Sermon for September 15, 2019, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Timothy 1:5-17 (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 19—Series C)

“Speaking the Word Out of Love

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

September 15, 2019

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our sermon text is the Epistle lesson recorded in 1 Timothy, chapter 1:

5Now the goal of the charge is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a genuine faith. 6Certain people, departing from these, have wandered into empty talk, 7desiring to be teachers of the law, but not understanding what they are saying nor about the things of which they are insisting. 8Now we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully. 9We understand this, that the Law is not laid down for the righteous, but for the lawless and for the disobedient, for the ungodly and the sinners, for the unholy and the worldly, for those who kill father and mother, for murderers, 10for fornicators, for those who practice homosexuality, for slave-traders, for liars, for perjurers, and whatever opposes sound teaching 11according to the Gospel of the glory of the blessed God, which was entrusted to me. 12I give thanks to Christ our Lord who strengthens me because he has regarded me faithful, appointing me for service. 13At first I was a blasphemer and persecutor and a violent person, but I was shown mercy because I was ignorant and acted in unbelief. 14But the grace of our Lord overflowed with the faithfulness and love that is in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost. 16But on account of this, I was shown mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all patience as a model for those about to believe in him for eternal life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

 

          The Epistle readings for this Sunday and next give us an opportunity to journey briefly into the book of 1 Timothy. The apostle Paul wrote this letter to a young man named Timothy who had been a missionary with Paul and was now a pastor in the city of Ephesus on the eastern end of what today is the country of Turkey. Paul, his father in the faith, wrote to encourage and to instruct Timothy as he called the Ephesian Christians to be faithful to God’s Word.

          Paul begins by instructing Timothy to “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” (1 Tim. 1:3-4). Perhaps it seems obvious, but fictitious or legendary stories, even ones that claim roots in Scripture, are of no spiritual value. The believers in Ephesus were being challenged with such tales taken from the Old Testament that had since become a source of speculation, along with the invention of allegorical tales that had all but replaced the Gospel in the minds of some people. Timothy’s pastorate was a challenge to make sure that the people were given only the Word of God. Paul summarized Timothy’s duties this way: “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. . . . preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2).

          These were Paul’s God-given instructions to Timothy, a young pastor in the year A.D. 65. He was to proclaim God’s Word, the whole counsel of God—judgment and grace, command and promise, Law and Gospel—so that his hearers would not wander into empty talk or teach and believe myths and fictional tales. Move forward in time with me 1,819 years to September 12, 1884, to Jefferson Avenue, St. Louis, MO. “The auditorium of Concordia Seminary . . . is slowly filling with students. The new building, with its loud, clear bell, was dedicated [the year before].”[1] Professor Doctor Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther gave a series of Friday evening lectures to teach seminary students ranging in ages from about 18-22 how to “preach the word.” Walther said on that Friday evening in September, “If you are to become efficient teachers in our churches and schools, there is no doubt that you need extremely detailed knowledge of every doctrine of the Christian revelation. However, that is not all. What you need to know as well is how to apply these doctrines correctly. . . . Now, of all doctrines, the first and foremost is the doctrine of justification[, that we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, because of the saving work of Jesus]. However, immediately following upon it—and almost equally as important—is the doctrine of how to distinguish between Law and Gospel.”[2]

          In thirty-nine evening lectures, Dr. Walther would meet with his students, future pastors and teachers in the Church, encouraging them and teaching them, and yes, charging them as Paul did Timothy, not to let any different teachings be preached in the Church other than that of God’s Word of Law and Gospel, centered in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.

          We learn from 1 Timothy 1:8 that God’s Word of Law is good! It does a good work in that is shows us very clearly what is God’s will and what pleases Him. Paul wrote by the power of the Holy Spirit, “We understand this, that the Law is not laid down for the righteous, but for the lawless and for the disobedient, for the ungodly and the sinners, for the unholy and the worldly, for those who kill father and mother, for murderers, for fornicators, for those who practice homosexuality, for slave-traders, for liars, for perjurers, and whatever opposes sound teaching according to the Gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” Truly, the Law of God’s Word shows all people who they really are in relationship to God. I’m not as righteous as I think I am! To the contrary, you and I and all people are, according to our nature, the lawless, the disobedient, the ungodly—sinners!

