2:1-4

Text: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

(1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)

People of God, this is the last Sunday of the Church Year. Last Lord’s Day I offered a short defense of the Church Calendar, and the importance of time and liturgy. As Christians we know that time is on our side because time belongs to King Jesus, and King Jesus has graciously given time to His Bride, the Church. The Church is called to use time wisely and cheerfully for the sake of the world. In other words, when the world asks “what time is it?” it is the Church’s role to let her know, not vice-versa. We set the agenda for the world, not the opposite. Now if we could only get Christians on board in this simple proposal, then we could expect some radical things to happen in the world. But what has happened instead? Well, by and large the evangelical, Protestant Church has followed the world’s calendar. She has borrowed money from the world, and now the world wants it all back with excessively high interest rates.[1] At the end of the day we look at each other in amazement and wonder why we are losing the battle. We have been undiscerning, and unaware of how the world functions. Why? Because we don’t know how the Church functions, or what her role is in the world. Let’s be frank: when we think about time, we think more about vacation time than Church time. And we are wrong! And the fruits of this is becoming clearer and clearer in our society. There is no sense of belonging. The youth are leaving in large numbers. They are tired of lights, skits, false transparency, and religious pep-talks. We are all guided by time, but what is happening is that by the time our children turn 18 they take time into their own hands. More

Sermon: Prayer, Liturgy, and Time, I Timothy 2:1-2, Part I

People of God, we are coming to the end of the Church Year. In two weeks we begin the journey of Advent. Advent is a season of expectation and hope for the Christian. We will walk through the expectations of the First Century saints and see the glory of that expectation fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Now I know that many of you who grew up in broadly evangelical churches will find this idea of a church calendar strange. Why the changes in liturgical colors? Why is a calendar even needed? Or why shouldn’t we just allow the pastor to preach whatever he is comfortable with, and allow that to form our themes for the year? These are important questions to consider. And let me say up-front that there is nothing sinful or erroneous about preaching about the crucifixion during Christmas. Or about the resurrection during Lent. But one of the questions I think is worth considering is “what is the nature and purpose of time?” Why is time important?” Is there wisdom is being shaped by a historically driven calendar, rather than a calendar of our own making? I believe there is much wisdom in it, and I think the Church has been wise in following this calendar throughout the centuries. So why is time important?  First, time is important because it shapes us as a people. We are a time-oriented people. Everyone of us has 24 hours in a day. The way we choose to use this time is crucial in developing our character and personality. If we are always late to events we are telling the world that order does not matter. If we seldom meet deadlines we are telling the world that discipline does not matter. And the examples abound. Time is important. Time is ethically and sociologically important. Jesus believed this was the case. He said things like “The time is at hand.” The kingdom was near when he arrived in the first century. Later in Mark 13 he says “these things shall come upon this generation.” If time didn’t matter to Jesus he would have said, “these things will happen upon a non-specified generation.” But Jesus was very clear to his first century audience.

But another reason time is important is because it belongs to Christ and His Church. Jesus is the Creator of time. Before the world began there was no need for time, but when Jesus set the world into motion with His words time began to tick cosmically.

We are part of a culture that sees time as individualistic. As Christians, many times we isolate ourselves from others. We like to do things our own on our own times. So we rationalize that time for us is not the same as time for them. The reality, however, is that time is God’s, and He has specifically given time to His Son, and His Son beautifies, glorifies His Bride by giving her time.

To use a marital dialogue, Jesus is saying: “Beloved, I want to help you to use your time wisely.”

So over the centuries, the Church has listened to her Bridegroom and fashioned herself around a Calendar. There are feast or holy days that we as a Church in Pensacola, Florida celebrate together with other little underground churches in Iran and in China. We share Fourth of July only other fellow Americans, but we share Easter with the whole Christian world. And this is no trivial thing.

I also want to say that it is a good thing to honor our national holidays. God has been good to this country, though this country has in many ways failed to live as God desires. One crucial feature of a Christian is that he possess a heart of gratitude for those things God has given him. Here is my point: We need to honor special days in our Calendar, but ultimately national holidays are to be submissive to ecclesiastical holy days. The work of the Church will carry a place of greater importance in God’s plans. Nations will come and go, but the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church.

I say all these things as we come to the end of the Church Year. But within that Church Year we can take some time to reflect on certain American holidays. We have the opportunity to consider these holidays and use them in a way that mirrors  the Christian gospel. And I can think of no better opportunity to do this than with Thanksgiving. I Chronicles 16: 8: “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!”

We are entering a brief season of thanksgiving. Of course, we must always give thanks, but when a holiday comes along that stresses thanksgiving we think it is a great time to consider this topic. But as we know we tend to replace the important thing for the less important. And we do as a people in this season need to prioritize Thanksgiving over turkeys and touchdowns.[1] Though many of you testify that Thanksgiving with turkey and touchdowns is an even better combination.

So time is of the essence! It helps shape us and it reminds us of our allegiance to Christ and the Church. Liturgy and time go together. One cannot exist without the other.

N.T. Wright says the following:

“Good Christian liturgy is friendship in action… the covenant relationship between God and his people not simply discovered and celebrated like the sudden meeting of friends, exciting and worthwhile though that is, but thought through and relished, planned and prepared — an ultimately better way for the relationship to grow and at the same time a way of demonstrating what the relationship is all about.”[2] More

The Salvation of God

Lowell Green concludes his excellent analysis of Reformed interpretation of I Timothy 2:4:

The dire consequences of claiming human freedom in spiritual matters are staggering. Thereby, salvation is wrested from the hands of God and placed into uncertain human hands. To say that God would have all people to be saved, but that he is unable to bring this about, damages the doctrine of God. Luther held that God is all powerful and he does what he wants to do. God loves all people but he brings salvation to only some of them. Rather than trying to solve this mystery by human reason, one should assign what is unclear to the Deus absconditus and should focus upon God’s boundless love in Jesus Christ, Deus revelatus. The doctrine that salvation is totally in the hands of God is the deepest comfort for struggling sinners.

Luther’s Interpretation of I Timothy 2:4

There is a great history of Reformed interpretation of I Timothy 2:4. In this one verse the question of human will, the extent of the atonement, and the desire of God for the salvation of man comes to play. Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, and others offer sufficient hints to conclude that there was little agreement on this text. Erasmus argued that salvation had been offered and that it was up to man to respond. Calvin–following Augustine–understood that God’s desire is to save men from all classes of people (kings and such). Luther translates verse four in this manner:

God our Savior who wills that all people should be helped, and come to the knowledge of truth.

Luther did not see this text as a reference to salvation (as in soteriology), but rather to the health, or well-being of an individual. He understood this text to refer to God’s divine provision for all his creatures, “whether man or beast, and whether believer or unbeliever.”*

*Universal Salvation (I Timothy 2:4) according to the Lutheran Reformers by Lowell C. Green

My Translation of I Timothy 2:1-4

Here is my translation for this Sunday’s Thanksgiving Text:

1 -This is of great importance, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men,

2 -On behalf of kings and all the ones in positions of authority, in order that we may live a quiet and peaceful life in all religious devotion with dignity.

3 -This is good and acceptable before God, our Savior,

4 -Who desires all men to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of truth.