Today we are starting a new series entitled, “Behaving Like Believers.” The question we are asking in this series is, “Does life inside the church look any different than life outside the church?” Or another way to ask it might be, “Do Christian’s lives look any different than those who do not hold to a saving faith in Jesus Christ?”
And while we would all be tempted to answer right away, “Of course!” Truth be told, it is getting more and more difficult to identify believers from non-believers in the world today.
For example. According to the George Barna Research firm, 54% of all Americans polled indicated that they are committed to having a deeper connection with God, and that they would do whatever it takes to get and maintain that deeper relationship. 54%.
Now how high do you think that percentage jumped for mainline Protestants like ourselves? If 54% of all Americans are committed to having a deeper connection with God, and are ready to take action to make that happen. What percentage of people in churches such as ours do you think the same holds true for? The answer. . .49%.
According to George Barna, there are actually fewer people inside the church with a desire for a deeper connection with God and a readiness to do whatever it takes to make that happen than outside the church. Hardly a sign that we are behaving like believers.
How about if you ask the nation what their highest priority is. How many would say their faith is their highest priority? Of all the people in our nation, those who would hold their faith as their highest priority, comes in right around 15%. Of those in mainline, denominational, protestant churches like ours, it jumps up all the way to. . .18%.
According to Barna’s research, less than one out of every 5 people in a church like ours even sees their faith as their highest priority. In some ways, we don’t look all that different from the world, do we?
How about one of today’s political hot buttons? 45% of all adults in our country say that abortion is a morally acceptable behavior. 45%. When polling people that identify themselves as born again Christians, you would expect the percentage to plummet, right? Well, it does, all the way to 33%. One out of every three self proclaimed born again Christians find abortion morally acceptable behavior. Are we “behaving like believers?”
How about one more? From the put your money where your mouth is, or “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” department –
3% of all American households tithe to their place of worship. 3%. That number jumps when you look at born again Christians to. . .9%. And for evangelicals like ourselves... also 9%. Less than one out of every 10 Christians, and only 6% more than the number including all non-Christian households in America tithe their income to their church.
The picture in the world today, the picture being drawn of believers by those who call themselves believers, does not look all that different than the unbelieving world. Not just in what we believe, but in how we act.
We could look at other areas and see that church divorce rates are just as high as divorce rates in un-churched households. Suicide rates differ very little. Our distinctives are harder and harder to distinguish.
And not just in how we live our lives as individuals, but also in how we treat others. And how we treat each other, within the body.
Well, Paul knew this would be a problem way back in the 1st century. So he wrote a letter to his friend Timothy. Timothy was a native of Lystra. His father was Greek, and his mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois, were godly Jewish women. In fact, it was through the influence of these women that Timothy learned the Hebrew Scriptures as a child.
And Paul calls Timothy a “true son in the faith”, suggesting that he was converted during Paul’s first missionary visit to Lystra that you can read about in Acts 14. So at the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey, Timothy was chosen by Paul to accompany him and Silas. They were going to be preaching to Jews, so Paul had Timothy circumcised. There is no question of Timothy’s commitment at this point.
After various travels and trials, Timothy is left in Ephesus to confront some false teachers who are infiltrating the church while Paul went on to Macedonia. It is Timothy’s charge to make sure that the false can be differentiated from the true in this new church. To make sure that there is a difference between the world and these new Christian believers.
It is from Macedonia, that it is believed that Paul wrote this first letter to Timothy. And if you want to know why this book is in the Bible, or what the purpose of this letter was, you have to look no further than I Timothy 3:14-15. Because Paul makes it crystal clear, the reason why he is writing these things.
Turn there with me. I Timothy 3:14 (read through verse 15). Paul says, I’m hoping to come there soon, but if I don’t make it. I want you to pay attention to, I want you to be mindful of, and I want you to know how you ought to behave in the house of God. As the body of Christ. What it ought to look like to behave like believers.
So over the next few weeks, we are going to look at some different behaviors that Paul emphasized in this letter. Behaviors like how to get along with people of a different generation than you. Behaviors like how those of us with money are to act with that money. Behaviors like those which model a life of contentment.
And I want to start today with three habits that if we will make them part of our lives, we will not only be behaving like believers, but will be setting ourselves apart from the world, and those around us will take notice. May even want what we have inside of us.
So jump ahead with me to chapter 4, verse 6 (read). So here comes some good instructions that Paul felt were vital to our walk with God, and to behaving like believers. Verse 7 (read through verse 11). Okay, here come some things for Timothy to command and teach.
First, verse 12 (read). This verse is often quoted, and much to my frustration by youth and children’s pastors. It isn’t that it is a bad verse to read to young people. It is that the whole verse is rarely read.
