Sunday, December 21, 2008

December 21st - Timothy's False Conversion

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Text – 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13

As I was praying over this lesson, I wasn’t seeing anything especially ground-breaking that we haven’t already covered or aren’t going to cover later in the examination. Then Dave called me and asked if I could accommodate the High School class. What I was preparing to teach would have left the High School confused, it would have been like if they came in in the middle of a novel without knowing the beginning or the end.

Then something JUMPED out at me, something we talked about two weeks ago, about true and false converts to Christianity. Paul was anxious that those in Thessalonica would be false converts and fall away from the faith…he had seen this happen before…and fortunately when it happened before, it had turned out very well, with Timothy, and that is integrated into this chapter. As we do this lesson, I need you all to step up your maturity, because we’re going to talk about some sensitive stuff and if we’re immature, we’ll never get through it.

So lets read this passage quickly, not because it’s not important, it is vitally important to this book, but for our High Schoolers only sitting in for one class, there is a more important lesson here.

1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Timothy went to Thessalonica to check on their progress in the faith, and came back with a very encouraging report of their salvation, as well as their spreading of the faith. They wanted to see Paul and Silas again, and Paul and Silas wanted to see them, but it would be six years before they would have opportunity to be back in Thessalonica.

Until then, Paul prays constantly that God will increase them in love, as well as growing them in holiness.

So, while that’s not all we can learn directly from this passage, I think there is a more important issue at stake here, and that is the issue of false conversion. It is very possible to think you’re a Christian and not be. The Bible is replete with these examples, Wheat and Tares, Good Fish and Bad Fish, Wise Virgins and Foolish Virgins, Sheep and Goats…etc.

First John is the best place to look to make sure you’re a Christian, but it is far from the only place. Romans, Ephesians, Galatians, John…all of these have great tests, as well as pretty much every other book in the New Testament. But I want to give you a practical example, and that example is Timothy.

First of all, you need some history. Timothy is from the little town of Lystra, in Galatia. Paul was converted around AD 32, he spent three years in the desert, probably pouring over his Bible, finding out how Jesus fulfilled the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, in other words, the whole Old Testament. He returned to Jerusalem and started preaching, but they tried to kill him so he departed via Caesarea for Tarsus. He spent nine-years in Tarsus, so when you look at Paul and think that he just magically knew his Bible, he didn’t, he’d been studying it from birth, taught at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the wisest Rabbi’s ever to live, then he continued to learn his Bible and preach it.

In AD 46 he was summonsed to Antioch, where he taught for a year, and decided to go on his first missions trip. He traveled through Cyprus, then Phrygia, and into Galatia via Antioch and Iconium. Paul's first missionary journey put him in the region of Lystra in AD 47, this was Paul's first harsh persecution and he was driven out of town, and nearly killed by Jews from Antioch and Iconium. They had done their best, and thinking him dead, left him. Of this event, he later wrote to Lystra, "Let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." (Galatians 1:17)

Having introduced the Gospel to Lystra, Paul returned to Antioch in Syria debriefing his missionary stories for "no short time" especially about all of the Gentiles who were believing. In AD 49, he was called to a tribunal in Jerusalem. A group was going around saying that Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved.

Acts 15:5 "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."

Circumcision is the sign of the covenant of the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, here is where you have to be mature, it is the removal of the foreskin from a boy’s penis, it is normally done on the eighth day during a ceremony called a bris, but can be done after, such as Joshua’s whole Army after reaching the promised land. It is not painful as a baby, but I’ve been told it is painful as an adult. It was vitally important to set apart Israel from other nations, but now that Salvation had been made available to others, it was determined that it was no longer necessary. If you want to really know a lot more, because it’s important, read Galatians and Romans 4.

The council in Jerusalem was to combat a works-based teaching, who were referred to as Judaizers or the Circumcision Party. Paul delivered the death blow to this works-based Judaizer heresy with the statement,

Acts 15:11 We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as [the Gentiles] will.

Letters were sent out to the churches mentioning nothing about the works-righteousness requirement of circumcision, only exhorting every believer to abstain from sexual impurity, pagan practices, and idol worship.

Acts 15:28-29 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

Paul returned to Antioch, just in time to receive word that the churches in Galatia, which were Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, and others, had abandoned the Gospel that he had preached to them. They had been led astray by those that say that circumcision was a necessity for salvation. Paul immediately wrote a long letter to these churches defending salvation by grace through faith in Christ's giving himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age. Who knows what letter that is? Galatians. This occurred at the end of AD 49.

Galatians 1:6-9 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

He called those who would require circumcision or any works, anathema, which means accursed. These churches were near and dear to Paul's heart, since he had spent much time with the peoples and they were his first mass converts, so he decided to visit them in order to set them straight and check on their progress.