          Oh how the culture cringes at that word—sinner! That’s not a term very many in our society would use to describe themselves. Sin, sinner, ungodly, worldly are not terms that are in vogue today. They are pretty much relegated to the churches, and a lot of churches are not using them either! “People might not be perfect, but certainly they are not sinners,” it is claimed. “God does not really care what people do or how they act and live.” Sounds like a departing from the truth, a wandering into empty talk. This is because society and culture do not “understand what they are saying nor about the things of which they are insisting.” People in our world today are like the people to whom Paul spoke the Word. They are like the people to whom Timothy was charged to preach the Word. And that Word of God includes the Law that is laid down for the unholy and the worldly. It is a Word from God for all people to hear, whether or not someone thinks that it’s true or right. Walther told his students, “Whenever you preach the Law, you must always bear in mind that it makes no concessions. . . . it only makes demands. . . . When the Law begins to take effect, the person begins to fume and rage against God. He hates the preacher who has shouted the Law into his heart, feeling that he cannot slip off its coils. When this happens, you sometimes hear people say: ‘I will never go to that church again. Why, that preacher strikes terror into my soul. I prefer to attend the services of the Rev. So-and-so. He makes you feel good. When you listen to him you realize what a good person you really are.’ Alas! Down in hell these same people will want to take revenge on the preacher when they see how that false prophet got them thrown into the pit.”[3]

          St. Paul heard the message of God’s Law. He believed that he was the closest thing to righteousness as possible. He reports in Philippians 3 that he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” That’s surely something to be proud of. Surely this made Paul holy and right with God. However, the apostle continued, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” In his letter to Timothy, Paul calls himself, not the best of the best, but “Chief of sinners” How did he possibly come to see himself as first place among sinners when he appeared so righteous? The Word of the Law did its work. He was shown his sins and his ungodliness. He came to rightly see himself as a “blasphemer, persecutor, and violent person.” He hadn’t perfectly kept the Law. He acted in unbelief, out of ignorance of his own sins and his standing before God.

          That’s what you and I and all people must come to know. Like Paul, each one of us should say according to the Word, “Chief of sinners, though I be.” The Word of Law works as it is heard. We fall on our knees and confess, “I am not as God would have me be. I have to become a different person.” And so God supplies a Word for all people crushed under the weight of their sins and guilt, burdened under the damning accusations of the Law that “you are not as God would have you be.” From the Holy Spirit to Paul’s pen to our ears, “The saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

          Even Paul, the foremost of sinners, is not threatened by this Gospel Word. He hears only the sweetest promise and says, “I was shown mercy.” There can be no greater words for you and me also to confess, “I was shown mercy.” God doesn’t condemn us to eternal death and hell. He should, by all rights. But He chose not to condemn and punish sinners, but rather the sinless One, the One-of-a-Kind Son of the Father Himself, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the Shepherd who goes in search of the sinner, the ungodly, the worldly—the lost sheep. Jesus is the One who searches diligently for that one lost coin—the fornicator, the murderer, the liar, the disobedient. You are that sheep. You are that coin. You are that person to whom God’s Law has spoken its accusations and condemnations. You are the one who has been enlightened by that Word to see who you truly are in body, soul, and spirit apart from grace—a lost and condemned creature. And you are that person for whom Jesus took to Himself a true human body and soul so that He could suffer death and hell in your place on a cross so that the Father might show you undeserved kindness—mercy and grace.

          And now “the grace of our Lord [has] overflowed with the faithfulness and love that is in Christ Jesus.” We have heard and received both the proclamation of God’s Law and Gospel. Through the Law, we become aware of our sins. We are really not what God wants us to be. Through the Gospel, we receive the forgiveness of all our sins because Jesus, God’s Son, lived, suffered, died, and rose again winning our forgiveness and eternal life. There is not one sin on Paul’s list this morning in verses 9 and 10 that is not covered by the saving blood of Jesus shed for you and me. The Law points its finger and cries, “Sinner!” But the Gospel enfolds you in the nail-scared hands of the Crucified and Risen Christ and yells even louder, “Forgiven Saint!”

          Now, do you think this is a message that people “out there” in the world need to hear? Do you think that God’s Word of Law and Gospel is what our culture and society must hear from Christians? Without a doubt! Paul charged Timothy to preach the whole counsel of God. Pastor Walther did the same for his students. Our pastors today are given the same charge from God through the congregations that have called them to serve as ordained servants of the Word. And so is every disciple, every believer in Jesus Christ the world over. Paul was shown mercy. Timothy and C.F.W. Walther were shown mercy. You and I have been shown the same mercy of God through Jesus Christ. And the Savior sends you and me with the Word to our families, to our friends, coworkers, and even strangers.

Like Paul, you are a model of the grace and mercy of God to others. Christ Jesus has saved you and His grace overflows in your life. Like all your forefathers and mothers in the faith, you now take up the charge. You can share God’s Law and Gospel with other people in love, a love that comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a genuine faith—the Savior’s gifts to you through His life, death, and resurrection. People believe all kinds of empty talk these days. But the Word of God is not empty talk. It is the power of God unto salvation. To those comfortable in their sins, those who especially do not realize their standing before God as lost and condemned people, proclaim His Law. To those crushed under the weight of sin and guilt, those who do fear the condemnation of God, announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Now is the time that all people hear and know and believe this Word, His message of Law and Gospel.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

[1] C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, ed. Charles P. Schaum (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010), lxv.

[2] Ibid., 9.

[3] Ibid., 90-92.

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