The Most Valuable Thing

Sunday, May 21, 2023
Psalm 20 & 1 Timothy 4:6-16
Tommy Langejans, Speaker

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If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with profane and foolish tales. Train yourself in godliness, 8 for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and suffer reproach, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. 15 Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

As Pastor Troy/Kristine mentioned, today is graduation Sunday. To all the graduates out there, congratulations! You’ve persevered through tough teachers, constant exams, busy clubs and extracurriculars, (incredible youth group leaders), and so much more. With God’s guidance, you have made it to the end of a big chapter. Whether you’re going to some type of school, jumping into work, or taking time to relax, we hope that whatever God is calling you to next is exciting and fulfilling for you.

So many exciting things are ahead-and, also, it can be a lot to take in all at once. Maybe you need to learn to live with a new roommate who treats laundry like a light suggestion instead of a requirement. Maybe you’ve known ever since you were little that pineapple is one of the best pizza toppings imaginable, only to be mocked by your friends when you bring up the idea of ordering it. Maybe you’re scrolling through Facebook, and you see someone fighting tooth and nail for something that you are 100% against. In big life shifts and everyday life, new things can bring a lot of stress along with them.

On top of all this newness, we’re reminded in 1 Timothy that we’re called to pursue godliness and set a good example with our faith. This is a great Sunday morning reminder to be sure, but when we’re already overloaded with stress and confusion from all the newness around us, it’s easy to shut down to that goal. Different ideas can make us anxious about what we believe, and even ideas we don’t care about can pull us into second-hand anxiety for others. So, in any stage of life where we see new ideas and beliefs that challenge us, how can we deal with the anxiety those ideas bring with them? How can we know when we should stand our ground, when we should change our minds, and where we should avoid engaging when there are so many new things buzzing in our ears and stressing us out?

As we jump into our reading, we see a similar struggle in Timothy’s home of Ephesus. Timothy’s job as a minister was becoming difficult because some of the religious people in Ephesus were teaching some weird things. We don’t get a ton of information on what they were teaching, but we do hear that they were forbidding people from eating certain foods, and even from getting married. Looking back, it might sound silly that people could be convinced not to get married. However, in a Christian faith that was just starting to get its footing, any idea that was proclaimed loudly enough could have been taken for truth. Without an established church with established teachers, why couldn’t anything be true? Paul tells us these teachers are speculating and guessing about what God might be like. He treats their teachings like myths and gossip, meaningless mist that obscures the view of God’s bright truth.

In 2 Timothy, we get a sense of how this environment of new ideas buzzing around might have affected Timothy. From the beginning of the book, Paul tells Timothy that the Spirit God gave him should not make him timid, but give him power, love, and self-discipline. He says it shouldn’t be the kind of thing Timothy is ashamed of. Rather, he invites him to enter into the suffering of their ministry. What might that tell us about Timothy? These details paint a picture of a man who’s maybe been keeping quiet lately because he doesn’t want to be mocked by more popular teachers around him. If Timothy is too forward with his beliefs, maybe the teachers will ostracize him, or even put him in danger. Timothy isn’t spreading misinformation like the other teachers, but it seems like his voice is getting drowned out in the crowd. From what little we know about Timothy, it would be shocking if he didn’t feel isolated by all of the new ideas buzzing around. Trauma research teaches us that the first step of healing from trauma is getting to a place, physically and mentally, where you feel safe and secure. Anxiety and fear take up the mental space we need to process what’s going on, which prevents us from being our full selves. If Timothy isn’t in a place where he feels safe sharing his beliefs, how is he supposed to be bold like Paul wants him to?

New ideas can bring so much anxiety. The Bible can be extremely comforting and hopeful to read-until you hit a passage that challenges your picture of what God is like. Twitter is fun to scroll through-until you find yourself drawn into the anxious arguments of people barking back and forth about a debate you didn’t even know existed. Your favorite college class is engaging and interesting-until someone shares something in a discussion that challenges your whole worldview. The anxiety from this can push us to extreme reactions. We either feel a need to cling tightly to everything we know, or we’re sent into a spiral where we begin questioning everything we know. After long enough, we only become able to engage with people who are similar enough to us. We create bubbles that only certain people can enter into, which prevents us from doing the work of God, which is not only for people who fit in our bubbles, but for everyone around us. So what do we do about this uncomfortable situation? Because we can’t be bold like Paul wants us to until we get to a place of safety. 

In verses 7 and 8, Paul tells Timothy to train himself in godliness, because while physical training has some value, training in godliness is valuable in every way, for this life and the next life. Paul brings to mind athletes strengthening and nourishing their bodies, but this could easily apply to anything that only helps us in the here and now. Classes, hobbies, sports, work – all of these things are well and good for our time here on earth, but we know that eventually, the value of those things will end once we die. However, focusing on godliness will carry us through to eternal life, to God’s eternal kingdom where we’ll be with God. Paul also makes it clear that focusing on godliness is something active. It’s not just about cramming our heads with a ton of knowledge about God, although knowledge is certainly valuable. It’s about slowly training our bodies to act in ways that please God until we find ourselves following God without even trying.

So, as we think about new ideas and the anxiety they can cause, maybe Paul gives us some assurance here that our faith lives aren’t just about cramming more and more ideas into our heads. Maybe, instead of spending our energy speculating too far about who God is, something none of us can understand perfectly, we should spend that energy training ourselves to live out the basic things we already know about God, something all of us can try to do no matter where we are in our faith. Paul isn’t asking Timothy to start doing a ton of new things, or sharing lots of new ideas. He’s encouraging Timothy to be bold in the basic truths he already knows, to live out the simple truth that God loves all and saves all.

This doesn’t mean that new ideas about God are always bad. The point is not to push against everyone who thinks about God in new ways, because new ideas can help us understand God better than we have in the past. Not every new idea is meaningless mist. It’s more like making sure our new ideas are in line with what we know about God-that God loves us, God is ever-present with us, that Jesus saves us from sin and the Holy Spirit guides us closer to godliness. If we can find safety and rest in these basic truths about God, maybe we’ll feel less anxious when we hear new ideas, because we’re grounded in what matters the most. 

Verse 12 is a lovely summary of this idea: “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Here, Paul tells Timothy that his youth, his simplicity, isn’t a weakness. Even though he’s young and sticks to the basics, he can set a great example for people older than him. Have you ever seen a young person show the adults around them a thing or two? It could be as grand as Mozart composing multiple concertos, operas, and sonatas before he was a teenager, or as simple as asking a really interesting question in youth group. The same applies in reverse as well. From Abraham and Sarah following God into rough nomadic life at an old age to my seminary friend Sue, who, in her retirement, decided to learn Hebrew and now helps lead Hebrew labs and a translation group. Regardless of your age, God will continue to work through you. Regardless of how many fresh ideas you have about God, God will continue to guide your way forward. Regardless of the anxiety and fear that comes with new ideas, God will always be nearby.

So, what are your basic beliefs about God? All of us are going to run into a lot of people with different basic beliefs, and different ideas to add on to them. Some of them will be great ideas that will help you understand God better, and others will be mist that obscures your sight. But regardless of what new ideas you learn, regardless of what physical or spiritual training you go through, regardless of the stressful noise of conflicting voices around you, God’s love is a safe place to return to. Hold on to these basic beliefs, even when they feel less exciting than new ideas: God loves you. God is with you. Jesus died and rose again to save you. The Holy Spirit works through you to share God’s love with others. None of these ideas are new. They’ve been true for a long, long time. Amen.