Every year the famed football coach Vince Lombardi stood before his repeated World Champion Green Bay Packers to open the first day of training camp. Invariably laden with veteran players the squad turned its hopeful eyes to Coach Lombardi. They wanted to hear his words of wisdom.
“Gentlemen,” Vince would say holding a practice ball aloft where all could see it, “this is a football. Remember what it looks like.”
Fundamentals. Bare, basic knowledge and information, repeated to the point of exhaustion, clearly intends to make us “keep our eye on the ball.”
John, writing in his pastoral epistle, holds up the Lord Jesus before the church to declare Him. He insists, “Church, this man is God Himself.”
The pastoral epistles are just that, pastoral letters to Christians of a particular church or various churches strung around a given area. They are written by Master Teachers, who served as elders of the Church. Committed persons, able to instruct, they invariably address local church issues but always with a Christian eye.
That is, they point to Jesus. In beginning, in discussion and in conclusion, the pastoral epistles have Jesus as their subject matter. Paul may praise Timothy’s female relatives, he may redress the grievance of Philemon, but always with the love of Jesus in mind. John recounts the tragedy of sin and the triumph of forgiveness but it is always Christian grace he means.
Why do these men routinely return their devotion to the Christ before their fellows? Robert Webber brings out this great truth in his wonderful Ancient-Future books. That is, Christian faith is the first School of Thought wherein the earliest learners set out to make disciples for their Master, rather than for themselves. Paul goes out of his way to say he does not baptize many and no one in his own name. John tells us that Jesus offers gracious salvation in the Christ, Jesus. He never tries to “save them’ by, though or for himself.
We can know a man is a man of God if he speaks most often of God and less often of man. John begins his first pastoral epistle (letter) telling about Jesus. He sets himself and other witnesses in the context of the Christ. You and I must do the same if we are to see men and women brought to Jesus and not merely to ourselves.
John sets his pastor’s heart in the midst of a people prone to grieve over loss. A group called the gnostics have worked their way through the church. They are a cultic group, attractive in many ways, but finally spiritually fruitless. They lack spiritual fruit bacause they do what all cults do, at least the “christian type cults.” Attracted to the life that Jesus brings and the crowds that come to His teachings, the cultists ask converts to think a little less of Jesus and a little more of them. This is the essence of wickedness, you know, not that we fully leave off the Christ, but that we let the Christ be something other, thus something lesser, than what He says of Himself in his words and deeds.
John wants to get back to pastoral basics. “This is what it is about,” he writes, “what we have glimpsed, looked upon, our hands have handled,” of the Word of Life. He is ho logos, this Jesus, the word of life. Men know their sin in relation to the sinless Jesus. The perfection of the Christ must become our model for life.
If you can, google the message by Bishop Mike Lowrey at our 2013 Annual Conference. In his thrilling message, Bishop Lowry insisted Methodists must regain a Biblical, Wesleyan view of sin and salvation. In part, he said:
What I am repeatedly hearing from Methodist pulpits around our conference is little more than corny, saccharine sweet self-help stuff. We have to regain the Scripture. We have to rediscover the doctrine of sin. We have to reemphasize salvation. We have to get back to Jesus.”
Bishop Lowry, a man of Christ, spoke as a true Wesleyan Christian. We ought to listen to his words.
Why should we need pastoral epistles, long letters of testimony, inspiration and information? Seriously, can’t saved Christian people just grow in Christ, live in Christ, act like Jesus?
My friend, Jeff Leynor, is an orthodox Jewish rabbi. He carries a Greek New Testament around in his front coat pocket. He reads it every day. He will tell you he is decidedly not a Christian but he reads about Jesus every day.
I tested his knowledge a few times only to find out Jeffrey is not only a more orthodox Jew than me but he is also more informed about and committed to Jesus than I could imagine. I know, I know, but wait a minute.
When asked about his New Testament reading and his great respect for Jesus, Rabbi Leynor says, “You cannot be a good Jew unless you do the things Jesus does. I don’t accept all His doctrine but I cannot deny the power of His ethics.”
Imagine, a wonderful, trained and studied rabbi, a man who has served large congregations, who so admires the ethics, the actions of Jesus, that he cannot ignore Jesus, even when to do so puts him in peril. He risks much to admire Jesus. He often talks about how much Jesus has changed him as a person, as a rabbi, as a Jew.
Would that the words of Jesus would be so applied as to make us better Christians! In a world of muddled doctrine, of spirituality in the place of real religion, where groups attracted to the life of the Christ commit themselves to steal the light of the Church, we need a pastor, teacher, preacher, writer, guest in the Lord’s house and in the home, who will point us anew to the Christ. This is why the dirt poor early church, stripped of possessions and vulnerable to violence, gathers costly writing materials and expends precious time to say, over and again, “Yes, we saw Him. Yes, we know Him. Yes, He is alive. Yes, He is worthy of worship. Yes, He is God.”