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Monday, May 22, 2023

Welcome to the First Day of the Rest of Your life

Today, we celebrate our graduates.  I had each one on my mind as I planned this sermon.  

I thought about the Walker, who used to come sit in my office and ask such interesting questions—whom I had the honor of sponsoring to attend Chrysalis last summer.  

Grace, Amy’s niece, who is always so sweet and kind and faithful to attend youth and Sunday worship.  I loved seeing her volunteering at the Miracle Field in April.

Henry, Big Mama’s grandson, who I first met in VBS. He lives in another town, but has so often visited our church and I’ve prayed for him many times.
And our college graduates. 

Kate, who has such a sweet, sweet spirit and I can see in Kate a deep love of Christ and a desire to serve Him in our community.

Then there’s sweet Sydney, who started out as part of our youth program, then in Sunday worship, and has remained active in our church throughout college.

And I remember JC as a young girl in our children’s program and visiting her assemblies over at Christian Heritage—now all grown up and graduating college.

But I thought of all the people in my church too and even Christians who don't attend my church.  The title of the message is: Welcome to the First Day of the Rest of Your Life.  And that’s true not only for graduates, but for all of us. Through Christ, we can always make a fresh start.  And so each day is like we just graduated.

For this message, God gave me 1 Timothy 3:1-7 to preach.  It’s not the scripture I would have chosen for this occasion.  And even though I tried to choose another topic and scripture instead, God kept leading me back to this one.  So, I believe it’s the one God chose.  In it, the Apostle Paul writes to his young apprentice Timothy about the organization of the Church and the different roles in it.  In particular, Paul gives Timothy the qualifications of a Bishop.

1 Timothy 3:1-7
This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.” 

Right off the bat, let me clarify, the Greek word the New Living Translation renders as “church leader” is Episkypos.  It’s where we get the English word Episcopal, like the Episcopal Church.  What Paul is talking about here is not just the average run of the mill church leader.  He’s talking about Bishops.  The NRSV and KJV actually translate it as Bishop.  “Whoever aspires to the office of bishop…”

So a church leader [bishop] must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?

A church leader [bishop] must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.

Bishops are Leaders
Bishops are leaders in the church.  As the early church in New Testament times grew and expanded rapidly, they organized like this.  A group of new Christian believers would gather weekly—usually in somebody's home—to pray, worship, study Scripture, and celebrate Holy Communion. They also worked together to make new disciples, feed the hungry, and help the poor.  They usually didn't have a church building at this stage (Christians didn't have money for extra buildings and their meetings were often outlawed).

Each house church had a pastor and there might be numerous houses of Christian worship in an area.  (Remember, most people at that time had to walk to church.  So their church had to be within walking distance.)

Each area had a Bishop to oversee all the many house churches in the area.  That's literally what Episkypos (Bishop) means.  It literally means overseer. This is how most Christian denominations are still organized today. 

And this is how the United Methodist Church is organized.  We group local churches together in a larger area and a Bishop is appointed to oversee them.  We break areas down even further into districts & have district superintendents help the Bishop.

So in the early Church, the Bishop was the top leader in the church.  Not that they were more important. Paul makes it abundantly clear in other passages that no person in the Church is more important than another.  No office or role is more important than any other.  The Body of Christ needs all its many parts.  It’s just that the Bishops are leaders.

As the leaders of a large area of Christians, Bishops need to understand Christian doctrine.  They help keep the various local churches on the right track, teaching the right things. They keep churches moving in the right direction fulfilling Christ’s mission to make disciples.

Bishops are also spokespersons for the whole Church.  In the NT Times, Bishops were the ones city officials would talk to when they wanted to get a message to all the Christians in an area.  As representatives for the whole Church, Bishops needed to represent Christians well.  That’s why Paul said their lives must be beyond reproach.  They should be self-controlled, wise, have a good reputation, good at entertaining guests, able to teach, not drunks, not violent, gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy, good at managing their own family.

Obviously, it's a tall order and it takes a special person to be a Bishop.  But what does this have to do with graduates?  And what does this have to do with you? 

Practical Application
We all have an important roll to play in the Body of Christ.  No role is more important than another.  Graduates, as you graduate, you have completed an important part of your training.  Maybe part of that is so you can get a certain job and have a career, but I think it goes deeper.  More important than earning a living, you will make a difference in this world.  You will shape your family.  You will impact your community.  You will influence people.  How will you shape them?  What impact will you have?  Will your influence be positive or negative?  You decide by your character and how you choose to live.

Will you aspire to be a Bishop? (I’m not aware of any of our graduates or anyone from my church here who aspires to be a Bishop, but you could if God calls you to it and the Church recognizes it, more power to you!)  Whether or not you aspire to be a “Bishop”, the qualities Paul lays out are great aspirations for us all.

The characteristics of Bishops in the New Testament exemplify the qualities every Christian should aspire to.  Lives beyond reproach, self-controlled, wisdom, a good reputation, hospitality, able to teach, not getting drunk, not violent, gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy, good at managing you own family…

Those are good qualities for our graduates to shoot for.  They’re good aspirations for all of us.

1 Corinthians 12:18-21 – 18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”  And verse 2727 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

I pray you will will aspire to have the very best qualities!

Let’s do something together.  This is for graduates.  This is for their parents and grandparents and everyone.  I want you to look at your feet.  Go ahead.  Do it…  Those are your feet.
Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!”
I hope you will use your feet to take you places to share the Good News of Jesus.

Look at your hands.  Do it…Those are your hands.
Ephesians 4:28 says, “
use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.”
I hope you will use your hands to do good work (whatever it is) and that you will have generous hands that help the needy just like Jesus has helps you.

Now, put your hand over your heart.  Feel it beating…  That’s your heart beating.
Matthew 5:8 says, “God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.”
I hope you will let Jesus keep your heart pure so you sincere and honest.  Let everything you do flow from the purest of motives.

The truth is, we all fall short.  But the Good News is there is forgiveness and redemption in Jesus.  So if you need to make a fresh start, turn to Him today.  Whatever happened in the past prepared you for the future ahead.  But make a commitment today to follow Jesus into the future He wants for you.

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