The letter preceded him by about a year, and he arrived in Lystra in early AD 50. Here is where we meet Timothy.

Acts 16:1-3 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Sounds innocent enough right…but what did Paul just get done saying? Let’s read it in the letter to Lystra,

Galatians 5:2-6 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Paul gave Timothy a little test to see just how much he understood grace and that Christ did all of the work on the cross. Timothy got caught not reading his Bible, and received circumcision. What are the two ways to Heaven?

1. Jesus said, Be Perfect. Paul said, “If you would be justified by the law, you are obligated to keep the whole law.” Jesus was the only one ever to deserve Heaven by keeping the Law, even circumcised on the eighth day.
2. Receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ, your sins forgiven in his payment on Calvary’s cross.

Galatians 3:10,13-14 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Timothy was in trouble! Not with Paul, but with God, he was unforgiven, still dead in his sins, not redeemed by Christ nor justified in his blood! Timothy was very fortunate that Paul was discerning and did not just take Timothy’s parent’s or pastor’s word for it.

Now how do I know this stuff? I admit just reading the Acts 16 passage about Timothy getting circumcised doesn’t reveal all of these things, but there is lots of evidence for Timothy later getting saved, especially 1 Timothy 1:2 and 2 Timothy 1:5, where Paul says that Timothy was raised by godly Christian women, his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois, but that Timothy was ultimately Paul’s child in the faith…meaning that Paul converted Timothy.

The main reason I found this is because Paul and Silas went to Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, and Timothy was not in Philippi or Thessalonica, he didn’t join them until Berea. That is one of the reasons by Paul sent him to Thessalonica to check on them, because remember, Jason in Thessalonica had promised on a sum of money that Paul and Silas would not come back…and they wouldn’t for six years.

This is six months later…so what do you think Timothy did for those months? I think he read Galatians over and over and over again, reading the letter from Jerusalem, working out his salvation with fear and trembling, counting the cost of following the Risen Saviour, and finally he got saved, through faith, not through works! Then he ran off and was able to catch Paul and Silas. At first I thought this would be impossible, but now I think it’d probably be easy, you just ask, “Which way did those Christians go?” They were the first Christians in Macedonia, so catching up with them was probably easy, especially since they had, as Acts says, “Turned the world upside-down.”

Paul gave Timothy this incredible job to go make sure the Thessalonians are really saved, and Timothy, knowing Galatians cover to cover, would be more than equipped for this task.


Without application, this is just a cool story of Timothy’s false conversion and redemption.

How does it relate to you? The first thing we have to see is that salvation is NOT by works, nobody is running around today telling you to get circumcised to be saved…but what about people that say you have to be baptized in water to be saved? Just as communion doesn’t save you, it is a remembrance of Christ’s work on the cross, baptism doesn’t save us, it is a remembrance of our washing in the blood of Christ. Martin Luther said he used to take the opportunity during every bath to remember that Christ had washed him of all of his sins.

The same way, if you want into Heaven because you think you’re a good person, you have to keep the whole law perfectly, and Jesus said there is none good but God.

How important is it to know this Bible? For Timothy, not knowing it would have cost him his soul if Paul hadn't preached to him, but it did result in the unnecessary and painful removal of a sensitive part of his body. If you don’t know this Book, then people can talk you into doing anything. The cult leader Jim Jones talked his congregation into moving to French Guiana in South America where they committed mass suicide, and afterwards during the clean up there wasn't a single copy of the Bible to be found.

If I had to make a guess at when Timothy got saved, I would say it while reading Galatians 2:19-20,

Galatians 2:19-20 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I think this is the song Bethany told us about, the lyrics are pretty good. The theology of Philips, Craig, and Dean is reprehensible, but they sure can sing:

In conclusion, it is more than possible for you to think you are a Christian and not be, Timothy thought he was a Christian.

Growing up in a Christian family doesn’t make you a Christian, Timothy was raised by two ladies who Paul considered godly.

Just because someone high up says you are a Christian doesn’t make you a Christian, Timothy came well recommended by churches in Galatia.

Only God justifying you through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and granting you his righteousness can save you. This justification is solely through faith, and this faith, if genuine, will bring forth repentance, works of love, and growing in holiness.

We finished early and so took the opportunity to look at Matthew 22:1-14

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.' But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

"But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."

If you attend church and believe in God only for the good things, like this man was attending only for the party and the food, then you will be cast out of God's kingdom on the Day of Judgment. If you have not put on the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, the robe of righteousness freely offered, by repenting and believing in the Gospel, then you will get neither the party nor Eternal Life.

Seek first the kingdom of Heaven and Christ's righteousness and everything else will be added unto you.

Merry Christmas!