I have often heard youth speakers reference I Timothy 4:12, and tell teenagers, “Let no one despise your youth.” Don’t let people look down on you just because you are young. It is almost taught with a “You don’t have to put up with that” kind of tone. But rarely is the rest of the verse taught, and it is really the reason for the first half of the verse.
The point. . .
1. AS BELIEVERS WE ARE TO BE AN EXAMPLE TO OTHER BELIEVERS.
Regardless of our age, people shouldn’t be looking down on us, because we should be living a life that is an example to other believers. To those around us. And Paul says this example should play out in almost every way you can imagine.
a. In Word – what comes out of our mouths
b. In Conduct – how we behave
c. In Love – how we treat others
d. In Spirit – the tone and desire of our hearts
e. In Faith – our confidence in Christ
f. In Purity – the lifestyle choices we make
As believers we are to be an example to other believers. That may sound a little odd. We talk a lot in the church about being an example to the world. But that is pretty easy to do isn’t it? When we slip up, we just say, “Well, at least I’m not living like that.”
But to be an example to other believers. To model the Christian walk for other Christians. That is a challenge that raises the bar even higher. When we watch each other, as we live together in the church family, we should be seeing how to live our Christian walk modeled in each other.
If I drop in on your conversation, it should be an example to me of a believer’s conversation. This past week our president had the misfortunes of sharing in a personal conversation with Mr. Tony Blair. Unfortunately for President Bush, his microphone was on and he didn’t know it. In the midst of the conversation, he casually dropped a four letter word that you would be appalled to hear said in a church service, or from any good Methodist.
Some people responded. “That wasn’t fair. The liberal media is always looking to trip him up. They are just trying to attack, and dig up dirt on the President.” But Paul might say, it is perfectly fair. If you don’t want people to look down on you, to despise you, whether young or old, then don’t give them anything to work with. Be an example. Behave like a believer in word. Watch what comes out of your mouth.
Gossip. White lies. Critical remarks. During our first year pastoring here at SWC, we were in the middle of a service, Joel was leading the worship, and I headed out into the foyer to check on something, and walked in on two ushers sharing less than flattering reflections about their pastor. Namely, me. I thought, what if a visitor walked in on this discussion? Would they have found SWC to be a place where we behave like believers?
As believers, we are to be an example to other believers in word. And in conduct. Our actions should set us apart from non-believers. In love. Unfortunately, the church that is getting the most media attention now days is the body from Kansas that goes around protesting the war at servicemen’s funerals and holding up vulgar, hateful signs against homosexuals. Not a picture of believers behaving in word, and conduct with love.
In spirit and in faith. Do the people that know us, those closest to us, those who see us day in and day out. Do they describe us as people of peace? People at rest with our lives. People with a faith of confidence and assurance that our God is good. A faith that dominates our spirit and interactions with them.
In purity. Pornography usage by men in the church varies very little from that outside the church. Sexual promiscuity among teenagers inside the church shows minimal difference from those outside the church. The AA Pregnancy Help center sees clients that are from single parent, inner city, minority homes, and they see clients from LCA.
While we worry about protecting the family through homosexual marriage bans, people within the body of Christ are addicted to pornography, having extra-marital affairs, and experiencing teenage pregnancies. Abuse of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and prescriptions is at an all time high in the church.
Paul says we need to behave like believers. We need to be an example to other believers. We need to be watchful of our purity.
Well, that is probably a six week series in itself. Exploring those six areas where we are to be an example to other believers. Maybe some of your small groups can take on that study. Each week examine one of those six areas where Paul tells us to behave like believers.
But for today, let’s go with a little personal application. As you look at those six areas. Which one do you most need God to help you work on? In which of those six areas do you most struggle to behave like a believer? Take a moment and pick one, then let’s pray together.
Okay, our first helpful habit towards behaving like believers is to recognize that we are an example to other believers in all we do. Verse 13 (read through verse 14).
Paul tells Timothy that until he gets there, he wants Timothy to focus on reading, exhorting, and teaching doctrine. Why? Because verse 14 tells us that those are Timothy’s spiritual gifts. Confirmed through prophetic words that were spoken over Timothy. Confirmed by the elders when they laid there hands on him. These were the gifts which God has given to Timothy, and Paul does not only want him to not neglect them, he wants him to focus on using them.
For us to behave like believers, we need to focus in on, and consistently be making an effort to. . .
2. USE OUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS
In fact, look how passionate Paul is about this. Verse 15 (read). Meditate on them. Give yourself entirely to them. Take those things that God has given you, and be about them.
At least a couple times a year I attempt to address this with you as a church family. Most of us fall into one of two camps. The first is the camp of those who don’t know what their spiritual gifts are. We have a way of helping you find them. It is called Network “Discovery.” We will be teaching it again, just down the road a bit this fall. Eight hours to help you discover how God has designed you for ministry.
