I Timothy 4:6-8 “If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
The particular theme of this section of the letter is being a good servant of Jesus Christ. Though the NIV in verse 6 translates the Greek word (from which we get our English word ‘deacon’) by the word ‘minister’ it would be helpful to think of the office as a ‘servant.’ I and one or two others in the congregation are full-time servants of God. We have the special office of a Christian minister. But every one in the congregation has the more general calling of being servants of God. Tomorrow morning you will rise and say, “What do you want me to do for you today my Lord?” And as you read the Bible you will discover the answer. You will want to be a better servant of God than you were a year ago. I am saying all this to prevent you being switched off by the word ‘minister’ in our text, thinking that this sermon has nothing to do with you, because the minister is talking to himself and you will be simply listening in. Even if these words have a most searching application to a minister like myself they have much to teach every servant of God. So how can we be good servants of Jesus Christ?
1. By Pointing Out the Truth to One Another.
“If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus” (v.6). “Point out these things,” says Paul, that is, what he has been telling Timothy in the previous verses about women and their role, the incarnation of God, about hypocritical liars coming on the scene and forbidding people to marry. “Everything God created is good,” says Paul. “Point these sorts of things out to the congregation.” Don’t keep these truths to yourself. Share them with people.
There is that beautiful and oft-quoted incident recorded in 2 Kings 7 of four lepers who were dying of starvation during the siege of Samaria. They were in no man’s land outside the city gate, not allowed in, and before them lay the army of the Arameans. They said to one another, “This is hopeless. There is no food in the city. If we stay here we will die. Let’s go over to the Arameans and beg them for some bread. If they kill us it doesn’t matter because we are dying of leprosy and hunger anyway.” Of course when they get to the army camp it is strangely quiet, and as they enter it they can find no soldiers at all with the only sound being the neighing of horses and the braying of donkeys. In the night the Lord had sent a panic attack on the entire army. It had imagined it could hear the tramping of a mighty advancing army, the rumbling of chariot wheels and it had fled – every general and every private. There was no one left.
So the four lepers with increasing boldness find the quartermaster’s stores and they gorge themselves on the food they discover there in abundance. Then they help themselves to the plunder of the army and hide those treasures which they have picked up. Then, exhausted, they turn to one another realising the enormity of this event, and that the dying people of Samaria are ignorant of what has happened. They say, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves…Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace” (2 Kings 7:9). They go to the city gatekeepers and tell them, and the Bible tells us that those men “shouted the news”.
Now that is a perfect illustration of the first duty of the servant of the Lord, that he points out to people the great deliverances of God. There is no need for men and women to live at their poor dying rate. One day a young man came to see Wilhelm Busch, the German pastor. “What brings you here?” he said to the man. “I really don’t know myself,” he replied, “only I have this feeling that the life I’m leading is no life at all.” Busch was surprised and said to him, “You’ve got a good job as a locksmith and you are making good money.” “It is no life,” the young man said. “It is no life at all. On Monday, it’s the locksmith’s. Tuesday, it’s the locksmith’s. Wednesday, it’s the locksmith’s. Thursday, it’s the locksmith’s. Friday, it’s the locksmith’s. Saturday, it’s football, and Sunday, it’s the cinema and girls. It really is no life at all.” Busch agreed with him, “You’re absolutely right. If you have understood that then you have come a long way. It is no life! Let me tell you, my friend, what it means to live. In my own life, a complete change came about when Jesus made himself known to me. He became my Saviour. He reconciled me to God. When I understood this I gave my heart to him, and ever since I have had life.” That young locksmith heeded what Pastor Busch said and trusted in Jesus Christ and eventually became a leader in a young people’s group. Pastor Busch pointed the truth out to him.
