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Worship Theme: Christians live by faith, loving God above all things
Sermon Theme: Hold On for Dear Life
The water was ice cold. The sky was pitch black. The sounds in the air were deafening – the screams of panic, the hollering of commands, the cries of children, the wailing of mothers, the agony of companions being ripped apart, the violent gasps of people’s final breaths, before they succumbed to the elements and met their watery graves!
How horrific it must have been for the people that were passengers of the RMS Titanic. One minute they were enjoying a luxury cruise and the next minute, they were fighting for their lives. One minute they were enjoying elegance, the next minute horror! How priorities had changed. Suddenly survival was the only thing that mattered!!
If you’ve seen the movie Titanic, you know that Director James Cameron did a masterful job of painting this scene. He put his two main characters into the water – Rose laying on a door that the shipwreck had hurled into the water and Jack clinging to the edge as they shared their last words together and their last kiss. With his dying breath, Jack asks Rose to promise to hold on to her dreams, to hold on to her hopes for the future. And they both knew that all of that was only possible if she mustered all of her strength and all of her focus to hold on to that door long enough for help to arrive.
There’s a love story happening in the words of God that are before us today! But, it’s not a Jack and Rose love story. It’s not a romantic love, but it’s the love that the Apostle Paul has for his dear friend Timothy. It’s the love that the gospel created between the one who proclaimed the good news and the one who received it. Paul had the privilege of being the one that God used to call Timothy to faith. Paul was the one who introduced Timothy to Jesus and his love. That’s why Paul begins this letter by calling Timothy “my true son in the faith.” And it’s why he writes to him the encouragement that he does in the words that are before us. It’s why Paul pleads with Timothy and with us to “Hold on for Dear Life!”
Timothy was a young pastor, one that Paul trained and that Paul trusted to carry on his work in his absence. He was left by Paul to pastor the church and work the mission fields in and around the city of Ephesus. Paul cared deeply for Timothy and for the people that Timothy was called to serve. That’s why Paul does his best to build Timothy up, to encourage him and guide him. That’s why he says to him: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”
What’s the “all this” that Paul wants Timothy to flee from? If you read the words earlier in chapter 6, you’ll find the answer. There were teachers that were promoting false doctrine in their midst. There were people who were causing unnecessary conflict and quarreling. There were people who promoted a prosperity gospel and who thought that godliness is a means to financial gain (I Timothy 6:5). The “get rich quick” hopes of many caused them to be greedy, arrogant, conceited. Listen to what Paul says: Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
These temptations are not unfamiliar to us, are they? The traps that the devil set for the Ephesians are traps into which we fall as well. When we forget that money is a tool that God gives us and instead turn it into a goal in our lives, we end up in trouble as well. We know how hard it is to be content with what we have. Too often we dwell on or are even consumed by what we don’t have instead of thanking God for what we have.
Don’t we often cling to money? With stingy offerings, with unhealthy quests for more, when we skip opportunities to serve others because of what it might cost us, that shows that we are Holding on for Dear Life to the money that we have! But that’s not what God wants us to cling to! That’s not what we should hold on to! The love of money is a problem in our hearts and lives and can push God out of the #1 place that he rightly deserves. Jesus himself says: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24).
It’s really a first commandment encouragement that Paul gives Timothy! Keep God #1. Flee from anything that bumps God from his rightful place. Flee from false doctrine. Flee from arrogance and pride. Flee from greed and selfishness. It’s really the same that Jesus says in our gospel today Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:38).
And if that hasn’t settled in from when it was read before, take a second and let that settle in right now. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. If you don’t deny yourselves…if you don’t set your desires aside and take up Christ’s desires…If you don’t flee from all temptation and sin…then you aren’t worthy of Christ!! And if you aren’t worthy of Christ, and if you can’t life that life that he demands, then you are worthy of something else – death and hell.
