Bad news travels fast. In the age of the Internet and mobile devices, we oftentimes receive bad news within in moments of the event. In the last week alone, I heard of two very disturbing events unfolding in the Christian world.
One of those events was a report of a well-known preacher shipwrecking his ministry career and relationships if not possibly his faith. This man had been entrusted with a worldwide ministry spanning across many continents through various church planting ministries, leadership development programs, radio broadcast organizations and book publishing ministries. And in a moment, years of hard work were melted down by years of systematic private rejection of a clean conscience.
The other disturbing event was the report of 700 cases of sexual misconduct and systematic organizational cover-ups that have taken place over the last 20 years within some of the churches in the largest Christian missionary sending organization in the world. Churches within the SBC have been found guilty of 20 years of abusive ministry ethics that have left people deeply wounded and questioning their faith. Bad news travels fast.
The reality for us is that every morning we wake up to news alerts on our mobile devices and our news feeds. Another terrorist attacks. Another person gets murdered. Another high profile marriage goes south. Another political firestorm erupts. Another baby dies. Another person crumbles under the weight of a secret addiction. Another once-trusted friend shipwrecks their life.
Bad news travels fast. I imagine this to be the case in Ephesus too. The Ephesian church was known to be a major part of Christian evangelism in its time. And two well-known leaders had shipwrecked their faith and by the sounds of the news broadcasts there were more people who were following in their footsteps. More leaders were failing to hold fast to their faith in Christ. More leaders were refusing to keep a clean conscience. Their faith was fading and their filthy consciences were frying. Bad news was traveling fast and Timothy and the church in Ephesus needed to deal with it.
But Timothy and the church didn’t need to deal with these issues simply because of the public shame or humiliation. They needed to deal with these issues for the sake of everyone around them. For the sake of the purity of the gospel. For the sake of the glory of God. So Paul’s instruction to Timothy and the church in Ephesus is…
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1 – 7)
It would have been easy for the church in Ephesus to react quickly to displace the publicity of the event. But if they did that they would only be responding out of a selfish ambition to cover things up and smooth things over and get back to a more comfortable pace of life. Think about your desire for comfort when the crap hits the fan.
The desire for comfort can be a destructive device. It causes you to become inwardly focused, self-obsessed, isolated and defensive. And when bad news or bad days come, we are in danger of giving into the desire for comfort at any cost. And usually the cost of comfort is the destruction of anyone and anything that stands in our way. We begin to think of ourselves only. Then we begin to pray for ourselves only. And then we begin to live for ourselves only. Where have you begun to seek comfort in sinful ways?
You don’t want the discomfort of losing a friend so you haven’t confronted their sinful lifestyle yet. You don’t want the discomfort of another argument with your kid so you turn a blind eye to their constant screen time. You don’t want the discomfort of digging into the desires of your own heart so you stiff-arm a friend. You don’t want the discomfort of God’s Word convicting you so you spend more time on social media or behind the TV. You don’t want the discomfort that comes with sharing your faith with an unbelieving friend so you stay silent. There are a million ways we seek comfort sinfully. Where have you begun to seek comfort in sinful ways?
I say all of this because when we believe that the gospel is good news for everyone we will pray and live like it. We are called to pray and live for the sake of everyone around us because God wants to save everyone through the preaching of the gospel. The message of the gospel is not preached merely for me. The message of the gospel is preached for everyone who will believe because God reveals himself to everyone through the preaching of the gospel at the right time. God calls us to be co-laborers with him in the mission of preaching the gospel to everyone. Look at these principles one at a time with me.
#1: God calls us to pray and live for the sake of everyone (1 – 3)
It can be so easy to slip into the comfort of self-focus. Especially when you are going through a tough season like the Ephesian church was going through. Sometimes the church can become an emergency ward or a country club. But the Scriptures teach us that the church is meant to be a hospital for the sick, a rescue center for the lost and a sending agency for rescue workers. God calls us to pray and to live for the sake of everyone around us.
This is why Paul says I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (because) this is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. We are called to pray and to live for the sake of everyone around us because this pleases God.
Our lives should be marked by prayerful peacefulness, quietness, godliness and dignity. This is the kind of prayerful, Spirit filled presence we are called to exhibit. But sadly, many Christians are more known for their combativeness, hypocrisy, conflict and belligerence. The fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control seem to be lost in this day and age. These things seem to be lost in an age of social media rants where we fight for the rights we are entitled to instead of laying down our rights for the good of others. Prayer has become a means to get what we want from a god who is more like a genie in a bottle than the ruling Savior of the world.
What Paul seeks to do here is to get the church and her pastor’s head up out of the sand so that they can once again see that there is a world going to hell in a hand basket that needs what the church claims to have. And on this point, prayer makes all of the difference. When the church prays like other people’s lives depend on it, I believe the gates of hell get shook and entire communities get transformed.
Every one of you in this church family is an answer to somebody praying. I remember when we were just a church of 6 people. We had and still have upwards of 15 or more churches (100’s to 1,000’s of people) actively praying for God to save people in the community of Hastings and make them part of this church. There are so many stories of how God has changed many of your lives and then made you part of this church family.