When Spurgeon was 14 years of age his parents sent him and his brother to school in Maidstone near London. He was sitting in the Maidstone stagecoach in London and along the street going from coach to coach walked a salesman. He had in his hand an early version of what we know as a Swiss Army knife, and he thrust it right under Spurgeon’s nose. He almost put it in Spurgeon’s eye, and he began to open all the blades – the screwdriver, the spike for getting stones out of horses’ hooves, and the bottle opener. There was no reserve at all to his salesmanship. “Buy this beautiful knife,” he said to the teenager whose eyes were popping out at the sight. Spurgeon told that story in his autobiography and said this: “If he had kept that many-bladed knife in his pocket, and quietly said, ‘If there should be a person in the coach who would like to look at a knife which has ever so many blades, I have one in my pocket,’ then he would not have sold one in a century. But he picked me out as a likely customer, and opened the blades as if he knew that such a knife would be wonderfully fascinating to a boy going to school. That man’s energy taught me a lesson which I have often turned to good account when I have been trying to induct people to ‘buy the truth’ (Autobiography, pp.47&48).
That picture vividly illustrates what Paul is telling Timothy here – “point these things out” to the people. Don’t keep truth to yourself. The Lord Jesus told us to go and “make disciples,” and tell people everything that he has commanded us. Things that people do not know, and things that people don’t agree with. Point those things out too. There are the much quoted words of Martin Luther. They deserve to be regularly repeated to the church, because he is pointing out our weakness, certainly my own weakness: “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proven; to be steady on all the battle field but this is merely flight and disgrace.” Where was the battle raging for Timothy? The denial of marriage. The denial of good food God had made. The spreading of “godless myths and old wives’ tales.” Timothy was not to concentrate on such doctrines as the Trinity and the personality of the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s Supper and the second coming of Christ and all that teaching about which there was complete agreement between himself and the Christian myth-makers. He was to point out those things which the world and the devil were at that moment attacking, where they were opposing marriage and the goodness of all God’s creation. Don’t be a coward, Timothy. Don’t display a guilty silence. Point those things out which are under fire. Then you will be “a good minister of Christ Jesus.”
2. By Continuing to Nourish Yourself by the Truth.
The NIV translators have rendered this “brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed” (v.6). It is not the most accurate translation. The participle here is in the present tense. Paul is not encouraging Timothy to look back to what he learned from his mother and grandmother and later from himself, but the apostle is concerned rather with Timothy’s present nurture. Timothy must continue to nourish himself spiritually in the truths of the faith and the good teaching he has been following if he is going to be a good servant of Christ Jesus. “You’ve got them, Timothy. You’ve been following them. Now go on feeding upon them.”
The newspapers last month told the story of a little girl aged four who was taken to a paediatrician named Dr Duncan Cameron in the Glan Clwyd Hospital near Rhyl in North Wales. She was a yellowy colour, and he discovered that this child had been drinking a very large bottle of a drink called ‘Sunny Delight’ every day. Her body had been unable to cope with the level of beta carotene that is added to that drink to boost its orange colour and vitamin A content. If every day she had drunk a litre and a half of other drinks like carrot juice or orange juice it would have had the same effect on her. There were actually no safety risks. Once she stopped drinking that amount of ‘Sunny Delight’ her colour returned to normal.
Our point of course is this, that we are what we eat, and if we fill our minds with junk we will be junk-people. If we fill our minds with Christ we will be Christ’s people. Think of the great Old Testament question – “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9). So what has he done? “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). The Lord Jesus has prayed for us that we may be sanctified by the truth. “Thy word is truth” (Jn.17:17) he said. Let me break down this theme of Christian nourishment into three or four little divisions:-
i] Reading the Bible. Christian living means living on the Word of God day by day, the written Word of God in the Bible being the means of our relation to Christ. We fellowship with Christ by knowing him in the written Word. We talk to him on the basis of what we know of him from the written Word. We hear him speak to us through what he has shown us of his character and purpose in the written Word. Moment by moment, our vital union with Christ, experientially, is sustained and shaped and carried by the Word of God.
