Be Imitators of God as His Family
Message for Centre Union Church,
November 28, 2021 "Be Imitators of God As His Family"
Ephesians 5:1-2, 21--6:4
Tyler Shepard takes us through Ephesians 5--understanding family members' roles in light of Christ's work and calling on our lives in the Church.
Effective Leaders Reflect
Effective leaders Reflect. On the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered an infantry assault consisting of 12,500 men to exploit a weak point in the Union army’s line at Cemetery Ridge. Even after being advised by his subordinate officer Lt. Gen. James Longstreet that the attack would be futile, General Lee stood by his orders.
General Meade of the Union army, understanding his force’s weak point, predicted the Confederate army would attack the center of their lines that morning. The Union forces concentrated artillery and rifle fire at the center, and the Confederates advanced 12,500 men over 3/4 of a mile. Pickett’s charge failed with over 6,000 casualties to the Confederate forces, and the Union went on to win the Civil War.
The Confederates failed to reflect adequately, and the Union took time to reflect and strategize. Understanding where they were weak was key to winning the Battle of Gettysburg and eventually the war. As Christian leaders, we must understand that we are weak and that Jesus is strong. If I fail to reflect on that first, then the temptation will be to carry out my ministry on my own strength and wisdom. That will lead to certain defeat, as our enemy Satan is cunning.
I would like to take some time to share a personal reflection which will hopefully be helpful to all the churches. Dr. Kimble’s point on intentionality in his discussion on “reflection” stuck out to me the most. This is the word that has been coming up the most for me in my prayer times the last few months. I just took on the calling this last summer as Associate Pastor for a new church in PA, having transitioned from teaching public school in OH. This class is very timely for me, as the Lord is calling me to serve, lead and facilitate a greater experience of the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in the Body of Christ. We need to see revival in the American Church, and this takes intentionality on every believer’s part.
It has to start with us who lead. One verse that has come up frequently is 2 Chronicles 7:14. Dr. Kimble’s point about exemplary living ties in directly to reflecting, as he said we must be “lead repenters.” Hearts will be restored, souls will be reconciled to God, and the Church will be ready to meet Christ as we respond to God’s judgment in humility. God promised Solomon when His people “pray…seek…turn” He will indeed “hear from heaven” and restore them. God has entrusted us with he word of reconciliation as His ambassadors on earth (2 Cor. 5:20). Let’s take hold of the vision that we are here with a mission, as in a foreign country, with the most important message ever entrusted to a human being. We must first be transformed.
Like General Meade, let us be mindful of our weakness so that we can be fully equipped for the battle to come. “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet…” (Hebrews 12:12-13).
Hebrews 13:8 tells us the object of our faith: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The same Lord who brought about the outcome of the faith of those who led us, those who led them, and all those who persevered from beginning to end (Hebrews 11), is the same Lord who will bring our faith to completion. Let’s keep in view the ultimate goal as we shape our everyday tasks: “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Heb. 13:14).
Is that the first thing you think about in the morning?
Paul’s greeting in Titus 1:1-4 reminds Titus of God’s work and the call for all who would be His ministers. God chooses and the minister is to help cultivate faith in the chosen with special attention to teaching what will lead others into godliness. God gave an unbreakable promise of eternal life ages ago. Now manifested, this eternal life is something for the minister to hope in and proclaim. Paul addresses Titus as “my true child in a common faith” (1:4). Paul, through his own ministry, saw Titus come to faith. Now Titus is called to do the same for others.
In the rest of chapter 1, Paul gets down to practical business. Paul reminds Titus to set up elder-overseers in every city, and he gives a description of qualified men. Described as stewards with godly character, they need to be able “to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (1:9). Specifically, Paul warns Titus about “rebellious men” in the church who are upsetting the sound doctrine of faith in Christ alone. Much like Paul’s writing in Galatians and Romans, some Jewish Christians were compelling Gentile Christians to be circumcised as if they were incomplete Christians without circumcision. These rebellious men “profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed” (1:16).
