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“Downline Grace” was preached May 26, 2013 at The Orchard in Tupelo, Mississippi. This was the first of a 9 week sermon series entitled “Downline.”
A 2011 poll asked teenagers to identify the person they admire the most as a role model, other than their parents. (The study intentionally excluded parents as role models because previous studies have shown that teens have high regard for their parents—or else they feel pressured to list their parents as role models.) Here’s the list of the top role models for teenagers:
- 37 percent—a relative (other than parents)
- 11 percent—a teacher or a coach
- 9 percent—a friend
- 6 percent—a religious leader they know personally
- 6 percent—an actor or a musician
- 5 percent—an athlete
- 4 percent—a political figure
- 4 percent—a faith leader
- 1 percent—business leaders, authors, scientists or doctors, artists, or military members.
The high-profile people our teens want to emulate include President Obama (3 percent), Jesus (3 percent), and an wide range of other celebrities, including Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, LeBron James, Peyton Manning, Bill Gates, Martin Luther King Jr., the Pope, and Yumi Tamura (a Japanese Manga artist).
The results of this survey point to two significant conclusions: (1) More than two out of three teenagers are emulating the people they know best: relatives, teachers, pastors, friends, and coaches. (2) Teenagers—even churched teenagers—are choosing to follow a wide range of mentors and heroes based on their involvement in the media or sports, not based on their Christian faith or character.*
Teens need and many of them desire someone to emulate, to follow, to pattern their lives after. But they are not the only ones. I find more and more adults who are asking for guides for not only catalyzing their spiritual growth, but also for navigating the stations and circumstances of life. In the last year alone we have seen both teens and 70 year olds asking for mentors.
This sermon series, which is called Downline, is spread out over the whole summer: 9 weeks in which we are going to ask, “what are you spending your life on?” and “what is worth passing down the line to those who come after us?”
There is a model relationship in the relationship that Paul, the apostle has with a young man named Timothy. In the New Testament, there are two letters written by Paul to Timothy which point out what Paul thought was important and we get to not only see the content of those conversations, but the way that Paul intended to invest those things in a young Timothy.
What we hope for is not only that you will find a Paul—someone who will pour into you these critical things—but that you would also BECOME a Paul—investing these critical things in others.
Lets look at where Paul begins.
We first meet Timothy in Acts 16:1-3. There we are told that on Paul’s second missionary journey he found at Lystra a young disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish Christian mother and a Greek father. Paul was so impressed with the young man that he asked him to join the missionary party. It seems clear that Timothy had been converted under Paul’s preaching at Lystra on the first missionary journey (about A.D. 47). He had matured so well as a Christian that only two years later (A.D. 49) he was ready to become an apprentice to the great apostle. He became one of Paul’s most trusted helpers, so that the apostle could write, “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare” (Philippians 2:20).
This letter was written not to a specific church like most of the other letters of Paul (Corinthians, Philippians, Ephesians, etc.), but to a young pastor who would have needed direction as he moved from place to place and church to church overseeing each individual gathering. So the instructions are often specific but are to be applied generally across the community of faith.
Paul opens the chapter by citing his own authority as an apostle and then by endorsing Timothy as a true son in the faith.
Then Paul opens his instructions about Warnings against False Teachings. I am not going to spend very much time here today, because in a couple of weeks when we look at chapter 4, which is entitled Warning against False Teachers we will circle back around and deal with the False Teachings content then.
However, I do want to point to two verses (1 Timothy 1:3-4) which is the premise for all that we are going to talk about in this series and this summer:
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.
These things only lead to meaningless speculations which don’t help people live a life of faith. Verse 6 repeats this issue: “Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.” (1 Timothy 1:6) Some people have missed the whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions.
Paul points out that in this world and in this life of faith there are…
We can get caught up in things that are meaningless…and miss the things that are meaningful.
What is meaningless? What is meaningful? We will see what Paul has to say over the next 9 weeks.