If you don’t read the Word, memorize the Word and meditate on the Word daily and delight in the Word, savouring it and having your mind and emotions shaped by the Word, you will be a poor servant of Christ Jesus. You will be fragile, easily deceived and easily paralyzed by trouble and stuck in many mediocre ruts. But if you read the Word and memorize important parts of it and meditate on it and steep your mind in it, then you will be like a strong tree planted by streams of water that brings forth fruit. Your leaf won’t wither in the drought and you will be productive in your life for Christ (see Psalm 1).
I love some things on this theme that John Piper has preached, that I obtained from his website. He says, ‘Christian living means living on the written Word of God, the Bible. In true Christian living, our relation to the Word is intentional, not haphazard. It’s active not passive. We pursue it and don’t just wait for it to happen. The Christian life is a joyful project that calls for energy and aim and resolve and determination. It is not coasting or drifting or something that just happens to you like the weather. The Word of God, soaked in prayer, is the substance (in the sense of ‘the material’ or ‘the fuel’) of that joyful project. Our delight is in the Word of the Lord, and on this Word we meditate day and night (see Psalm 1:3).”
“We are still at the beginning of the New Year. Make 2000 a year with a new strategy of living. I am calling on you to do something very specific today or this very evening: plan a place, plan a time, and plan a way to read the Bible every day in 2000.” Mark off some time today to plan three things:
1. When will I fit the reading of God’s Word into my day? What can I change to make it fit?
2. Where at home or work will I read and begin my meditations and prayers? Where can I make some quiet and solitude? If you want it you can make it.
3. How will I read my Bible this year? Will I read a chapter a day? Will I use my little Banner of Truth booklet “Reading the Bible”? I will freely give you a copy if you want one. When we talked as a group of students one Sunday night a month ago it was mightily impressive to learn what books of the Bible and how many chapters those students were reading each day. May the Lord help you to see that this is not marginal. This is not icing on the cake of Christian living. This is the appointed instrument of God by which he sustains and grows the faith and fruit of his children. In the Old Testament and the New Testament, the witness of those who knew it best said it was their delight. Psalm 1:2, “His delight is in the Law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.” John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” Planning to meditate on these words is the path of joy. This is the fight for delight. Then there is another way of nourishing yourself:-
ii] Pray. again, when Paul is urging Timothy to be nourished by the truths of the faith he is talking about prayer. Let me speak at a most basic level. Jesus listens to you when you pray. You don’t have to make a big speech. If you are a housewife, it is enough to say, “Lord Jesus, everything is going wrong today. My husband is in a bad mood. The children won’t listen to me. I have a load of washing in the machine and it has started to rain. The car has just failed its Ministry of Transport test. Lord, I bring these worries to you and lay them at your feet. Help me to be joyful in spite of everything by living close to you. Help me to cope. You have promised that in every way I can be more than a conqueror. Help me now Lord because I am trusting in you.” You can tell the Lord Christ everything that is in your mind, and you can ask him to help you to get to know him better and give yourself to him more fully.
Prayer is an articulation of our faith. It expresses what you believe about “the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed,” that God is all-loving and yet all powerful too – as Samuel Medley’s hymn puts it, “Too wise to be mistaken, He, Too good to be unkind.” When Pastor Wilhelm Busch got married he said to his wife, “I’d like to have six sons, and all of them will have to learn to play the trumpet.” He had dreams of a family band. They eventually did have a family of six children, four girls and two boys. But they lost their two sons in horrible circumstances. Meanwhile Busch had become the courageous preacher to young people, imprisoned by the Nazis several times. His life was spent in teaching and pastoring other people’s sons while his own lay dead.
What kept this servant of God? It was going to the Lord and pouring out his sorrows and questions to him. He once said, “I remember the day I learned that my second son was dead. I paced to and from, feeling as if someone had plunged a knife into my heart. People filed in to express their sympathy, but their words didn’t speak to my heart. They couldn’t get through to me. I was a youth worker at the time, and I kept on thinking, ‘Tonight you have to go to the youth rally and joyously proclaim the Word of God to 150 young people.’ My heart was bleeding.”
