Tuesday, July 17, 2012

1 Timothy Chapter 1 – Preach the Gospel

(See the previous entry for an introduction to the Pastoral Letters)
Read 1 Timothy 1

1 Timothy 1:1-2 (ESV)
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope,

2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

The opening of 1 Timothy revisits the relationship of Paul the church-planting apostle and Timothy, the young Greek believer. We were first introduced to Timothy in Acts 16, when Paul desired to bring him on his second missionary journey. Acts tells us that young Timothy had a good reputation and was well like by his community. Later, Timothy helped Paul write Colossians and both letters to the Thessalonians (see 1:1 of each).

Here Paul writes to Timothy the pastor. He has been pastoring a church in Ephesus, one of the cities Paul visited in his travels. Whether he is actually still very young and inexperienced or only feels that way we do not know for sure, but Paul does use a great deal of ink encouraging Timothy to not be afraid in both of his letters.*

This man who struggled with timidity was dearly loved by Paul and trusted by a large and healthy church in the first years of the growing Jesus movement. Paul writes as an encouraging mentor, passing on his best advice for the young man's ministry.

Paul's first and foremost advice throughout his letters to Timothy is that he should teach good doctrine. In Paul's advice, this is preeminent. That Timothy should keep the good news of Jesus at the centre of all his ministry is important above all other practices in the church, for everything else flows from the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus. Without it, all the church has is a philosophy of moral living, and such philosophies lack any power to carry them out no matter how beautiful an ideal they propose. When the gospel is preached in its fullness, it is the power of God to fulfill all he has called the church to accomplish.

1 Timothy 1:15-17 (ESV)
15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

In this is the gospel, the good news of Jesus and salvation for the world. Paul lists for Timothy a myriad of sinful practices, but follows them by humbly listing the ways he has personally fallen short of God's righteous standard. To list the many sins and shortfalls of humankind is not to condemn, but to reveal the grace of God that would save anyone and everyone from these sins. The spirit of empire is in all of us, manifest in our selfishness and pride and decadence. Jesus turns the whole order toward justice by planting his justice and love within us, even those of us as wicked as Paul. God's grace toward Paul is the example of how deep his love and forgiveness will go. No matter how far gone, there is no pit so deep that his love is not deeper still. He is growing a new order from the old one, and he is beginning with the weakest and the least likely so that his glory may even more brightly shine.

There are two false teachings that Paul combats and teaches Timothy to guard against. The first is legalism, the false idea that we can somehow do enough to earn our salvation. The second is Gnosticism, the belief that salvation is found in hidden knowledge that allows us to transcend the physical realm, which it claims is evil. Gnosticism in practice would lead to an abandonment of the very world in which Jesus came as a human to save and renew. Verse fifteen combats both errors.

 Jesus did indeed come into the world. Our Saviour made himself part of this physical and corporeal reality. Jesus taught that it was the earth the meek would inherit. We are to participate in the Kingdom of God here and now, on this earth where God's justice and love is being and will be manifest physically and practically, in this present reality. Christians today would do well to remember this, and guard carefully against an implied or practical Gnosticism that would lead us to neglect this earth in any way for some false idea that it somehow does not matter in eternity. Jesus did not transcend the world, he was sent to it. We live our lives on earth not to transcend it, but to participate in its redemption.

Legalism is also targeted in verse fifteen. Paul was truly a heinous sinner, a violent murderer and abuser. The good news is that Jesus is for everyone, everywhere. None are restricted from entering his Kingdom and his rest through faith alone. It is a gift, and Paul is made the example. There are no rules or standards by which we can make ourselves worthy. There are no guidelines by which we can assure we remain in God's favour. His gift is given, price fully paid once for all. We only need receive it. Those who hold up impossible religious standards are shutting the door on those who God would have enter his Kingdom, and this is a crime.  The testimony of Paul shows us that anyone can be Kingdom citizens. He is the example of grace.

Doctrine simply means teaching. Good teaching is not just some bland exercise separated from our faith. It is essential for our faith. Verse ten says that sound doctrine can conform to the gospel. Therefore it can contradict the gospel. Sound doctrine, and teaching sound doctrine is imperative for teaching the gospel.

1 Timothy 1:18-19 (ESV)
18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19  holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith.

Grace, love, justice, and the practice of such in the world today is the anchor of our faith. This world is our home. We're not just passing through. By the free gift of the Holy Spirit working through us, and not our own works, God is growing his Kingdom in this world. Our journey of faith is a ship anchored in grace. The gospel is a life raft for the drowning. Let us never abandon the gift of life that saved us and empowers us to be free.


*As for Paul's authorship, it is possible that this letter is only attributed to Paul by a student of his. This practice took such great pains to convey the voice and spirit of a teacher that I will attribute the letter to Paul just as the letter itself does.

Read 1 Timothy 1


(The following is an excerpt from the previous entry, an introduction to the Pastoral Letters)

The pastoral letters, and all the epistles, should be read as following after the book of Acts, as Acts follows the Gospels. In other words, the Gospel, the Good News of freedom and justice and love and the Kingdom of God are central. This is the most important thing. Paul himself says this many times in his letters to Timothy and Titus. In Acts, the church takes its first steps in applying the message of freedom in community. The pastoral letters give practical instruction to pastors for how to demonstrate the teachings of Jesus and the truth of the gospel in their churches. Therefore, these letters reveal as much or more about the process of discerning that practical application as it gives us practical advice today. Also, our context and culture may make some of the advice irrelevant to us. 1 Timothy 5 is mostly about taking care of widows, of which there are none in our church. So these books also reveal much about the practical concerns that faced the early church.

Our job is to discern and practice the gospel in our context. The pastoral letters teach us to keep the gospel central. The examples of instruction in the letters help us see how we too can practically demonstrate the good news of the Kingdom in our context today. Whether we find the instructions within these pages helpful or irrelevant, the principles point to Jesus, and our mandate remains the same to discover how our churches may best honour Jesus and walk in faith.

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