Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

training in godliness, 4.14.13

Luke 24: 36-49
36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

1 Timothy 4:6-16
6If 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. 7Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, 8for, 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.

9The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 10For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 11These are the things you must insist on and teach.

12Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. 14Do 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. 15Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

            This time of year, the time between Christ’s resurrection and his return to heaven, I think about how Jesus spent his time. Jesus had a limited amount of time to get his disciples ready to continue his mission when he was gone. The way Jesus prepared his disciples in that short period of time is a great hint for how we should prepare for our mission now.

Last week you read the story of Jesus meeting two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. The focus last week was on how the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus until he broke the bread. We still meet Jesus when we break bread in his name today.

The other part of that passage that really stands out for me is that Jesus teaches his disciples about the scriptures. They were sad because they thought Jesus was the Messiah, the promised king who would rescue Israel from Roman domination. They understood enough about the scriptures to have seen Jesus as God’s promised king, but they couldn’t understand how that fit with his death.

In fairness, most people wouldn’t have either. None of Jesus’ disciples put it all together before Jesus’ resurrection, even though he gave them hints along the way. To understand what the Bible says about the Messiah, you have to put a bunch of pieces together. It’s not like there’s a big section of the Old Testament that talks about what to expect. Instead there are bits of Isaiah that talk about a suffering servant. There are bits of the Psalms that talk about a rejected stone becoming the capstone. There are references to a prophet like Moses and a king like David, but it doesn’t all come together.

Looking for the Messiah in the Old Testament is like watching a mystery movie. There are a bunch of pieces that fit together, but it’s not clear how they fit together until you know the ending. That’s what Jesus does on the road to Emmaus. He puts the pieces of scripture together so the disciples can understand how Jesus is the Messiah and how he had to die to fulfill God’s plan.

After Jesus disappears the disciples say to each other, “Weren’t our hearts burning inside us as he walked with us and opened the scriptures to us?” There are two things going on in that. First, the scriptures are a big part of how we see Jesus. We meet Jesus in the Bible. That can be a powerful encounter, so not only are the disciples’ minds engaged as they start to understand what Jesus is telling them, their hearts are touched as well. We meet Jesus emotionally as well as intellectually.

Our passage for today picks up right after that story. Those disciples speed back to Jerusalem where their companions are gathered. The other disciples share the exciting news that the risen Jesus appeared to Peter. Then the two disciples from the road tell their story of meeting Jesus.

No sooner have they finished than Jesus himself appears in the room. First, he convinces the disciples that he has really risen from the dead, that he is not a ghost or a figment of their imagination. Then he repeats the lesson he shared with the two disciples on the road. He helps them understand how the scriptures have been pointing to him in his life, death and resurrection.

His instruction to them is important. He needs to open their minds to understand the Bible. But the point isn’t just so they understand; the point is so they can share the story and the good news of forgiveness with others. He tells them that they’re not quite ready for the mission he’s giving them. They need more than just a Bible lesson; they also need the Holy Spirit to strengthen them for the mission that lies ahead of them. Jesus tells them to wait for that power before they get started, so they wait until Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fills them with courage and ability.

Even before the Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost to empower the disciples for their mission, they are already different from the scared group of men and women they were before Jesus’ death. Christ’s resurrection has shown them that Jesus is the Messiah and that God is in charge. Once the Spirit comes, the puzzle is complete and the disciples are ready to be the church.

When the disciples start teaching, one of the things we notice right away is that they have a clear sense of who Jesus is and how that fits the scriptures. That has to do with four things: Jesus helping the original disciples to understand the Bible, the resurrection of Jesus showing them that Jesus is the Messiah and is stronger than death, the Holy Spirit’s teaching and power in their ministry, and the continuing focus on scripture in the church. Act tells us that the disciples were in the temple often to worship God. I bet they were also there to study scripture and talk about God with other believers.