So what did Wilhelm Busch do? “I went to my room and shut the door. Falling on my knees, I prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, you are alive. Have mercy on me.’ Then I took my New Testament, opened it, and read these words, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ I knew that God always kept his promises, so I persevered in prayer, ‘Lord Jesus, I don’t know why you did this to me, but I beg you, give me your peace. Fill my heart with your peace.’ And he did.” How important to have spoken often with the Lord before on that tremendous day you have to stand before him. Then there is another way of self-nourishment:-
iii] Meditation. I was very struck reading the words of Al Martin in his booklet, “What’s Wrong with Preaching Today?” He says, “I find, and this is somewhat of a confession as well as an exhortation, that my own words mock me when I preach – when I can say the word ‘hell’ and not feel the horror of it; when I can speak of heaven and not be warmed with a holy glow in the light of the fact that the Lord is preparing a place for me. I find no answer to this problem but to meditate long upon the passages that speak of these spiritual realities, and ask God the Holy Ghost to burn them into my heart. I plead with Him to make real to me that the very people that I look at may hear those terrible words. ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.’ I find I must plead with God to make real to me that the people whose voices will say to me at the door, ‘Thank you for the sermon, pastor,’ are the very voices that may one day be uttering those cries and groans of the damned. I must ask God to help me to believe these thing to help me to preach them so that others will know that I verily believe them. The truth that burned on Sunday can be icy cold by Monday. The truth that burned in the closet on Saturday can be lifeless on Sunday. Truths received in the crucible of waiting upon God can be maintained in their warmth in that same context. If I read aright the biographies of the great men of God, I find that this is their unanimous testimony. All with one accord declare that if there was any secret to their ministries it was this: it was the man, cultivating his inner life in the presence of God” (Al Martin, “What’s Wrong With Preaching Today?”, Banner of Truth, p.13). The psalmist delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. Charles Hodge said, “One hour’s communion with God produces an impression never to be effaced; it renders the soul for ever less susceptible of evil, and more susceptible of good.” Thinking about divine realities is an indispensable means of nourishment. Then there is another way of being nourished:-
iv] Living in Christian Fellowship. There was an old bank manager who was a Christian who described a time years earlier when he had completed his studies at school. His father had been pleased with his schoolwork and gave him a large sum of money to take a tour of Europe and visit all the capital cities. The teenager was even then a disciple of Christ, and this is what he thought: “I was deeply aware of how easy it would be for me to fall into sin and shame in those big cities. I was determined to follow Jesus. So I put my New Testament into my suitcase, and every day, wherever I might be, before leaving the hotel room, I had a quiet time. I read my Bible and had a time of prayer. Then, wherever I was, I tried to locate other Christians. I met Christians in Lisbon, Madrid, London. The city where I had most difficulty finding Christians was Paris. I asked left and right whether there were any disciples of Jesus Christ. At long last someone told me the address of a certain cobbler, saying, ‘That man reads the Bible too.'” So this young man walked up the steps leading to the cobbler’s shop. Once inside he looked the shoe-repairer squarely in the face and asked him, “Do you know Jesus?” His reply was the glow that lit up that man’s face. They talked together and then this teenager said to him, “If you agree I will come every morning to pray with you,” and so he did during the time he was in Paris. He believed that it was crucial for him to have fellowship with other Christians, in order to resist the temptations of the world.
Such practices as those of the devotional life and of developing true spirituality are what Paul is exhorting Timothy to do as he urges him, in the words of our text, to nourish himself in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching he has followed.
3. By Avoiding Godless Myths and Old Wives Tales.
Paul tells Timothy, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales” (v.7). It is the only prohibition, but it is absolutely necessary. I guess that the most powerful myths in Britain today are the horoscopes printed in the national tabloids. You might think that it would be absolutely impossible for a Christian to pay attention to a horoscope, but throughout the Old Testament we find those believers repeatedly turning to consult the stars as their unbelieving neighbours were doing in their religions.
