Tim Allen is an American actor famous for starring in a TV comedy called 'Home Improvement' in which he plays the accident prone star of a home improvement show. In one episode, Tim's wife Jill receives a phone call just before Tim arrives home, alerting her and a visiting friend to the fact that her husband has accidentally dyed his hands bright green while on the set of the show. After she hangs up, Tim walks in, hands in pockets, trying to hide his embarrassing situation. Jill and her friend have some fun, trying to trick Tim into using his hands, before revealing that they know what has happened.
In a lot of ways, Tim is a good illustration of our text for this morning. He has fouled up – yet again – and he wants to hide the fact. Isn't that totally understandable?
When you and I mess up, do we want other people to find out? No. We want others to think the best of us, don't we? We want them to know the good things we have done, and not be aware of our failings. And so we all have a tendency to try to hide the bad and promote the good about us. We all have a tendency to stuff our flouro green hands into our pockets and hope no one finds out.
Sometimes – perhaps even often - in this life we might succeed in hiding our sin but the apostle Paul reminds us in our text for this morning that no one will ever succeed in hiding their wrong doings forever.
Like Tim's green hands – though maybe not quite so clearly – the sins of some people are obvious, reaching the place of judgement ahead of them. The sins of others trail behind. But they all get there eventually. Likewise, some good deeds are obvious, and even those that aren't cannot remain hidden forever.
Why does Paul say this? It seems so disconnected from the talk of wine instead of only water and taking care of yourself that we saw in the previous verse. But is it?
Paul has been calling Timothy, throughout the letter, to do what will benefit the Ephesians, both in the teaching and leadership he provides, and in his practice from day to day. The mention of drinking wine was part of that.
If we were right in suggesting that Timothy might have been drinking water only out of a concern for his witness as a minister of the gospel, doesn't what Paul says in this following verse make more sense?
“Timothy, if you drink a little wine instead of only water, you're taking care of yourself as you should. You'll be doing something good – not sinning – and it will be clear that it is a good thing when your health improves as a result. If some people don't understand, don't worry about it.”
But what Paul says is still a general principle that we can draw comfort and encouragement out of today, without being in the same situation as Timothy.
You see, Paul's statement doesn't merely talk about the issue of whether we get away with evil in this life, or whether the good we do gets recognised in this life. It speaks to what happens in eternity – to the final analysis. Paul talks about our sins “reaching the place of judgment”, and good deeds not remaining hidden forever. He reminds us that everything we have done and will do will be brought to light on judgement day.
Is that comfort? It should be.
You see, Paul can say that because he knows that there will be a judgment day. This world, with all of its injustice, pain, suffering, imperfections – with all of its sin – will not go on forever. God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world. A day in which sinning will stop. A day in which everything will be made right. We are all headed for that day. We are all destined to be judged. Is that comfort? Yes! Because the judge is perfectly just! He won't punish you for sins you haven't committed. He won't let the guilty get away without punishment.
But what if you've got green hands? What if you're worried that your sins are going to overwhelm your good deeds?
If you're worried about that, you should be. Because this perfect judge also has perfect standards. He doesn't compromise at all.
And His standards are just not attainable by us. The judge of all mankind is the God who says “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.” He's the God who says “You shall not treat my Name like its nothing special.” He's the God who commands us to respect those in authority, be satisfied with His provision, speak the truth and care for our fellow man, perfectly. If we're relying upon our deeds, if we're trying to clean the green off our hands or get God to look at other things, judgment day should be a great cause for concern.
We need to understand our helplessness before God – the fact that there is nothing we can say, nothing we can do, no excuse we can bring, no circumstance that can take the blame instead of us. We need to know that we can't balance out our sin with a few good deeds - “good” in God's economy means “perfect”. It means done for God's glory, in God's way,
We need to understand that He made us to be and do so much better than owe manage in this life, and we as individuals and as a race have committed high treason against the king of kings. His anger at our rebellion is perfectly justified.
But God is not only just. He is also gracious and merciful. He knows our weakness. He understands our situation better than we do. That is why Jesus Christ was sent into the world. Jesus had to come precisely because there is nothing you and I can do. Jesus had to come precisely because there is nothing you and I can do. Jesus had to come to do what we could not do and to make possible what would otherwise be impossible.
