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May 21, 2017 Safety Harbor

Safety Harbor

 

Please turn with me to I Timothy 3:14-15. READ.

 

At the beginning of this letter the apostle Paul calls Timothy his child. At the beginning of his second letter he calls him his beloved child. Paul loved Timothy. In verse 14 he says he hopes to come to him. In his second letter he writes that he “longs to see” him (1:4). Paul loved Timothy and he missed him. This should reflect our own hearts towards those in the fellowship.

 

Timothy was likened to Paul’s child. Do we not love our children even with all their faults, their attitudes, and their sins? Yes, we do. They frustrate us. Sometimes they frustrate us greatly. But we still love them. Have you ever been upset with one of your children but then you suspected that they may be in some kind of danger – maybe you thought they had been in an auto accident because you have not heard from them? That feeling of being upset quickly gives way to concern and alarm. This shows that we love them despite the way they are.

 

This is the same kind of love that we must have for one another in the church. Just like our own children, our spiritual brothers and sisters are full of weaknesses, attitudes, shortcomings, and sins. We will experience frustration with them at times. But, we love them. If we do not love them this means that we do not love God. Yes, it does!

 

            If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21             And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (I John 4:20-21, ESV)

 

Do not remain under the misimpression that your love or your hatred are determined by your feelings. Your love or your hatred are identified by what you say and what you do. Not so much by what you feel. How do you talk about others when they are not around? How willing are you to help those in the church? There is love and there is hatred.

 

Paul loved Timothy. Let us love one another in the same way.

 

In verse 15 he wants Timothy to know how one ought to conduct themselves in the church. Let us see three things about the church in this one verse.

 

[I.] The church is the household of God.  God only has one household on this earth and that is his church. Those who are not members of a local church are, most likely, not in God’s household. I say “most likely” because there may be short durations of time when one cannot be a member. For example, one may live in a community where there is no true church. According to the Reformers, who relied upon the word of God, the marks of a true church consists of at least three things: the unadulterated gospel is held and proclaimed, the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are practiced, and church discipline is exercised to order to punish sin. One can imagine living in a community where there is only a Roman Catholic church, a Mormon church, and a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah Witnesses.  (And, for the sake of our illustration, let the scenario be such that it is an isolated town with no other towns nearby.) If that were the case that community would have no true church and a person could not be a member of a local church. There may be other rare circumstances where one cannot be a member. Being just a visitor does not count, even if one were a frequent visitor. Anyone can be a visitor. It is a good thing to visit true churches. You hear the word of God proclaimed and you experience fellowship. But God did not call us to visit his household. He has called us to be members of his household.

 

What is it that is important about the picture of a household? One thing we have already mentioned. A household pictures a family. We have familial relationships in God’s house.

 

Another matter is that God is the Father of his household. This means that he has authority over it.  Just like earthly families, when they are functioning according to their divine design, have a head – the father – who must be obeyed by all the members of the house, so too God’s household must obey him. The way God exercises his authority is within the household, not outside of it. God, of course, does have authority as Creator over all of his creation, even outside the church. But there is a special love, accompanied by discipline, that he exercises in his household that he does not outside of his household.

 

In the same way that we cannot love God unless we love others, we cannot be submissively under God’s authority unless we submit to earthly authorities that God has placed over us. When we reject earthly authority we reject God’s authority. To the extent that we disdain or chafe under any earthly authority (employees to a boss, children to parents, a wife to a husband, even how we view our governing civil authorities, including the President) this reflects how we feel towards God as our authority, because God has placed those authorities over us and they represent Him. Of course, they will all represent him imperfectly. Yet, it is the respect and attitude towards them as persons, because of their position, that reflects our relationship towards God.

 

Family life and authority are seen in households. However, the other thing that I wish to focus upon presently is the fact that a healthy household is a place of safety.  The church is a place of safety.

 

One of my favorite songs is a song entitled Safety Harbor by Rory Cooney[1]. Ironically, Rory is Catholic. But, I didn’t say that Roman Catholics could not be in a saved relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. They can be and I am confident that he is. I was distinguishing between true Christians and true churches – two different things. Rory’s songs are beautiful. Safety Harbor is a song about the church as God meant it to be. The church is likened to a safe harbor and the sea as the world out there, full of dangers. It is a very apt metaphor.