In 1999 the Torpor horoscopes which appeared in the ‘Sunday Mirror’ over two editions were responsible for an increase in the paper’s circulation of 220,000 copies and of 209,000 copies. In fact they were the seventh and eighth items of the top ten best-selling stories and features to boost the various papers’ sales last year. Myths are big business.
The ‘Daily Mail’ went to the High Court last month after ‘The Express’ had announced that it had signed up the ‘Daily Mail’s astrologer, Jonathan Cainer. Each year his new year astrology series sells 100,000 extra newspapers a day, and his salary is a million a year. He was offered more money to stay with the ‘Daily Mail,’ but he did not accept it. Astrologers now wear designer clothes, and even the ‘Financial Times’ prints astrology pieces.
Asian politicians rely on astrology to an extraordinary degree. In Thailand coups are attempted only when the astrological signs are in perfect conjunction. Ceylon changed its name to Sri Lanka for astrological reasons. Much of the government business in the socialist state of Burma is ruled by astrological calculations. The Prime Minister of Singapore leaves on his foreign visits when it is astrologically propitious to do so. In Malaysia the astrologers, known as ‘bomohs,’ are consulted frequently. We are little different in the western world. One hardly blinked to read of the divorced young wives of the English Royal Family going to star-gazers and sitting under pyramids, but we have had the spectre of the most powerful man in the world and his wife, the American president and the First Lady, consulting an astrologer. Doesn’t that make you afraid?
A woman in our congregation worked for a year in local government offices and was a little shocked to see the seriousness with which many people every day talked of their star signs and horoscopes. Myths influence people. A study in the ‘Lancet’ in November 1993 examined people whose whole lives were pervaded by star signs – the Chinese American community. If they had a serious disease like cancer and they believed that the time and cause of their death was determined by the stars then a significantly higher percentage of them would die sooner than those who did not have the same beliefs. In other words, their belief in the stars made them simply give up. They were ‘fated’ to die, they believed. Myths are dangerous things to live for.
The latest thoroughly scientific investigation of horoscopes was carried out by Dr Shawn Carlson of the University of California campus at Berkeley in 1982. He tested as rigorously as he could the theory of what is called ‘natal astrology.’ That is, that the position of the planets, sun and moon at the moment of birth can be used to define a person’s general personality traits and tendencies in temperament and behaviour, and to indicate the major issues that person is likely to encounter.
In this experiment people were chosen at random and were given personality charts and were asked to select the astrological chart that best fitted them in their view. The top astrologers also were given the date of birth of these people and they also made predictions about them. The results coming out were very close to those expected if pure chance governed the outcome. Dr Carlson said, “Despite the fact that we worked with some of the best astrologers … despite the fact that they approved of the design of the experiment and predicted 50 per cent as the minimum effect they would expect to see, astrology failed to perform at a level better than chance. Tested using double-blind methods, the astrologers’ predictions proved to be wrong.” The Astronomer Royal, Professor Arnold Wolfendale, calls astrology ‘complete and utter nonsense.’
Yet millions of people read their horoscopes every day, and talk of their star signs. They have got degrees in physics and come from generations of literates and rationalists and yet suddenly revert to the magic of the forest. What is the reason for trusting myths?
Firstly, the so-called predictions sometimes work. And humans beings, being what they are, will often consider one surprising success more than a match for a thousand unsurprising failures.
Secondly, there is the human tendency to convert apparent failures to successes by reinterpreting the facts, or to change their own behaviour to bring it into line with what has been predicted. Thus the persistence of superstition is assured.
Thirdly, horoscopes are part of the bogus trappings of the New Age, so-called ‘reactions’ against the materialism of the Nineties. As the professing church has abandoned belief in a personal and sovereign God who is in control of past, present and future the Christianity most people encounter has little more to offer than the hopes of a political party. People then look for the preternatural in myths and the occult. We are living in a credulous age.
