Many people try to boil down Christianity to simple truths. In the process, they will create pithy little statements that eventually become the meaningless mission statements of churches like: “Loving God and Loving People”;
Real Friends, Real Faith, Real Adventure…”; “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” While all well-intentioned, if we are not careful, such memorable statements can become clever biblical sounding phrases that have little or nothing to do with the truth of the gospel.
In his letters to pastors, Paul writes five different, “trustworthy sayings”. Appearing only in the pastoral letters, these five statements represent simple and important truths that every pastor (and Christian) should remember. As Paul wrote in 1Corinthians 15.3, “For I delivered to you as of first important what I also received”, these statements reveal that most important thing is Gospel Truth:
GOSPEL PERSPECTIVE: 1Timothy 1.15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. We need the gospel first before anyone else. Like Paul, our relationship with self, others, and all of creation is dependent upon our relationship with God. We do not make horizontal comparisons with those around us, only vertical ones with Jesus. The deeper our relationship with God, the more we meditate on the cross, the more aware of our own depravity we become. If we are not always the worst sinner we can imagine, then we will not have the humility to love others as Jesus has loved us.
GOSPEL LEADERS: 1Timothy 3.1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. We need gospel leaders who lead with the gospel. We cannot resign ourselves to be fed and fat forever. As Jesus said, we need workers to bring in the harvest and under-shepherds to pastor the sheep. It is easier to follow than it is to lead. Leaders are held to a higher standard by everyone. They are criticized, questioned, and even despised. Most people will refuse to lead. Most people will choose comfort and compromise over standing for Gospel truth and miss out on living a life of suffering AND joy, like Jesus.
GOSPEL CHANGE: 1Timothy 4.7b-9 “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. The gospel is the way we train ourselves for godliness. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom; we are not saved by the gospel and then changed by obedience though you’d think that by some of the sermons you hear preached today. Accepting the gospel itself transforms us (II Cor. 5.17), then meditating on the gospel is the way we grow (Gal. 3:1-3) how we are renewed (Col. 1:6). The gospel the solution to each problem and the power through every barrier (Rom. 1:16-17).
GOSPEL ENDURANCE: 2Timothy 2.11 The saying is trustworthy for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.” The gospel tells us that Jesus is faithful even if we are not. The gospel is not that “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’ve been good,” but that “it doesn’t matter if you’ve been good, as long as you believe in Christ as your Savior”. The gospel is not that we go from being irreligious to being religious, it’s that we realize that our reasons for both our religiosity and our irreligiosity were essentially the same and essentially wrong. We were seeking to be our own saviors, develop our own righteousness, and thereby keep control of our own life. When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we turn from trusting self-righteousness OR self-indulgence, from either moralism or hedonism, to self-denial, or a life like Jesus.
GOSPEL LOVE: Titus 3.8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things so that those who have believing in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. The gospel informs and directs our good works. Our hearts our bent toward self-salvation–working our way to God by doing ‘good things’. The gospel tells us that: We obey not because by our works we are accepted, rather, that by the work of Jesus we’re accepted, therefore we obey. Our obedience is a response to God’s love and our works are an effort to bring our Lord and King glory. And in truth, they are not effort at all. Adoration and praise are always a natural responses to what we love. We love others because Jesus first loved us (1John 4.19). All of our works are responses to God’s grace and, even the works themselves, are a result of that grace working through us (Ephesians 2.8-10).