 

Here are some of the lyrics:

 

Sweet vision, Bless my eyes!
Land upon the western skies!
Constant stars, I bid you rise Over Safety Harbor.

 

The church, like the sight of land to a weary voyager, is a sweet vision! “Constant stars” are the leaders of the church who provide guidance to the members of the church.

 

Home, home! At last, becalmed!
Far behind us screams the storm.
 

The local church is our home. It is a place where we can experience calm from the turmoils of life. “Far behind us screams the storm.” A storm is a dangerous thing, especially when you are out to sea. But there is safety in the church. The temptations of the world call to us: temptations to sin and temptations to believe false doctrine. The local church is a protection from these things.

 

Tattered canvas waves like arms greeting Safety Harbor.

From the windows of the tower, where the beacon burns,
Faithful friends at ev’ry hour watch for my return.

 

“Tattered canvas…” Our own sails are tattered because the wind of the world buffets us. Yet, from the windows of the tower there is a light burning – the light of the Holy Spirit – and faithful friends watch for your return when you are away.

 

We must be an active member of a local church to experience the safety that is there.

 

Recently, I received a friend request on facebook from a woman I did not know. I do not just accept all friend requests. I noted that she was friends with two people I already know and, when I checked her facebook page, I noticed that there were lots of postings about Jesus. So, we became friends on facebook.

 

I started noticing long posts from her that were quotes from a book entitled The Word Appears in the Flesh. It turns out that she is a member of cult that believes that Jesus has already returned in the flesh as an incarnation of a Chinese woman living in China. The book has been translated into several languages already and the members of this cult consider it to be the word of God not just equal to the Bible, but superior to the Bible because it is God’s up-to-date speaking.

 

I noticed that this “friend” had many hundred facebook friends, so I saw it as a good opportunity to expose the heresy. I pointed out some direct contradictions to the Bible and some other statements that were known to be false. I tried to be as polite and civil as I could while demonstrating that it was impossible for these writings to be from God because of saying things that were contrary to known revelation and by making statements known to be false.

 

For a few days we dialogued back and forth but, when it was evident that she could not adequately defend her “Word appearing in the flesh,” she “un-friended” me.

 

I couldn’t help but think that this facebook friend, her name was Angela, either was not a member of a local church or she did not show this book to the leaders of the church when she was first exposed to it. Now she is caught up in a cult.

 

The “constant stars,” the leaders of a local church, have given their lives in studying God’s word and are ordained by God to protect the flock (Acts 20:28-29).

 

There is the danger “out at sea,” being exposed to the winds of change in the world, that we come under the influence of the world and its standards.  When we first come to Christ in faith and repentance, sin seems so clear and we avoid it.  Many Christians have the experience that, after a time, they begin to question whether certain actions are sin after all. Their worldly friends are doing them.  They have forgotten that narrow is the gate and hard is the way that leads to eternal life and broad is the road that leads to destruction (Mat. 7:13-14). The church is the place where, both through the leaders and the wise counsel of mature brothers and sisters in Christ, we are warned of spiritually dangerous choices and are kept in the “hard” way. It is hard in the sense we often must choose courses that deny our flesh. It is hard for a time, but the result of staying in the way is contentment and peace even now. And, in the age to come, eternal life.

 

The church is a place of safety. Those who neglect the church find themselves going astray. Even those who think themselves spiritually strong, for no one is as strong as the Devil and he focuses his attention on those separated from the church. Do you know how hyenas hunt for food? They often look for and hunt the antelope that is a bit removed from the herd since there is protection in numbers. They seek to get between the antelope and the rest of the herd so he is running alone. Similarly, Satan and his demons often attack Christians at a vulnerable point: when they are alone, not accountable to anyone, not hearing God’s Word regularly, and not benefiting from Christian strength in Christian numbers. Satan is no idiot—he knows the best times to attack. It is no coincidence that Peter says Satan is like a hungry lion on the prowl (1 Peter 5:8).

