My Role in God’s Global Purpose: Part 2
Passage: 1 Timothy 2:5-7
Since I am a pastor, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about and reading about what makes a church healthy, and what can ruin a church’s health. Pretty much everyone agrees that one of the surest signs that a church is headed toward decline is when we view the church and, really, all of the Christian life through the lens of our own comfort and ease rather than through the lens of God’s mission. People arrive at church focused on finding their friends and getting their seat. They evaluate the service solely on whether or not we sang the songs they like and on whether or not the sermon tickled their ears. These kinds of churches quickly become ingrown and cut off from the sinners around them. They develop a sense of pride and look at the world around them with disdain rather than as a mission field that must be reached.
Last week, I said that the false teachers had such an exclusive attitude. They thought their obedience to certain Jewish laws made them superior to the Gentiles around them, and they probably even believed that their superiority meant that they did not need to honor or submit to their Gentile rulers. And sadly, their sense of superiority overwhelmed any evangelistic obligation to the Gentile peoples. They had no vision for the Great Commission, only for advancing themselves and their interests. And so Paul counters in this paragraph by driving home the point that God is the only Savior, and he has called his church to pray for and participate in his global purpose of salvation. In other words, God didn’t leave us here to soak up every temporal pleasure we can enjoy or to pursue our own agenda. No, he left us here to participate in his global agenda of taking the gospel to every corner of the planet and of making worshippers of Christ. We better never forget that this is why Life Point exists and why God has left us in this world. Remember that this paragraph gives a single command. Verses 1–2 tell us to pray for the advance of the gospel among all people, including government officials who are over us. Verses 3–7 follow with three reasons why we should pray this way. The first reason in vv. 3–4 is that God desires the salvation of all people. If this is God’s passion, it should be our passion also. This morning, we will pick up in v. 5 and consider the second and third reason we should pray for the global advance of the gospel. The second reason is…
Second Reason: Christ is the only way of salvation (vv. 5–6).
I mentioned last week that there is a lot of theology packed into these two verses. Many believe that Paul is quoting an early hymn or well-known creed that was used to teach foundational doctrine. We want to take our time walking through everything that is packed into these verses, though we also want to be careful not to miss the point, which is that we are to respond to this theology by praying for the advance of the gospel. So how does Paul make this point? He begins with a foundational truth of Christian theology.
There is only one God.
This statement is not difficult to understand, but it is foundational to biblical doctrine. It was the center of Israel’s theology. Israel called Deuteronomy 6:4–5 the Great Shema, or the Great Commandment around which all of life was built. These verses state that there are not many gods; there is only one God. Therefore, we must love and serve him supremely. In other words, God’s supremacy demands that all people worship him and him alone. Paul picks up on this fact as it relates to evangelism. The fact that there is only one God means that man is not free to choose which god he will serve or if he will serve a god at all. No since there is one supreme God, all people are obligated to worship and serve him. And this obligation to worship gives us the authority and a primary motivation to do evangelism. John Piper captures the significance beautifully when he states, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever” (Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, p. 15). Folks, evangelism is not fundamentally about the needs of people. The gospel is not just a way to improve your marriage or to gain a sense of fulfillment. We dishonor God and the gospel when we treat it like one of many self-help methods that people can just try out. No the gospel is about the supremacy of God. All people are accountable to God and are obligated to worship him. A person can have everything else right, but if they are not right with the Sovereign Lord, nothing else matters. We need to pray for the advance of the gospel because there is only one God, and he deserves the worship of all people. Not only that, Paul adds that…
There is only one way to God.
Before we get to the main point of v. 6, we need to understand what Paul is saying about the nature of Christ and his relationship to the Trinity. In particular, is Paul saying that Jesus is not God? Paul says there is one God, not three, and then he seems to set Jesus outside of God by saying that he mediates between God and man. But we know that’s not what Paul means because he repeatedly affirms the deity of Christ. You can’t read Paul and the other NT authors honestly and come to any other conclusion. The deity of Christ is assumed and defended throughout the entire NT. But if that’s the case, then how can God be one? This is hard for us to comprehend, but Paul clearly didn’t see it as a conflict. In this verse he sees no conflict between saying that there is one God, as the Great Shema says, while also holding to the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. The NT consistently teaches that there is one God and three persons. And this verse is not distinguishing Jesus from God. There is no reason why Jesus cannot at the same time be God and also mediate between God and man. Jesus is God, but v. 5 is also clear that he is fully human. It’s unfortunate that the NKJV adds the in front of man because the is not in the Greek and adding it distracts from the point. Paul’s point is that Jesus is a man in every sense. When Jesus was born into the world, he became one of us. He took on a human nature and a human body while also maintaining perfect divinity. He did so because it was essential to make payment for sin (Heb 2:14–15, 17). These verses are clear that Jesus’ humanity was essential to his redemption.