But even before we know what he has to say, we can say without argument there are distractions. Plenty of them.
But Paul is pointing at the Ephesians (because that is where Timothy is – Ephesus – when Paul writes to him) and says…”they are talking about things that don’t matter.”
So what does matter? Here’s what Paul says,
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)
Understand We are Receivers of Grace (1:12-15)
Paul talks specifics in 12-14, but in 15 he summarizes it beautifully: This is a true statement (trustworthy) – Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and I am the worst of them all.
One of the distracting/meaningless conversations that Paul points to in verse 4 is a conversation about “myths and spiritual pedigrees.” They were discussing that if you were a child of Abraham or we might say my grandparents were followers of Jesus and my parents are followers of Jesus and I am going to rely on my spiritual heritage to be in right relationship with God.
Paul attacks that right away with this statement…Jesus didn’t come into the world to pat people who had good grandparents and parents on the back…he came to save sinners—you are one and so am I and so was Paul. In fact Paul says he was the worst of all sinners.
Paul was saying their talk was cheap because it was meaningless, because it was not true. Jesus came to save sinners and Paul, as a sinner could only live because of the generosity and grace of the Lord (1:14).
For Paul and for us (and by us I mean any human being on the planet)…life with Christ is lived by grace—not by anything we do. That is the definition of grace—the unmerited favor of God. God likes us/he loves us not because of who we are, but because of who HE is. By his very nature he comes to us, invites us into relationship with him, deals with the sin that separates us from him, transforms us into life-living instead of death-seeking people who lived transformed in the world—all by GRACE.
We were brought to God by grace; we were made right with God by grace, and we live by grace.
I was reminded of a grace story within the last week by my parents who reminded me of the weekend when I was in High School in which I wrecked my car and their car in the same weekend. In my car I hit an icy patch and put it in the ditch. My dad and I went over with a tractor and pulled it out of the ditch and had the right front fender fixed. In my parent’s car I turned in front of someone that I never saw coming. Totalled their car, put me in the hospital with a concussion, but gratefully didn’t hurt the other person. So fix one car, replace another car and pay a hospital bill—all on a teacher and secretary’s salary. I can promise you it wasn’t easy for them and while I am sure there were consequences that escape me at the moment—I never paid one dime of the bill. My parents did. I probably should have. I was responsible, I was negligent, I was rebellious—but my parents show unmerited favor—grace.
That weekend is a microcosm of my life. I spend much of my time wrecking the life that my heavenly Parent, my heavenly Father has given me—I am responsible, I am negligent, I was rebellious and still, though there are consequences—He pays the price and gives me grace.
If you want to know one of the central truths that we need to pass down the line it is this…We are receivers of Grace. We live the life we live by Grace…the unmerited favor of God.
And, as Paul points out there is a further reason for this giving of Grace. If the first reason of Grace is the character and nature of God—who He is; the second reason is that we might be…
Examples of Grace (1:16)
God had great mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as an example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too can believe him and receive eternal life.
Paul felt that of all sinners he was “the worst”—literally, “first” or “chief.” This was because he had persecuted Christ’s followers so vigorously. As far as morality was concerned, young Saul had been a strict Pharisee, living a life that was blameless before the Law. But in his case as chief sinner, Christ’s “unlimited patience” had been displayed as an example to all who would believe in Jesus and thus receive eternal life. Paul’s life was a powerful demonstration of divine grace.
“Grace is the great equalizer because (as Romans 3:23 says) ALL have sinned and ALL fall short of the glory of God. So no one needs more grace or less grace than anyone else. We are ALL in need of ALL of the grace God gives.” **
When we realize what great grace we have received we become examples of grace and one of the ways we communicate this is that we become…
Givers of Grace
This is a fundamental spiritual truth…we cannot give what we have not received. If we do not receive forgiveness—we cannot offer forgiveness; if we have not received love, we do not know how to give love; and if we have no idea of the measure of grace we have received, we will not offer grace to others.
