1 Timothy 1:5 “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”
Surely everyone here is interested in knowing the nature of genuine and sincere faith. If there is such an entity – true faith, the real thing – then we’d say, “Let me have it!” Something seems to have occurred in Paul’s mind, maybe the memory of Timothy’s tears, that had triggered off thoughts of how sincere was Timothy’s faith in God, and how that faith had come about to be born and to live in his heart. Did you notice how Paul says that recently he’d been reminded of the genuine faith of Timothy. What was it? Paul steps back and thinks of Timothy’s family and inheritance
- TIMOTHY’S FAITH HAD FIRST LIVED IN HIS GRANDMOTHER AND THEN ALSO IN HIS MOTHER.
In other words Timothy’s faith was not something very precious and private to him alone, that it was too personal for him to talk about. It wasn’t the faith that just a leader in the church has, a preacher’s mighty faith, but it was identical with the faith of his mother and grandmother, the same faith, the common faith that every single Christian has. I suppose that if Timothy at the time that he got this letter was in his thirties (which is generally considered to be the case), his mother Eunice would have been in her fifties and Lois, his grandmother, would have been in her seventies. It is good to see the names here, and there are a couple of dozen of them in this letter.
So maybe the religious history of this family had been something like this, that about thirty years earlier Granny Lois had heard the gospel and believed in Jesus Christ. Her daughter Eunice had just got married to a Greek. She might even have been pregnant in her early years of marriage, but Lois full of faith in God had helped her daughter also to believe. They went to church together and soon were joined by baby Timothy. It probably happened like that, first this faith was planted and grew in his grandmother, and the same faith in Mum and then it lived in his life too. That is not unusual. There were the famous Hodges, three generations of them in Princeton Seminary. Charles Hodge, Archibald Alexander Hodge and finally Caspar Wistar Hodge who was a colleague of John Murray. There were also the three generations of the Hudson Taylors leading the China Inland Mission (later the O.M.F.) and the Booths who founded and led the Salvation Army.
With these influences on Timothy we’re certain that by the time he was able to think and speak for himself he was being taught about Jesus Christ by the lives of his mother and grandmother and encouraged to love the Lord. On the first day of the week his friends would hang around together, but Timothy would accompany his mother and grandmother and go to church. He might have invited those boys to come with him and he would also talk to them about his faith. From a child he had known the Scriptures that make men savingly wise.
Now that was not the background and experience of Paul. He hadn’t become a believer through the encouragement and lives of his mother and grandmother. Not at all. We know nothing about them. We know of his sister’s influence over her son and that boy’s faith in Christ and his quick-wittedness that once had helped to save Paul’s life when he was in danger of being assassinated. That is all we know about Paul’s family. His personal faith came suddenly through a tremendous supernatural encounter with the risen Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. Some of us know the day when we became Christians; others of us don’t know even the year when it happened. But even with Paul there had also been a real internal war taking place for some time as he was convicted of his wretched behaviour and he kicked against those goads. My own way of coming to faith in God was a mixture of Timothy and Paul. My parents and my grandparents were Christians, but also in the loneliness and isolation of an act of discipleship I needed to put my own trust in the Lord Jesus and that took place on a Sunday night in March 1954. But I freely admit that I was as conditioned to trusting in Jesus Christ as much as Timothy had been – through the prayers and encouragements and pressures brought to bear on him by his mother and grandmother.
We are frequently told that much of our life depends on ‘the accident of birth.’ Perhaps some of you are tempted to think that the only explanation for my believing in God is the fact that I was encouraged to do so in my formative years. Now I don’t think that that is really so. Of course I was unconsciously taught that God was enormously important, but that was not the belief of most of my teachers and most of the boys who were in school with me. I was one of a very few in my class who attended church. There were 100 boys in my year in my grammar school. You could number on one hand the boys who went to church. And it was in the teeth of general indifference and cynicism that I became increasingly convinced of the goodness and grace of God. In fact I believe that the whole of history and civilization would be unintelligible to me were it not for my faith in God. Indeed I would argue that unless God is back of everything it’s not possible to find meaning and purpose in anything. I hear many saying that there is no answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” I would say that if the universe really has no meaning at all then we should never have found out that it has no meaning. If there were no light in the universe then no creatures would have eyes and we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning. So I say that you cannot argue against the existence of God unless you take his existence for granted. As Cornelius Van Til would say, arguing about God’s existence is like arguing about air. One man affirms that air exists and another affirms that it does not, but as they debate the point they are both breathing air all the time. In the same way I take the existence of Jesus Christ for granted.
