Peace be with you!
I have a handful of letters scattered around my house waiting for me to rediscover them occasionally as I go about my activities. Somewhere in my office is a tattered postcard that my mom sent me when I first went to college in 2002. She writes about her first Christian booksellers trade show in California and about how her sister was enjoying people watching at the beach. Then she writes how proud she is of me for going to college. Through my numerous moves, I have managed to keep that postcard. It is a reminder of how far I have comes over the last fourteen years.
The role of a Christian in the world is a difficult one. You stand against obviously anti-Christian groups, such as ISIS and KKK. At the same time, you are also working with and against the morals and attitudes of society, which may or may not agree with the Christian morals and attitudes. For instance, the army will put a few soldiers in mortal danger in a military campaign, so hundreds of other soldiers can survive and get home. The mentality is to sacrifice a few for the greater whole. As Christians, we do not believe anyone is expendable. In Luke 15:1-10, we read about the good shepherd leaving the ninety-nine and going after one lost sheep. As Father George Conger said on Sunday, society would not leave the ninety-nine for one, but for Jesus Christ the one is just as important as the ninety-nine. Each person has an infinite value to God, and one lost soul is irreplaceable. God has a call for each and every one of us. Therefore, when one of us loses our way, God the Father says to Jesus Christ, “Go and find my lost child,” because he loves each one of us and he needs each one of us to do our part in his greater plan.
We do not know exactly what is going on, but we know the apostle Paul has felt an urgency to lift Timothy up as he ministers to the people in Ephesus. First Timothy is a letter from a mentor to a mentee and is unlike other letters written by Paul to whole communities. Also, here Paul introduces himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ—as one in authority. Even though the letter is addressed to Timothy, it was probably still read aloud to the community in Ephesus. Therefore, Paul is asserting his authority to the community and emphasizing Timothy as his loyal child of faith. We still do this in society: I am [blank], and this is [blank] who is my [blank]. We define and validate each other’s roles within the community to assert someone with authority or a role.
Paul begins his letter by warning against false teachings—those ideas and practices that make people stray from the good news of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We have all fallen prey to ideas and practices, which convince us that [whatever “it” is] is okay, even when it is contrary to the good news. This is true even in the practice of other religions. For example, thirty thousand Muslims within the Ahmadiyya Islamic movement in the United Kingdom met in August 2016. The group vowed to promote peace and to reject ISIS and other terrorist groups.
“The only thing the terrorists are achieving is to completely violate the teachings of the Holy Quran and of the Holy Prophet Muhammad,” said Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the Ahmadiyya’s global caliph, at the conference. “Let it be clear that they are not practicing Islam, rather it seems as though they have invented their own hate-filled and poisonous religion.”[i]
Within Christianity, we have seen so-called Christian groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, work against the teachings in the Bible in order to further their agenda. Though the Ku Klux Klan swears it upholds Christian morals, almost all Christian denominations have denounced the group for spreading hatred and violence to specific groups, such as African-Americans, LGBT individuals, and Jews.
Paul is writing to Timothy to denounce groups that go against the good news of Jesus Christ. Most of us are not associated with the Ku Klux Klan or terrorist organizations. We do not actively go around spreading hatred and violence against anyone. Yet most of us fall into treating others with disregard at one time or another.
Last week at the gym, I was intimated by a male member for being in the “guy” area. Without saying a word to me, the guy made it clear I should not be in the free weight area. I wrote an email to the manager, explaining what had happened in order to provide background for any future occurrences. I concluded my email by saying, “I hope the guy and I can somehow coexist.” At the end of the day, I, as a Christian, am called to love my neighbor. This does not mean I have to enjoy everyone’s company or tolerate discrimination against me, but I have to acknowledge everyone as a child of God.
Once Paul has acknowledged Timothy is working against false prophets, he lifts him up by giving him encouragement to keep on doing his ministry in Ephesus. The false prophet must have worn down and depleted Timothy’s will to keep working. Everyone has been there—worn out, ready to toss in the towel, and say, “I am done,” as you walk away—those times when you just don’t have anything left to give. Then God seems to send someone to boost your spirits, to reenergize you, so you can keep on doing your important work for God and your community.
Paul continues by encouraging Timothy to find strength in Jesus Christ as Paul has. He admits his past transgressions against the Lord: he has been a blasphemer, persecutor of Christians, and a violent man, yet through God’s infinite wisdom, he is forgiven and is given mercy and grace (1 Timothy 1:13-14). Paul is an example of how someone can live in and be ruled by darkness and by doing the devil’s work, but also of how Jesus’s light finds him or her and brings them into communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
God’s grace is also given to us when we feel drained: the Holy Spirit comes in and gives us a double serving of God’s forgiveness, love, mercy, and grace. Then we are off and running again, because we have been redirected back in the light and reminded that the good fight is still worth fighting.
Paul reminds Timothy that the good fight is still worth fighting for. There will always be a zillion forces fighting against the good news. A few of these forces we outright reject without much thought. These forces are utterly ridiculous and contrary to the good news. Others we debate at some length and then reject, because they just do not uphold the standards of the good news no matter how we slice them. However, there are other dark forces that we convince ourselves actually uphold the standards of the good news and they are the easiest to be trapped by. We twist the words and objectives of the dark forces to fit with the good news. Paul warns us not to fall prey to these dark forces. We can stay safe by keeping the faith and a good conscience. Personally, I check any big decisions against my core value to love and serve the Lord. Will [whatever “it” is] uphold my faith? When I am unsure, I discuss [whatever “it” is] with my mom and/or other mentors to get their insight and opinions. Paul calls us to live out our faith with a good conscience in order to not fall for the darkness.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus Christ to go find us when we are lost in the darkness. Help us to continue to fight against the dark forces in the world. Shine your light upon us as we do your work in the world. Thank you for your forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love. Amen.
[i] Michael Doherty, “Muslim Group Rejects Terrorists,” Opposing Views, 12 September 2016, http://www.opposingviews.com/i/religion/more-30000-muslims-across-world-meet-uk-reject-isis-and-islamic-extremism.