Chapter 2 turns to sound doctrine—that which leads God’s people into pure living. Looking at the structure of these 15 verses, the hinge is the first word of verse 11, “For.” Meaning “because,” Paul is justifying his instructions in verses 1-10 with doctrinal truths in verses 11-15. God has made His grace apparent to all, enabling any who believe to receive salvation. God’s grace “instructs” us to live changed lives—those purified by the Lord Himself—as we wait for His return.
Those who participate in the Lord’s sanctifying work should be marked by the behaviors addressed by very specific roles. The older are supposed to teach and set an example for the younger, all with an aim to prove themselves children of God. Paul takes this line of thought further in chapter 3 addressing specifically how the Church should treat outsiders. The Church should “be ready for every good deed…showing every consideration for all men” (3:1, 2). In fact, they should “be careful to engage in good deeds” (3:8), with the understanding that meeting each others’ needs is the only way to be “fruitful” (3:14).
Essentially, everything should be done with the aim of bringing people to faith in the one who “saved us, not on the basis of deeds done which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (3:5-7).
Implications For the Church and Leadership
Clearly, doing good deeds is important as Paul punctuates his letter with the idea multiple times in the last chapter. The good deeds (or service, we might say) are for all people, not just leaders. “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds…” (3:14). They are also to be ready and look for opportunities to serve those inside and outside the Church. This is “seeking to serve.” To facilitate this building up of His Body, Christ has called certain men to live as examples, stewards, and leaders. In order to understand good deeds, people need “good” defined for them. According to the letter to Titus, “good” is that sound doctrine which secures godliness and cultivates lives purely devoted to the Lord. Thus, teaching is required.
Just as in the first century, we still have false teachers who claim to know God but are living in rebellion to Him. Knowing sound doctrine is important not only for leaders but also for every member of the Body of Christ. If we are doctrinally weak, we are more susceptible to the enemy who would steal our fruit. Leaders will be held especially accountable because they are charged with protecting God’s people in every way, even anticipating every need and potential attack on each individual’s faith.
Even though we may be attacked, we are called to love people inside and outside the Church. Our love and care for one another is the fruit of our connection with the eternal life of Jesus Christ. Our hope in Christ’s coming kingdom according to sound doctrine is the lens through which we should see every person: they are either children of God or potential children of God. As we have this glorious hope of the present and everlasting experience of eternal life in Christ, we will indeed be “zealous for good deeds” (2:14).
If we find ourselves lacking love for others, being shaken by people mistreating us, compromising in sound doctrine, or putting off serving, then we have to ask ourselves some hard questions. “Am I truly putting my hope in Christ alone?” “Am I myself submitting to His Lordship over my life, as I am encouraging others to do?” Jesus is not looking for what we can do for Him. He accomplished it all for us! We are redeemed! How can we not throw ourselves completely on the mercy and grace of our awesome Lord and Savior? That is the only way to serve as a leader—a servant, a steward, a teacher, a shepherd—in the Body of Christ.
This second and final letter to Timothy from his mentor, Paul, is an exhortation and encouragement to continue in all that Christ has imparted to Timothy through Paul’s ministry. Paul is close to death—this likely being his last letter written—and he is passing the proverbial torch from his failing hands. Paul encourages Timothy to entrust the sound doctrine and godly lifestyle to still others who will take up that torch. Paul’s main point can be summarized here: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (1:8). “Join me in suffering.” Paul has set an example, a precedent to be followed. This is discipleship. “For the gospel.” The mission of bringing the message of true life in Christ to all people should be the point of everything. We are stewards of the message of life. “According to the power of God.” God has given the Holy Spirit to help Timothy—and all ministers of Christ—carry out this mission. He should be the source of our influence. This letter is a reminder of the mission and the means to carry it out amidst likely increasing opposition both within and outside the Church. All of this is a work of service from selfless faith.
The Power of God
This key verse starts with the word “therefore.” One must ask the question, “what is it there for?” (Pun intended). The previous verse describes in three points how the mission will be accomplished: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (1:7). Paul strove by the power of the Holy Spirit, displaying these in his own life, and now he is encouraging Timothy in like manner to display this to others. 2 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Paul was encouraging Timothy to remember all that he learned from Paul and to pass it on. All Christians are called to do this by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Paul is describing normal Christian life. Paul gives three examples to sum up what he has taught Timothy (the Gospel). These also describe a faithful man of God.