If you are a believer in Christ. If you have received Him as your savior. He did not come empty handed. He came into your heart, and brought with Him at least one, and usually two or three spiritual gifts for you to utilize as you behave like a believer. You need to know what those are.
When advertised a few weeks from now, sign-up to attend Network “Discovery.” If it has been a few years since you explored your spiritual gifting, sign-up to attend again. Passions, giftings, personalities change over time. Find out what those things are that God has given to you so that you can meditate on them, and give yourself entirely to them.
The second camp are those individual who know their spiritual gifts, but need to pull them off the shelf, and put them to use. You need to get into the habit of using those gifts on a regular basis. If your gift is teaching, you need to be teaching on a regular basis. If your gift is administration, you need to get plugged into places of administration on a regular basis. If your gift is hospitality, you need to be baking me pies and cakes and having me over for dinner on a regular basis.
This is very important to hear and understand today. Only believers have spiritual gifts. People who do not believe in Christ, do not have spiritual gifts. Therefore, a significant difference in the behavior of a believer and a non-believer is the utilization of spiritual gifts. It is a critical habit to identifying and setting apart those who are believers and those who are not.
So if you are not exercising, and utilizing your spiritual gifts, you run the risk of looking like the rest of the world that doesn’t even have them. You run the risk of not behaving like a believer.
Paul says get in the helpful habits of being an example to other believers, of using your spiritual gifts, and finally. . .
3. WATCH YOURSELF AND YOUR BELIEFS
Verse 16 (read). There is a simple truth about being a pastor. If I am not taking care of myself, and building upon the foundation of my beliefs, I can not effectively care for others. I can’t share with you, give to you, what I haven’t taken into myself.
This plays out in a very practical way, and in a very spiritual way. First, the practical. If I am not getting enough sleep, enough down time, enough family time, enough “not answering the cell phone or checking email” time, enough hobby time, enough snuggle with my beagle time. If I am not taking care of myself in very practical terms. Working out at the Y. Eating three meals a day. Sleeping 8 hours a night. I can not effectively care for others as a husband, father, or pastor.
And the same is true for you. If you are not taking care of yourself, because you are so worried about caring for others. . .guess what? You aren’t going to do them any good either. So how are you doing? Are you exercising regularly? Are you getting enough sleep? Do you give yourself down time to enjoy hobbies, and have fun?
Paul knew this challenge as well. He knew the temptation for Timothy to get so wrapped up in his ministry, that he would neglect his personal care. So he warned him, “Take heed to yourself.” That word in the Greek for “heed” – epekho – means to give attention to, to check, to stop.
Make it a habit in your life to epekho. Give attention to yourself, and how you are living. Practically, and spiritually. “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.” Not just how you are doing physically, but how you are doing spiritually.
We had a great week at Kid’s camp. I have never done a full week of services, and never been a children’s speaker. But with the help of Debbie and Josh, and a great team of people from across the district and SWC especially, we got through it together, and it was super! This is what one pastor and wife wrote to us this week (read card). Isn’t that great?
By the end of the week we had 20 children make a first time decision to receive Christ into their hearts. Another 17 kids said that they were not walking with Christ, and they wanted to recommit their lives to Him. 28 are sensing a call to participate in missions, and 12 even indicated that they sense a call to be a pastor. That’s a pretty good week’s work.
But every year at camps such as this, I am aware of those children who need to take heed to the doctrine. They get input from all kinds of people, and all kinds of places, and things get quite messed up.
(Example of Tatoos, repeat altar visits, and emotional wailing)
We talked about these strongholds of the mind during our Operation Enduring Freedom. If from time to time we do not stop, and check on what the beliefs are that are guiding are lives, we will not be capable of behaving like believers.
Paul says, watch yourself Timothy. Keep a check on yourself, and your beliefs. As you are dealing with leading these people in behaving like believers, as you are addressing and confronting the false teaching, make sure you are stopping to check yourself and your doctrine to make sure it is still true to the gospel entrusted to you.
We have a way to help you do this. It is called Firm Foundations. If you have never been through it at SWC, whether you are 12 or 112, it provides a great check-up of how you are doing in your personal life, in your walk with God, and in your understanding of His Word. Watch for the next chance to make a pit stop and attend Firm Foundations.
As you minister to pre-Christian friends, co-workers, and family members, you need to be taking heed of yourself and your beliefs. Firm Foundations can provide you with a great refresher, introduction, and plumb line for God’s Word.
There is our starting point. Three helpful habits. Some larger, general thoughts as we launch into the journey of behaving like believers. Recognize that we are called to be an example to other believers. In all of our actions and deeds. Put your spiritual gifts to work, so that you can maximize what God has blessed you with. And make sure you are taking time to stop, and check-in on yourself and your beliefs. Start with these three habits, and we will be well on our way to behaving like believers.