You might look at Timothy and how he came to faith and you might think of the pressure that the life and beliefs of a beloved grandmother and mother had brought to bear on him, so his faith to you was all a matter of heredity and environment. Well, I won’t argue with you too violently about that. I tell you that when I was a child I prayed to God and trusted in Jesus and went to church just as I still do 70 years later. There is perfect harmony between my belief as a boy and my belief as an old man simply because I believe that God himself has been the environment in which I have spent my three score years and ten. He has also been the goal set before me to which my life has been directed all these years, and my later life has been made intelligible to m because of the ideas I heard commended to me as a boy. I admit that I had been conditioned to decide that certain things were very important. Jesus of Nazareth was important, his teaching, his example, his death, his resurrection, his salvation, his day, his book, his people – they were all important to me. What happened in the past in the centuries of the Old Testament and also in the time Jesus lived and died and rose again in this world were all of the greatest moment to me, as they were for Timothy.
Of course, in the same kind of methodology, a number of you who are not yet Christians were conditioned not to believe in God and to consider Jesus of Nazareth to be a marginal figure. You never heard the Bible read; you never went to church except for special services like weddings and funerals. Your parents were as indifferent to your absence from church as my parents were keen for me to attend. They influenced you one way just as mine influenced me another way. Yours had no personal faith in God and they never encouraged any faith in you. So do we understand one another? You cannot disprove God’s existence and I cannot prove God’s existence. You don’t expect me to bring God into this room today so that you may examine him. If I were able to do this then he’d not be the God of Christianity. All that you expect me to do today is to make the Christian faith as genuine as I can, to make sincere faith reasonable, and that is what I’m trying to do. I’m saying that it is reasonable for most of us to have faith in God though it might not yet be reasonable to you. But today I’m claiming that it would be reasonable for you to believe in him too.
- WHY WAS TIMOTHY’S FAITH SINCERE AND GENUINE?
Let me give you some reaons . . .
i] His faith was based on knowledge. Supposing a stranger come up to you one day and says to you, “I believe in Jackajoojoo. You ought to believe in him too.” You wouldn’t reply, “I will! Me too. Thank you.” Rather you would say something like, “Who in the world is Jackajoojoo?” Before you believe in someone you have to know about him. If all that a boy knows about Jesus is that he is a swear word then he cannot possibly have faith in him. Why should he believe in someone of whom he knows absolutely nothing – as much as you and I know of this word I just made up – Jackajoojoo? So for Christian faith to be sincere and genuine it must come through having a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is my task, in season and out of season, Sundays and every day, to give to my hearers the knowledge of Jesus Christ. What do I have to say to you to inform you of him?
- A) No man ever spoke like Jesus Christ. Read the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. Read his discourses and arguments in John’s gospel. Read the parables in Luke – like the parable of the prodigal son. Read of the claims Jesus made to be one with God, the only way to God, the truth, the resurrection and the life. Shakespeare never said anything as beautiful and majestic and relevant to people of every age, from every century and in every culture. Here was no ordinary man. He was a man of total integrity. His words are loved from farmers in the rice fields of Chinato financiers in Wall Street, New York. He himself once said that wise men build on a strong foundation and that his own words were a magnificent strong foundation so that whatever storms hit such a life on such a foundation it would stand impregnable like the Rock of Gibralter. His strong words are also words of truth, purity, love, kindness and compassion. He spoke with heavenly righteousness, grace and authority. No one else, before or since, ever spoke like this one, the Creator, the Lord of the Universe.
B) No man ever lived like Jesus Christ.His life backed up his words. In lip and in deed he was perfectly consistent. He brought blessing, healing, comfort and deep joy to people. His many miracles confirmed his deity. His tender touch declared the compassion of God. Mothers he had never met gave him their children to hold and pray for. He liberated women from the abusive treatment of selfish men. He discouraged the stoning of women centuries before Mohammed. He rejected violence as a method of spreading his message centuries before Mohammed. No life has ever been lived that can match the life of Jesus Christ.