We also see the importance of the Bible in letters like Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul writes to Timothy about how to lead the church. Two things about his advice seem particularly important today. He tells Timothy to give attention in his leadership to public reading of scripture, exhortation and teaching. We don’t know exactly how the early church did its teaching. Probably some of it was sort of like this: a leader reading scripture and helping the congregation to understand it. Some of it was probably in small groups like Supper and Scripture or other kinds of Bible study. A lot of it was probably less formal than that, maybe believers getting together in their homes to read scripture together.

We don’t know how they did it, but we know studying the Bible was important for the early church as it grew. It’s important for us now too. If we want to grow in our faith, we need to make time for the Bible. It’s really as simple as that. We have the Holy Spirit to help us out in our ministry and our faith. We know that Jesus is risen and will come again to finish the redemption of the world. When we add Bible study to what we already know, our faith becomes powerful, not only for our lives, but also for sharing with others.

 The other part of Paul’s message to Timothy that pops up in my mind again and again is Paul’s advise to train himself in godliness. Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen; you have to train for it. I think this is one of the biggest problems in the church today, not just our church, but many churches. We don’t have an expectation we will grow spiritually and we don’t take responsibility for that growth.

Often we think about church as somewhere we go to worship and to enjoy the company of people we like. We think about getting a spiritual recharge for the week ahead. But we don’t usually think intentionally about how we are going to change from month to month or year to year. Because we don’t approach our faith life as training, because we don’t think intentionally about how we are going to grow, we don’t grow as much as we could.

As a runner, I love Paul’s image of training in godliness. When I’m training for a race I make and follow a clear plan to get stronger and faster. Each day in the plan has a different purpose: some days are about rest, others are about working on long distance endurance, others work on short distance speed. As I work through the training plan I sometimes feel worn down and other days I feel refreshed, but overall, despite some lousy runs, I get stronger and faster.

Spiritual training is similar: there are different parts to growing spiritually. We need to read scripture regularly on our own, and I’m happy to make suggestions about where to start. Other books can be helpful in our growth as well, devotional books or theology, for example.

We need to get together to worship, to sing, to pray and to hear teaching and exhortation. We need other educational times together as well; supper and scripture is part of that, but I think we would also benefit from adding other small group opportunities. Prayer is a big part of our training too, and I’ll talk more about that next week. 

We also grow spiritually by practicing our faith in action, by serving our neighbors through ministries like Habitat, or Saturday Café or Cameron Community Ministries. Probably the most important way we grow spiritually is by practicing our faith in the other parts of our life. Whatever you do during the week, if you approach it as an opportunity to live your faith, it can be a great opportunity for growth. I am the pastor here, but we are all ministers of Jesus Christ. Your ministry may be cooking or teaching or working in an office. No matter what you do, there are opportunities to practice kindness, encouragement, service, and gentle faith sharing.

            All those pieces in our godliness training work best together. We get more excited about Bible classes when we have questions or insights from our personal Bible reading during the week. When we have a great ministry experience during the week like encouraging a depressed co-worker we have something really concrete to praise God about during worship. The teaching part of worship is more engaging if we bring ministry case studies from work to our time together.

            The other thing about training is that while we strengthen each other by working together, we each have to take responsibility for our own growth. No one can do your training runs or run your race for you. I can’t force you to read the Bible during the week; our elders can’t usually come to your job to minister to your co-workers. Only you can do the training to be the Christian God wants you to be. Only you can do the ministry God created you to do. We are the church together, but we also have to take responsibility for our own growth, and we need to do it intentionally if we want to be effective.

            In the next few weeks I’ll distribute something of a training outline inviting you to think about how you would like to grow in the coming year. I can’t force you to fill it out, or to take it seriously, but if you do, I think you’ll notice a difference in your spiritual life. I’ve never quite done anything like this before, so it’s an experiment, but I’m convinced it will help us train better to be godly. Together we can be a great ministry team, so let’s start training.

Thanks be to God.

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