Fourthly, where else in a newspaper can you read about you and you alone? Not in the boring news stories. But it is we who are the heroes of horoscopes and the only villains are other people. People read horoscope columns because they have become too lazy to think for themselves.
They are today’s “godless myths and old wives’ tales.” Avoid them like the plague. A person saved from the world is a person saved from the bondage of the horoscope mentality. Let us tell you of the One who made the stars, and calls them by name, and rules over them. They live and move and have their being in him. His name is the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t seek guidance in the creature but in the Creator himself. He speaks to us in his word and tells us how we are to live our lives, and how we are to spend our money, and how to cope with the disappointments and handle the multitude of blessings he bestows on all men. Don’t read the horoscope, read the Bible, and come every week to hear it opened up.
4. By Training Yourself to be Godly.
“Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (v.8). This is the climax of Paul’s exhortation. The most important thing you can do in this new century is to train yourself to be godly. If you want to be a more useful member of this congregation then train to be godly. The greatest contribution you can make to Christians in China or Peru or New Zealand is to train to be godly today in Wales.
“Train,” says Paul. He naturally introduces the theme of the athlete. There is their physical training, and that is not unprofitable. Your body will be stronger, leaner, fitter. But it is just for a time. Recently a man was asked, “What difference will this next century make to you?” His reply was very telling. “It will make a tremendous difference to me,” he said, “for I shall die.” Now that is Paul’s point here. “Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (v.8). Paul is saying, “Get your priorities right. What are you spending your energies on? Those things that will last for a few more years? Or that which will last for ever?”
How does godliness come? It does not come through passivity, doing nothing and letting God do everything. “Train,” says Paul. We are in the gymnasium, not lying on a massage table. This godliness does not come through such bizarre actions as I have witnessed such as attempting to write down all your sins on a piece of paper, and crumpling it up in a ball and throwing it away and then saying to yourself and to the room, “Now I am filled with the Spirit.” That jiggery-pokery does not make a person godly: that is pathetic auto-suggestion. Those are the weapons of the world. Acquiring godliness is not some quick painless operation like getting your ears pierced. Godliness is not something you pick up in a special conference or at a weekend retreat. You cannot be programmed into godliness, nor is there a sudden infusion of holiness so that whereas you were ungodly one moment the next moment you are godly. It is not an experience.
You must “train yourself to be godly,” says the New Testament. There is this emphasis on our personal responsibility. Just like an athlete has a coach and a training manual and a regimen of exercise, so too the Christian has the Holy Spirit as his coach, the Bible as his manual and a zealous doing of good works as the sphere in which he exercises himself unto godliness. It requires the discipline of regularity, consistency, patience and endurance, and all that comes, of course, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. He is the personal instructor who is encouraging and inspiring us. “You can do it. You can change. Don’t let sin reign in your mortal bodies. Keep going. Keep going. Endure to the end.” The late missionary Jim Elliot was godly because he wanted to be. He worked at it. So were all the holy men of the past.
Jay Adams’ contribution to this theme has been his insistence on the Christian being taught new patterns of daily living and then settling into them. He refers to the section in the latter part of Ephesians chapter four in which Paul lays down the major principle, “Put off your old self … and put on your new self” (Ephs. 4:22&24). Then a number of similarly structured but particular principles of conduct are opened up, the negative put off and the positive put on: putting off falsehood and rather speaking truthfully: he who steals stops stealing and rather does something useful with his hands that he can share with those in need: don’t speak unwholesomely but rather what is helpful to build others up: get rid of all rage and anger and rather be kind one to another. There are the old destructive ungodly attitudes we have to mortify and we replace them by godly actions and words.
