Home > Uncategorized > Message for 9/18, The Power of the Gospel to Order our Lives

Message for 9/18, The Power of the Gospel to Order our Lives

Heavenly Host, 2016

Part 2 of a Series:  The Power of the Gospel

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Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Last week I started this thing that I’ve never done before, this message series on the power of the Gospel.  And I said that this message, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” is the message of the Gospel.  And that message is the singularly powerful message our world so desperately needs to hear in order for each of us, for all of us to be saved from a life of rebellion against God.  But this week I wanted to focus on what happens after that initial rescue, on how this powerful message dynamically shapes and reorders the lives of the people in whom this message lives.  That is certainly the case in our second reading today, the second reading in this letter from Paul to young pastor Timothy as serves the church in Ephesus.

It should not come as a surprise to use that the God who is a rescuing God is also a God of order.

I’m always amazed at how much we need order, even crave order.  Kim’s stories about her work in kindergarten this year have reminded me of how much younger children need and thrive on order.  Certainly there’s a spectrum of tolerance to the ebb and flow of the day, but even the most withersoever kid seems to thrive on a schedule.  Parents can remember this, I’m sure.  All it takes is one hour.  Miss meal time or nap time by one hour and the peace and stability created and ensured by the schedule breaks down.  Yeah, that’s putting it kindly.

Adults aren’t really that much different.  We crave order and are really uncomfortable with things outside their normal order.  Take something simple like travel.  Travel can be exciting, new foods, new customs depending on how far away you go.  But travel can be exhausting, disorienting, and frustrating.  Why?  Because when we travel the order of the day is disrupted.  Even adults crave and thrive on order.

And the powerful message of the Gospel that transforms the lives of sinners restores God’s intended order to His creation, maybe not all at once, but it’s a start.  Even the way God goes about the work of salvation is orderly.  In a different letter the same Apostle Paul tells us that this is typical of God.  In the opening of Ephesians, he writes even as [God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will[.]” (Eph 1:4–5)  That’s a glimpse at the orderliness of God’s work, God working for good, predestining, His plan set before the foundations of the world coming to fruition in order to conform His people to the image of His Son,.  Hold on to that idea of God working to conform those who are called to His purpose, His will.  That’s the idea we’re working with today.  That’s what’s happening in chapter 2 here of Paul’s letter to young pastor Timothy.

We can look at it this way.  Because God has saved His people by sending His Son, the relationship with God is restored and God’s desired order for His people is being restored in them and in their relationships.  Of course, the easily identifiable relationship is the vertical relationship of the believer to God.  In God’s restoration through Jesus the lines of communication are open again.  God hears our prayers and we hear God’s Word as the gift of life that it is rather than some ancient, irrelevant law code.  Adam and Eve in the garden once enjoyed unrestricted access to God.  But that was lost in the Fall.  But in Christ, that relationship with God is restored once again.  All Christians know that God delights to hear their prayers and all Christians delight in knowing God once again.  That mutual delight is the basis of true worship.  In Christ even worship has order restored to it.

The city of Ephesus was the hotbed for the worship of Artemis, a female fertility goddess.  The temple built in Ephesus to honor Artemis is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  And it’s in Ephesus that Paul starts a riot with the silversmiths who make their living making little Artemis idols.  In the leadership at the temple itself the women ran the show.  And as it was a fertility cult, you can imagine the kinds of worship at the temple of Artemis.  This kind of worship and even this reversal of leadership was not good and pleasing to God.  Jesus is the one mediator between God and man and though it is left unsaid, you don’t have to bribe good with fertility rites for the crops to come in.  When Paul starts preaching the Gospel that saves those that come into the church in Ephesus and he leaves Timothy to continue the work, God’s desired order is begun to be restored.

In our Epistle reading, it’s this order that Paul is speaking to. Now, as I realize that there’s been some pretty bad teaching in the Christian Church over the centuries regarding Biblical manhood and womanhood.  And most of it is squarely rooted in our Epistle lesson today.  I think the right way to read this passage is probably not through the lens of a modern day movement of women’s liberation, something Paul could have never seen.  Nor do I think it’s right to read this passage as apostolic authority for the subjugation of women as second class citizens in the kingdom of heaven.  So the harder work is to read the text carefully, in its context, and see what Paul is saying and what he is not.