Again, the incarnation is beyond our comprehension but that does not mean it is not true. Jesus existed for all eternity as God, and yet he became one of us so that he could pay for sin, and as our text says, mediate between God and men. The concept of mediation is fairly simple. It refers to a go-between. In Paul’s day, a mediator might work to restore peace between two parties who were in conflict, or he might help two parties establish a legal agreement or covenant. Hebrews makes a big deal of the fact that Jesus mediates a new covenant between God and man, but the idea of peace or reconciliation is primary here. Through his death, Jesus made a way for the sin problem to be removed and for sinners to be made right with God. I think the illustration of a bridge is very helpful here. The Scriptures are clear that our sin has created a massive canyon between man and God, a canyon that we can never cross on our own. We can never do enough good works or give enough back to God to even remotely begin to build a bridge. The only way a bridge could be provided was through a perfect man and an infinite sacrifice. Verse 6 states that Jesus provided such bridge through his death. He mediated a way to God.
And notice again that he is the only bridge. Paul says very clearly that there is only one mediator between God and man. Folks, this is absolutely essential to emphasize in our day. Most people assume that there are many ways to God and that most people will sort of stumble into heaven even if they don’t have a good understanding of the Scriptures. But Paul couldn’t be clearer. If you are trusting in anything other than the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Christ for salvation, you will not make it to God. You can never do enough good deeds to make your own bridge. And believing in just any god of your own making will not do. The only way to be made right with God is to believe on the Jesus of the Bible for salvation. What are you trusting in to get you to God? Do you know with certainty that you have eternal life? Do you understand why Jesus died and what is required for him to become your mediator? Don’t mess around with these questions. Talk with me or someone else that you trust and make sure you know what it means to be made right with God.
But Paul is primarily speaking to Christians in this verse. Remember that he is telling us why we need to pray for and participate in God’s global purpose of redemption. His second reason is that Jesus is the only way of salvation, and if people don’t hear and respond to the gospel, they will never make it to God. Instead, they will spend eternity in hell. That’s true of your friends and neighbors. It’s true of your coworkers. And it’s true of every person in the darkest corners of our planet. They will not be saved unless they hear and respond to the gospel. This should be deeply sobering. It ought to drive us to our knees to beg God for the gospel to work in our community and around the world. And it ought to drive us to consider my role in God’s global purpose of redemption. It ought to drive us to share Christ with boldness and love because Jesus is the only way. This is because…
Jesus provided the way through redemption.
It’s very likely that this statement references Jesus’ words regarding the purpose of his humanity (Mark 10:45). Both passages use the same verb for ransom. It was commonly used in classical Greek in reference to a payment made to free a slave, and it continues to have this meaning in the NT. This verb is also translated as redeem in Titus 2:14. And so the basic idea behind ransom or redemption is that through his death and resurrection, Jesus paid the price to buy mankind out of slavery to sin’s penalty and its power. Our text particularly emphasizes what we typically call the substitutionary nature of Christ’s sacrifice through two significant prepositions. First, the normal word for ransom is lutron, but in this instance Paul adds the prefix anti to it. This is significant because anti means “instead of.” And so the idea is that instead of us facing the just punishment for our sin Jesus suffered in our place. And in so doing he provided the redemption price to free us from sin. The second significant preposition is translated as “for,” which could be translated more fully as “on behalf of.” Christ provided a ransom payment “on behalf of all.” It’s not as strong as the other preposition, but it emphasizes his purpose. Jesus didn’t just die a general death; no, he died FOR sinners. This is how he provided the bridge between God and man. He died in our place. His death creates the bridge between God and man. But I want to be clear that this bridge must be applied through faith. Paul is not saying that all will be saved; otherwise, there would be no need to pray for the salvation of all men or for Paul to go on the Gentile mission he describes in v. 7. No, for the work of Christ to be applied, a person must hear the gospel and respond in faith (Eph 2:8). The only way man can get to God is by trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Application: Folks, the gospel is truly amazing. It is the difference between eternity in heaven with God and eternity in hell. And yet it is a free gift of grace. There’s nothing man has to do to earn it; he simply has to receive it. And God’s primary purpose for this age is to extend this message of redemption to all people in all places. God is at work all over the world to redeem sinners and to build his church. And so we ought to be inspired to pray and to go because Christ is the only way of salvation.