In this present life what blessings such new life brings to God, to others and to ourselves. What promise it also affords, through such marks of credible godliness, that we are truly going forward to the blessed life of eternity. Train yourself to be godly, says Paul. There is no other way you can attain it other than by training. Think of the most inept person ever to have had driving lessons. Think of how she tested the patience of her instructors and risked the life of her examiner. How often did she want to give up? She felt three legs were needed in order to drive a car. But steadily she was taken out and was trained in driving. She put off her fears and she put on skills she had learned and been exercised in. She finally passed her driving test, and today there is a striking difference. She can actually hold a conversation with you, and switch on the radio, and pull down the sun visor while at the same time she is driving excellently. This is because she has heeded her instructors and trained herself to drive.
We must hold up that possibility before us. Perhaps we think that we will never be mature and capable like our parents. Train yourself to be godly! Remember those four activities we have spoken of – the Scriptures, prayer, meditation and living in Christian fellowship with other believers – especially that latter one. Christianity is not a wilderness marathon in which we are crossing the South Pole single handed. It is an exciting enterprise the whole congregation is together engaged in. We support one another, and pray for one another, and counsel one another, and bear up one another, and inspire one another, and so on.
Think of how organisations like Weight Watchers and AA have discovered the benefit of group dynamics and the influence ordinary people can have over one another. Together we train ourselves to be godly together. We stop and go back for someone who has fallen by the way. We call out to those who are wandering to one side or another. We make progress as a fellowship, and we are all looking unto Jesus the great wagon-master who is leading us through the wildernesses and through enemy territory and will take us safely home. He has lost none of those that the Father has given to him to care for, and he won’t lost any now.
I was thinking about this training to be godly a day or two ago when I received another e mail from John Piper. Not just me, of course. It was not a personal letter, but one sent to all those who have asked to be put on his mailing list and get sent his mediations and sermons. These particular words of John Piper’s seemed to me exactly to sum up what Paul is telling Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly” but what I appreciated was that it was also in the spirit of the apostle. I feel there is a pathos in these following exhortations. John Piper is thinking about Psalm 1, and he acknowledges how he has been moved by this psalm to pray, “O, Lord, make me this way. Whatever it costs, make me like this! Make me the kind of man who delights in the law of God day and night.” Remember what we are preaching about today. How we can be good servants of Christ Jesus. And the greatest answer is “Train yourself to be godly.” John Piper exhorts us thus:
“Brothers, do whatever you have to do in the opening week of the year to be in the Word daily, and to keep it up all the year long. Be ruthless with your schedule. Cut off your hand or pluck out your eye if you have to. Slash and burn. Die, if you must, to get the delight that David is talking about here. Delight is a fight. It is not natural to fallen people.
“Join me in the fight to delight in the word of God day and night. Plan it today, brothers. Plan it. It won’t happen without a plan. Without a rugged plan, you will default to checking e-mail rather than reading the Bible. Plan a time. Plan a place. Plan what parts of the Bible you will read.
“Just this afternoon I rejoiced that I could be in Genesis, Psalms, Matthew and Acts all in one devotional season of prayer and meditation. It is rich to be in so many different parts of God’s great Word at once. But wherever, whenever, however you do it, DO IT. Our people’s lives hang on our being Word-saturated leaders. They will smell the aroma of Christ when we have been with God. And they will smell the world when we lead out of the shallowness of our own mind. O, brothers, let us commune with Christ daily in the solitude of our chosen place. And let us bring this aroma of communion to our assemblies and lead the people to God.
“Beat the path to God daily. Beat the path to God while you have light. Night comes when you will not see the way. If it is not second nature, you will stumble in the dark just when our people desperately need elders and pastors who can see in the dark. Beat the path to God in his Word every day. Make the path well-worn. Then when you are weak and the darkness falls, your body, like a weary ox after a long day will find its way home through the evening mist to food and refreshment.
“We know suffering. We embrace it and exult in it. But we have seen the end. And we count everything as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. Fight for the delight. Be in his word every day.” Become good servants of Christ Jesus.
9th January 2000 GEOFF THOMAS