And there’s no debate that we can’t do what Jesus demands and there’s no way to avoid the reality of our lost condition. But we have a Savior God who won’t let us go that easily. Even though we cling to everything except God, he never lets go of us! Jesus could have easily let go of us wayward sheep and clung to the glories of heaven, but he let that glory go so that he could cling to us! He could have clung to his power and wielded it against all his foes, but instead he clung to us and willingly embraced shame and the cross. The One who Paul rightly confesses to be the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, that One laid down his power, his crown, his immortality and light to be our Savior! He came to a dark place and to dark sinners like us. He was willing to stand quietly before an earthly king, willing to be condemned by a court that abused the power he gave it. He who was called blessed became a curse for us, so that we could have the fruits of his blessing! The one who is immortal did not cling to immortality, but embraced a mortal’s death – your death and mine! When given an opportunity to avoid it, when even falsely mocked about his inability to get down from the cross, he stayed. He clung to the cross and willingly closed his eyes in death, because that was the only way that he could hold what he really wanted to hold - you!!
And because he wanted to hold on to you, the immortal wouldn’t lie long in death. He rose in glory and in power on Easter morning. He rose to show his immortality. He rose to prove that he had destroyed death. He rose to new life and that life is now his to give. Up from the grave he rose and now he comes with life and light for his people. He gives us what we don’t deserve. He bestows on us grace and every blessing.
God sends his Holy Spirit to us to give us the gift of faith. The Spirit delivers to us that gift which opens our eyes to see, our ears to hear and our hearts to believe the good news of sins forgiven through Jesus. He delivers to us the truth that Christ Jesus’ blood has washed us clean and that heaven is now ours. That Holy Spirit gives us the strength that we need to do exactly what Paul encourages: Fight the good fight of faith! It’s not always going to be easy to follow Jesus! It’s not always going to be simple to do the right thing. It’s not going to be natural to think of service before self. It’s not going to make us ultra-popular to speak God’s words. Ask the parent who sets rules and expectations that are stricter than a child’s peers. Ask the person who cares enough for the soul of their neighbor to steer conversations to Jesus. Ask the employee that passes up the promotion because of the immoral activity that would be required to get ahead. Ask the student in the public-school science class or the college student in a group of unbelieving peers. It’s not easy to take up what Jesus himself calls a cross. It’s not easy to deny ourselves! It’s a struggle. It’s a fight!
But we don’t fight alone! We fight in the Lord’s name! We fight in his love! And we fight knowing that he’s already won!! The victory is ours through faith in Christ Jesus!! Jesus has overcome in the struggle and now hands us the prize.
The water skier knows that the only way to avoid a high-speed, face-first trip into the lake is to take a firm hold of the tow rope. An infant holds on to their toy like it was life itself. They’ll scream bloody murder if anyone tries to take it away. They will use all the power they have in their tiny little fingers to makes sure it doesn’t slip from their grasp. It might be said of those people that they are holding on for dear life.
But when Paul says it, he really means it. It’s not just a figurative expression on the tip of his pen, but words to live by – literally!! Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.
Christ Jesus has lived his life in our place! He has done all that was required of us and has done it perfectly! He gives us the credit for his perfect life! And now the promise of everlasting life at his side is ours. The Holy Spirit calls us to faith through the gospel. He sees us through the struggle of life and empowers us to fight the good fight. He puts the promise of heaven in our ears and in our hearts and in our lives. He wraps our hands of faith around what Christ has fully accomplished for us. And now our part is pretty easy. Hold On! Don’t let go! Don’t walk away from it! Don’t give up on what Christ gives us as his free gift! Hold on for Dear Life! – because dear life, the best of lives, eternal life with Jesus - is the reward of faith in store for you and for me and for all whom the Lord our God has called!!
Hold on to the gospel like you’ve never held on to anything before. Make it your family heirloom. Pass it down from generation to generation. Share the good news with those you love. Live in it and live it out every day. Make it a part of your life. And teach your family and friends to do the same. Scream bloody murder in the face of the devil’s temptations when he tries to take it away. Resist temptation to take it for granted or to allow anything get between you and your God. Rejoice that you’ve been called by his grace and spend your life thanking God for his incomprehensible love. Thank God for the peace that his promises give. Live your life gladly for the one who lived his life so gladly for you. Cling to Christ and never let go! Hold on for Dear Life – and it will be yours! Amen.
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