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Grace in ministry: Avoiding the shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:12–20)

A sermon preached at Moore College Men’s Chapel on 28 July, 2021.

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Some very sobering reading I recently did was a 98-page report about a church and its leaders. It’s an overseas conservative evangelical church. Until recently, this church had been championed as a model for gospel-shaped mission and church life. God has used this ministry to lead many to salvation. It’s inspired many to have a deep commitment to God’s mission. And its leader was celebrated in international evangelical circles. He became highly influential.

Yet in the last few years, multiple allegations arose of a pattern and culture in the church of spiritual abuse. The allegations triggered the resignation of the leader, a detailed formal review—hence the report—many tears, and much pain.

The report raises many issues, including issues of accountability and leadership structure. But the issue I want to focus on right now is about sin and grace. The report was based on interviews with many people from the church, and to quote:

There was a widespread view expressed by participants that within [the church] culture there was an over-emphasis on sin and an under-emphasis on grace

The report describes how this grace problem permeated the culture. It affected membership commitment expectations, views of authority, pastoral care, and more.

Shipwreck with rainbow in background
Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

And yet, the thing is: nobody would deny that this church believed in grace. They preached a conservative evangelical reformed doctrine of grace. But on the ground, in so many instances, grace was not a key feature of this church’s ministry and relationships—with disastrous results.

I’m raising this because of our Bible passage today: 1 Timothy 1:12–20. It comes close to the start of 1 Timothy. 1 Timothy is a letter all about church and ministry and mission. But the passage is all about sin and grace.

It prompts us to ask: what is grace exactly? And how can we ensure that grace truly is central to everything we do in ministry? Is it some kind of zero sum game, so that where sin increases, grace must decrease? Or is it something else?

Last time, Pete shared from this same passage, a fantastic message about how the gospel of grace motivates mission. Today I want to dive even deeper, to explore the shape of grace, and what it means for our lives, and our ministries.

I want us to grasp that in Christian ministry, grace can’t only be the content we preach. Grace also must permeate and transform everything about us personally. And I want to give some suggestions for things we can do even now in lockdown, to wage the warfare of grace.

This is the introduction to a sermon: to continue, follow the audio or video link at the top of this post

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