- C) No man ever died like Jesus Christ. While his life and preaching provoked and angered the religious leaders of his day, why did the system hate him so much? They whipped him and nailed him to a cross and mocked him as he died. He was guilty of no crime. He had abused no child and no woman. Yet when he hung on the cross, held there by nails through his hands and feet, he prayed for the men who had done that, that God would forgive them. Jesus, the Saviour of the world, was dying for our sins. He died, ‘the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3: 18). In the agony of crucifixion, he breathed nothing but love and kindness to his enemies. Such dying! Such love! No one ever died like Jesus.
- D) No man ever blessed the human race like Jesus Christ. His impact on history is not just the effect of perpetuating of his memory. Jesus rose from the dead! He lives! The Gospel is the greatest blessing the world has ever known! It has brought forgiveness, love, joy and peace. Christ has mended broken hearts and lives. He has given hope to those in despair. He has broken the great chains of guilt that bind men and women to their past. Through him, the light of heaven has dispelled the darkness of death. He has liberated individuals and nations. The Gospel has delivered people from ignorance, slavery, poverty and degradation. All that is lastingly good, noble, pure and beautiful comes from him. Christ’s living resurrection influence continues still where he is accepted, trusted and served. We saw last Tuesday night a report of missionaries that work in the poorest countries of the world, and in all those places Christianity is violently opposed and even meeting together on a Sunday if forbidden. Another religion has dominated those places for a thousand years, and those countries are also dominated today by illiteracy, poverty, corruption, ignorance and the abuse of women.
Assessed by every test that may be devised, there is simply no other person and no other system of ethics, and no other salvation like Jesus Christ’s. That is the knowledge that we teach from this pulpit and from the Bible studies and Sunday School and the youth meetings and the Book Shop. There is no genuine faith without a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and the more accurate knowledge of him we have the better. That is the first reason why Timothy’s faith was sincere he knew so much about the Saviour from his mother and his grandmother. It was an informed faith and an educated faith. But there is another essential requisite for genuine faith.
ii] Timothy’s faith was based on believing that this knowledge of Jesus was true. Disbelief can be a valuable commodity, can’t it? Men phone you telling you that your computer is causing problems with Windows. “Write to me about it,” you tell him and hang up. A man calls and offers you a wonderful deal if you buy some stocks. There is a 12% interest being offered. He speaks quietly and informally, but wisely you are full of disbelief. You hear honest people saying that if someone offers you something too good to be true then it probably is. A man claims he is speaking from your bank and wants you to change your deposit account. Disbelieve him! You warn your children not to get into a car with a stranger who makes them promises.
But disbelief can also cut us off from things that are true and from persons we desperately need. People told Columbus he was loony when he said he could get to the East by sailing west. He claimed that the earth was round; the disbelievers all knew perfectly well that it was flat. Bystanders nearly died laughing when those crazy Wright brothers said they would fly. Everyone knew God wanted humans to soar no higher than they could jump.
When Jesus acknowledged that he was the Christ, people told him he was a liar. They then expressed their disbelief with wads of spit and vicious head slaps. These people were standing in the presence of the incarnate God, the only Saviour, but in their disbelief they knew better. So they erased him.
Belief and disbelief are so important that our religion is often simply referred to as “The Christian Faith,” for it is this faith that tied Eunice and Lois and Timothy and Paul and ourselves to this person Jesus Christ who claimed, “I am the truth.” Faith is the means by which forgiveness and eternal life and fellowship with Christ are appropriated.
So through genuine, sincere faith we first learn about Jesus, his two natures, divine and human, his three offices as prophet, priest and king, his three states, eternal, humbled and finally ascended and reigning as the God-man. We study his life; we read his teaching; we learn that he is alive today. Faith is first knowledge of him, and then Christian belief is accepting the truth of this message. The life and activities and claims of Jesus are not a collection of cunningly devised fables. We accept this message as news, good news of what God our Creator has done in his love for fallen rebellious sinners. When he addressed the winds and waves they obeyed him, and that is true. They did not obey King Canute and that also is true. Jesus lived a perfect life; the only man ever to do so and it is true. He died as a sacrifice to make atonement for our sins because the very nature of God requires that, and it is true. He rose from the grave; the sepulchre was empty; the grave clothes were there but his body was not, and it is true. He is coming again in great glory, and it is true. He will be our Judge. It is true, all true.