The third reason we ought to pray for the advance of the gospel is that…
Third Reason: God’s purpose for this age is the advance of the gospel among all people (vv. 6b–7).
I’d like to point out two facts regarding this reason.
God has prepared a message for our age (v. 6b).
There are three potential options for understanding what testimony Paul is talking about. Some believe Jesus’ death is the testimony. Others believe that the witness of the church is the testimony, and others believe the testimony is both the death of Christ and the witness of the church. I believe it’s best to see both in view, that Christ’s death and the witness of the church to his death testify that new age has dawned. During the period of the law, God worked exclusively through the nation of Israel. The OT is concerned for the other nations, but for them to approach God, they had to come through Israel. The false teachers believed that this was still how God was operating. They believed that man must come to God by means of the Law and Judaism. But Paul says that Christ has brought about a new arrangement. When he died, he provided a ransom for all people. And he replaced the law as the mediator between God and man with himself. In so doing, as Ephesians 2 says, he destroyed the partition that the law created between Jews and Gentiles. As a result, God has prepared a new message for this age that salvation is available to all people through Christ. And so by their racial exclusivism, the false teachers had missed the very heart of the gospel and God’s purpose for the church. God did not design the gospel to be hid in a corner for only a few to enjoy. It’s not a message exclusively for the socially or morally elite that is too good for the rest of humanity. No, a fundamental reality of the gospel is that Jesus died for all, and his gospel is more powerful than every racial, cultural, and social boundary. And God’s purpose for this age is that the gospel would go to all people in every place. Folks, the gospel is a powerful message with worldwide significance. Second…
God has prepared messengers for our age (v. 7).
Paul uses three terms to describe the role God had given him. He was a preacher, apostle, and teacher. The term translated preacher is particularly interesting. It was commonly used of a public spokesman that would deliver messages in a great variety of contexts including introducing athletic events or a royal official. They would also stand in public places and read statements or decrees from the government. What is particularly interesting about these heralds is that they were simply messengers. They did not speak their own mind or their own opinions; rather, their job was to relay as loudly as possible the message from their superior. This is the job of a preacher. Good preaching tells you what God said. In this particular context, Paul’s job was to deliver the gospel. He also describes himself as an apostle, speaking of his authoritative role in founding the church. And finally, he calls himself a teacher. Paul’s job was to communicate the gospel as God’s authoritative witness. And what is particularly important in this verse is the audience to whom he had been called. God had particularly called Paul to deliver the gospel to the Gentiles and to lay the foundation of a Gentile church that was free of racial exclusivism. Again, there is great apologetic significance to this verse because the false teachers were promoting a racially exclusive message that set the Jews and those who conformed to Jewish standards apart from the rest of humanity. But Paul says that they have absolutely missed what God is intent on doing in this age. Christ commissioned Paul to lay the foundation of a Gentile church, and the NT is clear that God intended for this foundation to grow and spread throughout the entire world. God’s purpose for this age is the global spread of the gospel. And Paul was not willing to leave this up for debate. He drives home the fact that what he is saying about his mission is absolutely true. Paul says I am not lying, and the message I preach is God’s authoritative message of faith and truth.
Application: Let’s think for a moment about God’s passions and ours. When God looks at our world, he is not most passionate about politics or sports. His heart is not all that moved by technological advances and military conflicts. When God looks at our world, he is far more passionate about what is going on in some grass huts in Tanzania where the gospel is being shared than he is about arguments in the Capitol Building. A small meeting of believers in Wales is far more important to him than baseball game in Chicago. The work we are doing at Life Point matters more to him than the next blockbuster to come out of Hollywood. Do we share God’s passion? If you are a Christian, God didn’t leave you here to soak up entertainment, to make it to the top of your corporation, or to indulge the desires of your pride and selfishness. He left you here to advance his global purpose. Have you wrestled seriously with what that means for your life, and is this the primary driving force of your life or just something that you get to when you have time? Do you share God’s passion for the salvation of the lost and are you participating fully in his mission?
We need to pray for and participate in God’s global purpose of redemption because God desires the salvation of all people, because Christ is the only way of salvation, and because God’s purpose for this age is the advance of the gospel among all people. Let’s guard against Life Point ever becoming a “good ole boys club.” Instead, let’s embrace God’s passion for the salvation of the lost.