A Three-Point Gospel: Soldier, Athlete, Farmer
“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:3-6).
Soldier, athlete, and farmer are three metaphors which give a full picture of the Gospel message entrusted to Timothy. The first two are linked together with the “and” at the beginning of verse 5. The second builds on the first in some way. That also makes the third (farmer) distinct from the other two. Really, these three all build on each other. The first two describe a faithful man of God. The Farmer is someone else—for whom they are working or competing. Who is the farmer and what are the crops?
2 Timothy 2:7-10. Remember Christ raised from the dead—the gospel for which Paul is imprisoned. Paul was enduring hardship like a soldier, that others would receive the gospel—the word of God which is not imprisoned. God’s Word is Christ raised. We cannot imprison that!
Paul then reminds Timothy of a faithful saying, “For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
These three verses parallel the soldier, athlete, farmer metaphor, as the points build on each other in like manner. Like a soldier, Timothy is to be no longer entangled in affairs of life. We have died to a former life. The promise is that we will live with Him. We now partake in the resurrected life of Christ. In that life, there are certain rules to follow as we endure like a highly trained athlete. The promise is that we will be crowned, reigning with the Lord. Christ is faithful, like the hardworking farmer. The “crop” He is cultivating in us is His life by FAITH. We have to keep the faith.
Again, Paul is reminding Timothy to live out what he learned from Paul by example. Paul sums up his exhortation and encouragement to Timothy in chapter 4:7,” I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul himself was a good soldier, a diligent athlete, and a bearer of good crop—faith—unto the Lord. In a statement, this is Paul’s message: Die to the former life, submitting to the new, with selfless faith. This honors the Lord, striving by His Spirit in three things: power (to die to former life); love (evidence of submission to new); and discipline (the Lord cultivating faith in me).
In terms of ministry leadership, it would be prudent to ask some hard questions at this juncture. Is the fruit of Faith seen in my everyday life? At home? At Work? The future seems uncertain, but we can be certain of the One who has given us His life. Let us not try to preserve our own lives the way we see fit. We will experience hardship and suffering as we follow the Lord. Some people may not want to associate with us. Do we try to find “life” in relationships with other people? The Lord’s sacrifice once for all made it so we can be free from fear and participate in a new type of life. That takes endurance. We can thank the Lord through our suffering. “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” This helps us love those who hate us.
Am I concerned about earthly success? Where do I find my significance? I need to be disciplined to look for the spiritual implications in everything and to look to the Lord for providence and provision, realizing His presence in my life. Looking at Psalm 127, written by Solomon—the wisest man on earth—it can be observed that all human effort is vain apart from cooperating with God’s work. Earthly ideas of success can permeate our lives and quench our faith. “God gives to his beloved even in his sleep”—that is, the rest which is a life lived by faith. So the “fruit of the womb is a reward” means that which our faith begets. Are we caught up in God’s work of building people up so they will be prepared to meet God? If we live our lives as a soldier and an athlete to please the Farmer, this is what we will see ourselves doing, the ultimate end of biblical Christian service.
I am realizing I tend to be selfish with how I use my time. My personal reflection on Psalm 127 is that I should not be confusing productivity for fruitfulness. I do not always ask the Lord what it is I should be focusing on for any given day. He will certainly show me if I have ears to hear. Just yesterday, I wanted to get a lot of specific work done, but I ended up spending a lot of time in conversation with needy people--quality time!
Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, that we would walk in them. In other words, God has specific work for us as we share in Christ’s resurrected life. We have to adopt a mindset of service in which we are always ready to follow the Spirit of Christ, the ultimate servant. The specific activity may be different day-to-day and moment-by-moment as we follow HIS lead. That is a work of selfless faith which will be truly fruitful.
This is the blog of Tyler Shepard, the Associate Pastor for Centre Union Church in Yeagertown, PA.
I hope you are encouraged and challenged to walk more closely with Jesus Christ!