The Eve of St. Timothy
January 23, 2020 A+D
St. Timothy 6: 11-16
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Epistle for tonight is mainly concerned with the godly life of the pastor. Paul tells what must be avoided: greed and ambition, particularly the use of the office, or of a show of godliness, for the sake of gain. He also declares what must be pursued: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.
Neither of these lists is exhaustive nor are they unique to the Office of the ministry. All Christians are called to holy living and to restrain their flesh. Elsewhere, however, St. Paul explains that while not unique, these things are doubly important for pastors because the Office of the Ministry is public. Preaching is judged not only by how it fits with Scripture or with reason and experience, but also by the actions or life of the preacher. The life of the pastor is an example to the flock and to the world. If the pastor lives contrary to the Gospel, in open wickedness, as a hypocrite, he could sear the consciences of the flock and lead them to damnation. So also if the pagans see him in this they might blaspheme God for the preacher’s bad behavior.
This is not to say that the pastor must be without sin. If that were the case then Timothy and Paul could not have been pastors, nor could any of us. If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. What this means is that pastors must live a life of faith, a life lived in repentance and forgiveness. The pastor cannot remain a pastor if he is dishonoring God by breaking the Law of God with enormous, outward, public sins for Paul says in Romans that this causes the Gentiles to blaspheme the Name of God. Such a man would be encouraged to repent and if he did then he would be gladly welcomed again to the Sacrament and the fellowship of the Church even as the prodigal son. But the Office of the Ministry is not a right that any Christian may claim or which can never be taken away.
Paul’s admonitions about the Office and its moral requirements are not optional. They must be followed. The pastors are to be above reproach, not given to wine, not lovers of money, good managers of their own houses, the husbands of but one wife each, and so forth. The violation of such things by pastors privately or in their hearts is a grievous offense and dangerous to faith. Such men must repent and seek forgiveness from God for Christ’s sake where He promises it. Such private or inward sin does not necessitate their removal from Office, but there are times when the public violation of the same does necessitate their removal from Office.
The concern and warning of the passages immediately before out text, that which Timothy is told to flee from, is the peculiar temptation to use godliness for gain, that is for wealth, prestige, and flattery. That temptation could capture any Christian, but it is a snare that is set by the devil, in particular, for pastors and bishops. The love of money and what it can buy, with its false promise of freedom from want or boredom or the whims of a voters’ assembly, is a root of all kinds of evil. Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. It is good for us to be accountable to one another, to be subordinate to one another, and dependent upon one another. It is good for the ministers to live by the charity of the people and blessed are you who hunger not for fame and glory but for righteousness; you shall be filled.
In this same context, Paul tells Timothy to stick to the simplicity of Jesus’ words. That simplicity is often despised by those who think themselves wise or who find that the words of Jesus aren’t enough to get them the sort of attention that they covet. Thus they try to be nicer than God, more Gospel-centered or more clever than God, and more flexible in their morality in order to better reach the itchy ears of their hearers.
Timothy is not only to flee from such things, he is also to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Fleeing and pursuing are not passive activities. Timothy has already been baptized. He lives in the forgiveness of sins and the confession of the God who gives life in Christ. Still, Timothy is not yet out of danger. Though Baptized, he must still fight to the good fight of faith and lay hold of eternal life. He must endure temptation and abuse. He should not be so naive as to think the devil is not dangerous or wily or that his own fallen flesh is easily resisted. Left unchecked, even the appearance of godliness can be turned toward vanity, ambition, and greed.
Timothy is a bishop. He is in charge of congregations and pastors. Yet Paul is telling him here, that above all else, before his duties and concern even for the faithful, he is told to look after his own faith. This is the commandment which he is to keep without spot, blameless until the Lord appears in glory: fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.
It would be a terrible shame if Timothy lost his office. It would be worse if he lost his faith and salvation. It would be even worse than that if he lost his faith and kept the Office and thereby misled others into vice and danger.
We expect that Timothy was at least as good at being a pastor and bishop than anyone gathered here tonight, so if Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so warns and admonishes him, let none of us think we don’t need the same. No matter how pious Timothy might have been and how earnestly he took Paul’s words to heart, he was a man no better than us. Nothing has befallen us that was not common to him. He was a sinner like us. He was also in need of grace, of the Spirit’s coming the means of Grace, of forgiveness.
Tradition has it that Timothy made it to the end with faith. He was not holy in himself but he did make a good confession, he was able, by the Spirit’s help, to restrain himself from outrageous, outward sins that would have dishonored him and taken away the office. He was able to die with honor in the faith, even facing martyrdom. We have all known others for whom this is true, pastors and laity, men and women who fought the good fight, who were not perfect but who were and are Christians, who are examples to us.
If God can bring them through, like he brought Timothy, then He can bring us through and if His Word was enough for them, then it is enough for us. Our Baptisms are not less than theirs. Our faith is no less either. And God’s promises are the same.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.