By faith we believe that Jesus is alive and the Saviour of all who are joined to him by faith. Let me illustrate. You remember the story of the Wizard of Oz? At the end of the Yellow Brick Road Dorothy and her friends arrive at the castle of Oz and are awestruck by “the great and terrible Oz,” whose booming voice resounds throughout the citadel, But in the end his stage props are removed and Oz turns out to be not a frightening giant but only a little old guy in disguise. He offers help, but he has only human help to offer. Appearances are deceiving.
The promises of the gospel go just the other way. The gospel is Oz in reverse. For the gospel tells us that the humble carpenter from a backwoods village called Nazareth, seemingly helpless against the Roman thugs who nailed him to a tree trunk, is actually God in disguise. Behind his human weaknesses, behind his humiliating torture and painful death, the Lord of life is powerfully at work, rolling up his sleeves, muscles rippling, to serve us. Saving faith is believing that that is true. I was talking to a man who had sat and heard me for many years quite impervious to my message. Then the change took place; he had become a Christian and I baptized him. I asked him what had caused the change? Was it one particular message? He said simply, “One day I saw that it was true.” So, sincere faith consists of knowledge, and then conviction that it is true, but there is one more thing needed before Paul can say that genuine faith lived in Lois, and in Eunice and I’m persuaded it lives in you too.” One more thing is necessary before we have living faith.
iii] His faith showed itself in personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe the facts about Jesus Christ, that he was a historical figure not like Santa Claus, that he said and he did the things that are recorded about him by four different men, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He existed in time and space on this planet. He breathed its air, and the law of gravity held him down as it is holding all of us down right now. I believe he was born of the virgin Mary and suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified,dead and buried; the third day he rose from the dead. But now I am moving you on from that, or rather that God is moving us on. We believe in the Lord himself. We believe right into him. You understand the difference? We believe that God exists, that this complex and glorious universe did not come about by luck, but that belief is not enough. Even the devils believe that God exists, says James (2:19) and they shudder at the thought. It is no fun being a demon. Besides believing that God exists also we have to believe in God. To believe in a person is to trust him, depend on him, maybe even willing to stand alongside him, to risk ourselves for him, to suffer with him.
In my early years here the congregation needed strengthening. There were 20 to 30 members who never attended and I had to visit them and eventually tell them that they could not continue in membership if they did not regularly worship in Alfred Place or in another church. Most of them got upset and some said to me that I had just arrived here in Aberystwyth – whereas they had lived in the town for years and had had connections for years with this chapel, though never attending.
And more than that, they added that in a few years I would go on to another church, and then leave behind a divided and smaller church damaged by my loveless attitude. They did not imagine that I was here for the long haul. They did not believe what the Bible says that we are not to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. They did not believe my message and they did not believe in me. To believe in a person is to trust him, listen to him, follow him, to say to yourself, for example, “Geoff is right. It is ridiculous to claim that I believe in God and I’m a member of his church, but I never want to worship him on Sundays. I must trust my pastor and not delude myself that all is well between me and God while I never worship him, while soon all that lies before me is an open-ended encounter with him.” My calling is to prepare you to meet God. Genuine saving faith means giving ourselves into the safekeeping of the Lord. It means turning over, handing over our very selves to this other person. “Trust in God,” exhorts the Lord Jesus; “Trust also in me.” That is genuine faith. We exercise our trust in Christ; when he says “Do!” we do it. When he says, “Stop!” we stop. When he says, “Go!” we go. He is our Master and we are his servants. Trust is faith in action.
It is over 40 years since Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope between the Twin Towers in Manhattan. That was an extraordinary feat and a docu-drama has just been made of that event in 3D. That stunt was in the tradition of the great tightrope walker named Blondin from the 19th century who once walked across a rope at the Niagara Falls. Vast crowds came to see him inch his way above the falls and the spray on a thin wire leaning against the wind. Bookies took large sums of money from punters who bet he would either cross it or fall into it. In fact he made the crossing a number of times. He did it once carrying a man on his back, and on another occasion pushing a man in a wheelbarrow. Each time he succeeded. Many people bet that he would cross successfully.