 

There was a young Christian lady who was a member of a local church and attended regularly.  She got quite busy with her job and found herself working on Saturdays and, sometimes, Sunday. She began to attend church less and less frequently.  About this same time she met a young man who claimed to be a Christian and she found herself spending a great deal of time with him.  He suggested that they move in together to save money on rent. Did she ask her fellow brothers and sisters in Christ if such a decision was wise or whether it was even permissible?  No, because she wasn’t in fellowship with her church. If she had approached the leaders or really any faithful member she would have been told that such a course of action was against the will of the Lord Jesus.

 

She moved in with the man and, although her intentions were not to have sex before marriage, they did and she became pregnant. Not long after this, the man moved out and left, leaving her with a baby. Her life was forever changed and not for the better.  She did the best she could but single-parent families seldom do as well as two-parent families and many opportunities for advancement in her own life were absent because she had a child to rear. She was held back. But her child was, too. Children with only one parent do not do as well in life. This story has been repeated a hundred thousand times and more. The church protects us from spiritual danger.

 

We must be an active member of a local church to experience the safety that is there.

 

[II.] In I Tim 3:15 we also see that the church is of the living God. Our God is living and he expresses his life in the church. Because God is living his church is living. There is such a thing as a dead church. When a church ceases to rely upon the Holy Spirit and looks only to tradition or only to the letter of the law without the Spirit, then it can become lifeless. But when the Spirit is moving among the members there is life and this life results in genuine fellowship. Fellowship is more than just doing things with other believers. Going to the movies or going to an amusement park with other Christians is not fellowship. (Nothing wrong with those activities in themselves, but those things are not fellowship.) Fellowship is the sharing of our common life and this life is just Christ Himself living in us! Fellowship is enjoying Christ in our speaking together and our working together.

 

We must be an active member of a local church to experience frequent fellowship.

 

If we are not actively engaged in a local church we will only have fellowship sporadically, if at all, if we happen to meet another Christian.

 

[III.] Finally, we must be an active member of a local church to remain in the truth. Paul says that the church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (vs. 15). We know what a pillar is. A pillar is a large, strong column that is used to support a building, especially the roof. The church supports the truth. What is a buttress? A buttress is a structure added to the walls of a building to provide further support. Both of these images show that the truth can be weakened or collapse, but the church supports and strengthens it.

 

Without the church our possession of truth can be weakened and even lost. The doctrines of God, man, salvation, and sanctification guide us into

 

  • eternal security,
  • constitute our faith,
  • strengthen our faith,
  • keep us pure,
  • and give us clear direction.

 

When we absent ourselves from the church we place ourselves in a precarious position. Even those who are well read can be led astray by persuasive presentations of false doctrines. The Lord has provided “constant stars” to refute untrue notions and distorted doctrines. These elders and deacons are informed by a lifelong study of God’s word, the Holy Spirit, and a knowledge of church history (the positive and beneficial aspects of tradition).

 

[IV. Conclusion & Application] Oh! There is a harbor available to the weary traveler! It is a harbor of safety – safety from the deceitfulness of sin and the winds of the world.

 

It is a place where we have fellowship to lift our spirits because it is where the living God moves.

 

It is a place where the truth is held up and defended. In the midst of barefaced lies, barren promises, bogus beliefs, and beguiling propositions, there is a place for truth and that place is the church.

 

What ought we to do?

 

[1.] Find a Bible-believing church. Some churches rely upon the traditions of men and the Bible is secondary. To speak in the language of the Reformers, find a church that believes in Sola Scriptura. As the marvelous 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith expresses it:  “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.” Once you find such a church,

 

[2.] Commit yourselves to it. This means to:

 

  • Place membership there.
  • Vow to yourself and to God to be present at every meeting of the church, only absenting yourself for sickness and family obligations.
  • Engage in the other activities of the church besides the weekly meetings. Don’t live on the “outskirts of the camp.”
  • Experience the fellowship that is available in the home meetings.

 

Come out from the wind and the storms. Come to Safety Harbor.

 

 

[1] Rory’s music can be found here: http://www.giamusic.com/product_search.cfm?criteria=Cooney+%26+Donohoo&search_button=search