This is just one of the evidences of answered prayers for all people that Paul is talking about. And for us, we have a community of 10,000 people who live south of the tracks in Hastings that our little church building sits in. What would happen if we began the uncomfortable work of praying and living for everyone around us in our nearby neighborhood? When we believe that the gospel is good news for everyone we will pray and live like it.
#2: God wants to save everyone (4)
The message of the gospel is not preached merely for me. The gospel is preached for everyone who will believe. This is why Paul reminds Timothy and the Ephesian church that God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. God wants to save everyone. Now for all of you staunch Calvinists in the room, I’m sure you’re squirming in your seat wondering how I’m going to explain this principle. And for all of you staunch Free Will believers in the room, I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seat wondering how I’m going to get around a passage that seems to demolish the doctrine of election or God’s sovereign pre-determined choice in salvation that you know I hold fast to.
I just want to invite you to look back at the words of this verse again and see that it says that God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. The key word here is the word desires. And that word has to do with what God wants not what God determines. It has to do with what he longs for not what he decides.
God longs for everyone to come to a saving knowledge of the truth. He hasn’t decided that everyone would come to a saving knowledge of the truth. He has decided that some would come to a saving knowledge of the truth and that others would not come to a saving knowledge of the truth. So the principle holds true that God wants to save everyone but has chosen or decided or elected not to save everyone. The Bible does not teach universal salvation but it does teach universal inclusion. Not everyone will be saved. But everyone has the opportunity to be saved.
When we believe that God wants to save everyone and that he alone knows whom he has decided to save then this knowledge radically changes our interactions with everyone around us. We don’t hide out from our responsibility and privilege to evangelize the lost and we also don’t evangelize like it depends completely on our ability to evangelize well. We trust in the sovereign power and choice of our Father to save whom he chooses to save according to his desire that all would be saved. When we believe that the gospel is good news for everyone we will pray and live like it.
#3: God will reveal himself to everyone (5 – 6)
Paul says there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. There is one God and one pathway to Heaven. There are not multiple gods and there are not multiple pathways. Christ alone and his work at the cross on our behalf is the only pathway to Heaven. And at the appropriate time this message will be revealed to every person who has ever lived so that they too might have the opportunity to say yes or no to Jesus.
The Scriptures are clear that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Those same Scriptures are clear that every person is given the opportunity to hear the message of salvation from someone who is sent to proclaim it. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news. Bad news travels fast but nothing tastes as sweet or sounds as good as the good news of the gospel in the midst of hearing the bad news of our sin.
Do you realize the depth of your sin against God? Have you felt the weight of your rebellion against your Father who loves you unconditionally even though he knows the depth of your sin completely? Have you beheld the perfect and horrific sacrifice of Jesus at the cross in your place?
It has been said that if we truly knew the depth of our sinfulness, the seriousness of the consequences for our sin and the vastness of the price that Jesus paid for us then we would gladly and joyfully crawl across hot coals to help save anyone from heading down the same path. When we believe that the gospel is good news for everyone we will pray and live like it.
#4: God calls us to preach the gospel to everyone (7)
Sometimes it’s easy for us to put ourselves in God’s shoes as we pick and choose whom we will share the gospel with and whom we won’t share the gospel with. But God has called us to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell. This means that we are called to share the message of the gospel with every person we come into contact with and especially those whom we would normally shy away from.
For Paul this meant that he was appointed a preacher and an apostle… a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Gentiles were often regarded as outsiders to the Jewish faith. But God made it clear throughout the entirety of the Bible that he loves the outsider just as much as the insider. He loves the up and outs just as much as he loves the down and outs. He desires that people from every tribe and every tongue and every nation would be part of his family.
The church is not meant to be an elitist club of social or religious insiders. The church is meant to be a family that is saved by the gospel, changed by the gospel and sent on mission with the message of the gospel to the furthest corners of the Earth. God calls us to preach the gospel to everyone and when we believe that the gospel is good news for everyone we will pray and live like it.
We are called to pray and to live for the sake of everyone around us because God wants to save everyone through the preaching of the gospel. The message of the gospel is not preached merely for me. The message of the gospel is preached for everyone who will believe because God reveals himself to everyone through the preaching of the gospel at the right time. Therefore God calls us to be co-laborers with him in the mission of preaching the gospel to everyone. So when we believe that the gospel is good news for everyone we will pray and live like it.
Bad news travels fast but nothing tastes as sweet or sounds as good as the good news of the gospel in the midst of hearing the bad news of our sin. The reality for every of us hearing this message is that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death. Every one of us has rebelled and turned our back on our Father in Heaven. Every one of us has lived for the sake of our foolish and sinful desires. Every one of us has given in to the temptation for comfort at the expense of someone else. Every one of us has had the death penalty of eternal separation from God hanging over our heads.
But God in all of his goodness and all of his faithfulness sent his one and only son, Jesus, to pay the price for our sin. Jesus didn’t cling to comfort. He left comfort behind to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell on a cross with your picture in his pocket. Death could not beat him. Hell could not hold him. And Satan was no match for him. The tomb is empty. The price for your sin (past, present and future) has been paid in full.
Do you believe this message? If you believe this message then you believe that this message is good news for everyone and it will radically transform the way you pray and the way you live.