Then of course the questions we preachers always ask are these; would you have had faith in Blondin’s ability to do this? To push a wheelbarrow with a man inside it over the Niagara Falls even betting a small sum of money that he could do it? You would say, “Well, if I were a betting man, which I am not, yes I would have had that faith in him! Blondin was extraordinary as a tightrope walker. He had crossed the Falls many times. He had carried a man on his back. He had pushed a man in a wheelbarrow. I would have had faith in him to be able to do it again.” You have that faith.
Then there is the harder question, do you trust him enough that you would get on his back or into his wheelbarrow and go over the Falls on the wire putting yourself entirely into his safe keeping? That is where faith in the ability of a person based on knowledge and observation has to go one step further and your trust in this man is now demanded. You entrust your very life to him.
Trust is often harder for us than belief. Peter had seen Jesus’ power over his creation. He heard him commanding the winds and waves to obey him. He saw him addressing a barren fig tree so that it withered. He saw him walking on the water, and if you had asked Peter could Jesus enable Peter to walk on water, Peter would have replied, “Of course. Nothing is too hard for the Lord.” He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm. Then one day there was a test of Peter’s faith in Jesus, was his faith in words only or in deed and truth? The Lord asked Peter to come to him walking on the water, and Peter with the greatest fear took a few steps and then got overwhelmed, looked at the storm, how mountainous were the waves, and how strong was the wind, and how impossible was this walking on water, and so into the sea he sank until the Lord Jesus rescued him. In other words he said that Jesus could enable him to do anything, even walk on water but he failed to trust Jesus to keep him in the sea in such an impossible situation.
We have asked the question as to what is the nature of sincere faith, that is, faith that lives in us, as it once lived in Lois and Eunice, and Paul was persuaded that it lived in Timothy too. I have told you that it begins in knowledge about the Jesus Christ of the Bible, the more the better, that it is nurtured and grows as you increasingly believe that what it says about the life and death and resurrection of the Lord is true, and then finally sincere faith is displayed in entrusting yourself to him. Like you are facing major operation, but you have talked to the surgeon and he has explained all he has to do to in the operating theater and that you will be unconscious but he has very good hopes of it being successful as it has been many other times with other men and women. Then you entrust yourself to him. You commit yourself to his skillful hands and the operation is a success and a year later you are much stronger and free from pain and you are delighted that you went through with it.
Here is Jesus Christ, the great Physician, and he says, “I want you to come to me. That is a movement of your innermost being, your heart and soul, the real you, and put yourself in my hands, and I will give you rest. Whatever you have, whatever your problems have been, however strong the chains that join you to your past, I can handle all of that. Whatever the burdens you carry, you come to me with them and give them all to me and in their place I will give you rest. I often think that that is the first thing that indicates God at work in our lives as we come into the Christian orbit, that we discover a growing peace that we have now known. That now things are well between us and God because Jesus Christ became the Lamb of God and he took away the sins of the world, and you believe that your guilt and shame has somehow been dealt with by him. He will speak up for you at his Father’s throne. He will acknowledge you before God, saying, “This person believed in me and trusted me and sought to obey me. He will speak up for me.” You believe that in your heart. It is a living faith. You are trusting in the Lord Jesus.
Then you are a Christian, not a strong Christian, not a great Christian, but a real Christian who trusts and obeys Jesus Christ. And that is sincere faith. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. You have problems, new problems of all kinds. There are waves and winds and storms, but you must not look at them. You must look at him. Ask the Saviour to help you, comfort, strengthen and keep you. He is willing to aid you. He will carry you through. You can walk on water if he commands you to do so just as long as you look to him and trust in him. Keep trusting in him. That is what living sincere faith does. We make a ton of mistakes and start to sink often, but he is there to lift us. He is able to keep us from drowning, and he will present us faultless before God in the great day. It will be only because of him. If I am to get to heaven then it will never be because of preaching for fifty years but only because of the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That is all my hope and all my peace,
8th November 2015 GEOFF THOMAS