In our day, movies and entertainment play on male and female stereotypes.  But the order God has for His creation is not stale stereotype.  Thus Paul calls for the end of both male and female stereotypes here.  Men, when you pray, there’s no room for testosterone fueled quarreling.  God has more for you than that.  Women, you are more than just concerned with wearing pretty dresses and jewelry, adorn yourself rather with good works.  Now again, this phrase is a cultural key to understanding this passage.  Paul is an educated fellow of his day.  He knows that in the broader Greek world, this phrase means engage in positive contributions in the wider society.  It’s short hand for spending time and money on the less fortunate and helping the community through public works like medicine, the arts, and so on.  We might call this philanthropy today.  I don’t think Paul is encouraging plain anonymity in the home.  Paul is encouraging the women of Ephesus to be about helping others and fixing broken society.

As we keep going, remember that the Apostle Paul is writing to a young pastor in a small church in a town that is absolutely topsy-turvy with respect to how women and men have related to one another in society and perhaps even in their homes.  So there should be some reordering when the powerful message of the Gospel is proclaimed.  But I want to be clear that the Gospel message doesn’t mean that women have to be second class citizens in God’s kingdom, as this passage has often been read.  First, it’s just kind of plainly unfair to half the human race.  But it also doesn’t fit with the rest of the New Testament.  Remember, it was the women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection.  And remember Paul uses the word apostle to describe one woman Junia at the end of his letter to the Romans.  But maybe most especially the Lord treats Mary, Martha’s sister, as a disciple, a learner and full follower when she trespasses the male female divide and sits at His feet to learn with the men.  She has chosen the one thing needful.  Read out of this context, verse 11 makes better sense.  “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.”  We might say, like Martha’s sister, Mary.  And by the way, with submissiveness to whom?  To men?  To their husbands.  I know elsewhere Paul does talk about wives and husbands but this passage isn’t. And so I think the women should be learning with submissiveness to the Lord, the same way Mary did.  The same way anyone should.  Yes, Paul does say women should not teach or exercise authority.  But consider the context.  It’s Ephesus, the disorder needs to be reordered.  I don’t think this means there should be women’s ordination.  We’d have more biblical support for that if the Lord had set some women among the Twelve and/or the apostles had added some women specifically into the office of overseer in the early church.  But Paul is clearly dealing with the situation pastor Timothy faces in Ephesus.  If Jesus saves, among those He saves God’s order should be restored.

This is specifically why Paul mentions Adam coming first and then Eve.  There is order in God’s creation.  Yes, Eve was deceived first but it was Adam’s responsibility.  Eve sinned in ignorance.  Adam sinned deliberately and in full knowledge of the command.  The OT is very stern about punishments for those who sin deliberately.

Then there is this enigmatic line about women being saved through childbearing which adds to our confusion.  Paul is not referring to an alternate way of salvation for women or that their punishment for their sin is the pain of childbearing.  We have plenty of other Scriptures that say God’s salvation is given freely to all, both men and women.  So, perhaps Paul is suggesting that by bearing children, women participate in the creative and saving act of bearing and raising children in the knowledge of the Lord.  It certainly makes more sense that way.

Remember Paul is writing about the power of the Gospel to save and now reorder people’s lives.  Stereotypes that reflect our chaotic rebellion from God’s order will no longer do.  That saving and reordering is a building up of men and women into the godly models of manhood and womenhood this world needs.  And so the God who saves is the God who restores order if we will but have it.  Women leading fertility cults is certainly not part of the very good and orderly creation God has given us and restored us to.  And men subjugating women is not God how desired us to work together.  That would reflect nothing of God’s love.

We’ve been talking about worship and how men and women relate to one another, but are there other ways God order should be restored among us?  What are the ways women can use all the talents they’ve been given to God’s glory and for the reordering of society without transgressing God’s order?  There’s certainly more here for us to consider than we have time for.  But perhaps it’s time for mutual repentance among men and women for trying to take what we want and make some spiritual reason for it.  Take heart, though.  It is for us, who have made such a mess of God’s order and denied the goodness of God in one another that Jesus came into the world.

That message has the power to free us from stereotypes and sexual politics and look to God.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and restore the order of the kingdom of God among you, among us all.  Amen.

 

Note:  I am greatly indebted to Tom Wright and his commentary on 1 Timothy for helping me to sort out what’s what here in this passage.  I should be clear that Wright is a bishop and teacher in the Church of England which does allow the ordination of women and while I agree with his understanding of 1 Timothy here, I do not support such a stance.

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