Because although we might manage to make some of our sins less obvious on this earth; although we might manage to make our good works more obvious, nothing is hidden from God. The talk about sins going ahead of us or following behind is purely from a human perspective. Other passages assure us that not even a hair can fall from our heads without God knowing, that in Him we live and move and have our being. Nothing you and I have done will escape God's attention or be forgotten on judgement day.
But therein lies comfort as well as a cause for concern. Because if God knows everything we have ever done and ever will do, and He still sent Christ, what do we have to fear? We will not stand before His throne on judgement day, relying on Christ as we should, only to be told “Oh. I didn't know you did that! Oh! And that too! And those things as well?! No, you're too bad a sinner. You're going to hell.” No way, congregation. God already knows everything. He knew us perfectly when He sent Christ, and He still allowed His Son to willingly give His life that all of those sins might be forgiven. Nothing you have done or will do will come as a surprise to God, so nothing can cause Him to change His mind. This is not to say that we can then do what we like. No, we read earlier that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus – who have the life giving Holy Spirit working in them and therefore now live not according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. God's grace makes a difference in how we live, and that difference is the proof that we are saved by grace, our comfort and confirmation of our confidence in God when we read passages like this.
But like Paul, we all still sinners, having been saved by grace and we should all know, by God's grace, that He knows we are sinners and loves us anyway – if we are His.
We therefore ought to have freedom, brothers and sisters.
We should be able to be more open and honest with each other about our struggles and failings than your average non-Christian, because we shouldn't have unrealistic expectations of each other, and we ought – by God's grace – to be seeking to show each other the same grace that has been shown to us. We don't need, like Tim Allen's character, to hide our hands in our pockets and try to pretend all is well. Sure, there are things that you might not be comfortable admitting to, and I'm not suggesting “letting it all hang out” but if you know it's all going to come to light on judgement day anyway, and you know your fellow Christian struggles with sin too, what is the point to hiding things from one another?
We should note before we finish that Paul's focus here is not only judgement of sins. If my understanding of the relationship between these verses and the previous one is correct, judgement of sins is not even the primary focus. It is only here to strengthen the aspect of vindication that comes out through the mention of good works in verse 25.
You see, without confidence in God – without faith – it is impossible to please God. But with faith, you can do works that He considers good. And it's these good works that are in view in view 25.
Paul is reminding Timothy of the fact that judgement day will involve not only our sinfulness and desparate need of God's mercy coming to light, but also the goodness and grace of God, and the effect that that mercy has on us. The good works which God prepared in advance for us to do, from Abraham taking God at His word to Rahab saving the life of the Jericho spies, to prophets who faithfully proclaimed God's Word to Christians who faced death rather than deny Christ, to you and I in our everyday service of the Lord – all of these good works will also be brought to light on judgement day. Martyrs will be shown to have been right in putting their trust in God instead of recanting. Christians who sheltered Jews from the Nazis during World War 2, those who faithfully pray and Christians who just try to live as Christians and teach their children to do so too will all receive their just reward. And Timothy, the younger pastor in Ephesus, will receive his just reward for being a faithful pastor of the congregation, for taking care of himself in a way that allowed him to do more ministry rather than less.
Judgement day is coming, brothers and sisters. We don't know when, and we will probably never be able to say “It's tomorrow”, but it is coming. All mankind will stand before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and gave an account for how we have used the gifts He has given us. But for you and I who belong to Christ, judgement day is not a day to be afraid of. It is a day on which we will have to admit some less than savoury things that we have thought and said and done, but the overwhelming tone will be grace, and gratitude, and thankfulness, and praise.
Because even while we were sinners - even while our hands were stained as green as they could be, Christ loved us. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit knew us from before the creation of the world, knew all that we would do in this life, and they still loved us. Knowing all of our sin, Christ came into the world and did exactly what was needed to save us from sin and death and give us freedom and life, now and into eternity.
What is your response? What is mine?
What else can and should it be, but to thank God for His goodness and grace to us, and to seek to live lives that reflect our knowledge of the coming judgement and the work of His Word and Spirit in our hearts and minds.