I took part in the orientation of our interns this past week and I talked about one of the core principles of The Orchard that some people often have a difficult time with. We call it, “Holy Patience with the Unholy.” What that means is that we don’t expect people who are not Christians who go to the Orchard to act like Christians until they are. And we don’t expect baby Christians to act like mature Christians until we have discipled them. And sometimes those things take a lot of patience on the part of people who have gone here or who have been Christians for a long time. Occasionally we have people who leave The Orchard over that and it is fundamentally because they are not patient enough to endure some un-Christian behavior while we are in process with people coming to and growing up in faith.
But the primary reason behind this impatience is that they have no idea how patient God has been with them.
How does that apply in this grace conversation?
When we recognize we are RECEIVERS of great grace then we can be GIVERS of great grace…which is why my mother was reminding me of that weekend that I wrecked two cars.
You see I was telling her about an incident with my son Houston a few days earlier. I came into the garage at our house and he had the golf cart wedged between my car and the house. He had a rubber boot jammed in between the golf cart and my car trying to get them separated but he just couldn’t. He had a friend over who was pushing and pulling and trying to help but it wasn’t looking like they were going to get the golf cart out. So I came out at the wrong time. I looked at the “situation” and I looked at him and I said, “I suggest you go in the house and hide for a while”—I am quite sure that his friend will never want to come back to our house. So I furiously backed the car up and got it off the golf cart and there is this long, beautiful scratch, which I informed him rather loudly that he would be paying to get fixed—several hundred dollars I am sure.
Which brings me back to my mother—my inconvenient mother—who reminds me of Grace and that as a receiver of grace I am to be a giver of grace.
Which brings me back to Paul…
See if we don’t know that God is a god of grace, when we wedge our lives between the world and our sin we start to think that we (the ones who got ourselves into this mess) are going to get ourselves out of that mess. And it just never happens that way does it?
The thing that aggravated me so about the golf cart incident is that I was 10 steps away—in the house. All he had to do was ask for help, but he didn’t want to do that.
I wonder if God ever feels like that with me? I don’t really have to wonder about that—because He is right there, ready to help, and yet I still keep getting myself into messes—which means I keep on needing his grace.
Grace brought me to him, Grace made me right with him, Grace is the only way I am allowed to live with him. But God’s first word and his last word toward me is Grace.
And the fact that he is gracious to me is intended to be a prime example of the wideness of God’s grace—that if he can be gracious to me, he can be gracious to anyone—and the prime way we communicate that is when we are gracious on God’s behalf.
Before Paul gets specific about WHAT to pass down the line, he takes time to teach Timothy the context of that teaching—and the context is GRACE.
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul writes about gifts of the Spirit, and then in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says, but the context for these gifts is love. The way the gifts are to be used is in love.
Here, as Paul begins to teach and encourage Timothy, he is going to say…here are the things to pass down, here are the things to invest your life in—but the context of that passing down is GRACE.
Some of you need to know that you are not too far gone. I am a prime example of grace. If God can save me, he can save anyone. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I (not Paul) am the worst of them all. I would rather not get into a public comparison game with you…but take my word for it. I am the worst of all sinners, and yet Jesus came for me…and you.
You can’t do anything to earn that favor or that love; it is unmerited and thus it is offered to you as the outward expression of who God is despite who you are…GRACE.
Some of you need to know that the thing that is lacking in your ability to reach out to others is GRACE. You think you have earned your place—but you haven’t. Your place as a child of God has been given to you by grace—so that God may use you as an example and as a giver of/channel of his grace toward others.
SO…as we stand at the beginning of this series trying to put our hands on what we are to pass down the line—know that the context for all of it is GRACE.
So as we prepare for what is to come, your homework is—recognizing God’s GRACE act toward you—act in GRACE toward another. Do something for someone today who can do absolutely nothing for you in return.
* “Teen Role Models: Who They Are, Why They Matter,” Barna Group (1-31-11)
** Jamie Trussell (downline)