Tuesday, March 16, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (2)

In his greeting, Paul placed his ministry under the commandment of God. Christian leaders must be true to their Lord. To be otherwise is to harm the body. So immediately after greeting Timothy, Paul instructs him about instructing others:

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

If you are a teacher of the Scriptures, what are your goals? Do you seek to make them clear, or do you search for an angle that makes for an interesting teaching? Do you seek to lay aside presuppositions and let the text speak, or do your presuppositions color your understanding. Teaching the Scriptures requires a strong fear of God and a real sense that you will give an account for what you teach. As James says, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. (James 3:1)"

I think that it is important that Paul uses the word "strange" here. There will always be points of discussion and disagreement among sincere students of the Word. Paul is talking to doctrine that is "out there" or "on the edge." He uses the terms myth and speculation. Do you not get the sense that he is writing of things that can hardly be substantiated, but have a certain appeal? What is he writing about? What examples meaningfully instruct us concerning what Paul means? As I meditated on this passage, I thought of some examples. I even had them written out and then I erased them. There was not a single one that I could list that would not be controversial in some circles. By listing them, I would be generating the very fruitless discussions that Paul warns about. Then I realized how little information Paul gives about those men and their teaching. Nothing he says will generate fruitless discussion--except to speculate on the details--and I saw good in following his example. Paul refuses to name names or give details. He required Timothy to use discernment and discretion in handling the situations. Now the examples I wrote had these general characteristics: :

  • Their proponents were believers. Paul was not instructing Timothy about heretics, just off the wall, tangential notions.
  • The proponents are well meaning.
  • There was a curious logic to them. Once you were caught in the discussion there was no easy escape.
  • For some positions, adherents will label detractors as divisive. What I mean is that a minority position is declared to be truth and, therefore, any discussion on the matter a priori is divisive. 
  • For other positions debate is the intended and desired result.

So the goal of the teacher is to teach the Scriptures in truth and in a manner the promotes Christian Love, pure hearts, good consciences, and sincere faith.

  • Love: considering others as more important than ourselves. Being quick to forgive. Being kind to friends and enemies alike. The teacher must model this and teach it.
  • Pure hearts: The teacher can have no guile and must be free from hypocrisy. He must teach others to be likewise. Being pure in heart is to be transparent. The public face matches the private face.
  • Good consciences: The teacher must teach how to handle personal and corporate sin. The principles of confession and restitution are good topics.
  • Sincere faith: The teacher must challenge the student to seek a vital personal relationship with the infinite personal God.

If you are a teacher you need to keep in mind three things. The first is to take Paul's instruction about your goals. The second is to recognize that Paul's list is not exhaustive. Our goals are to make disciples, to counsel, to strengthen, and many other things. Third, do not become legalistic about this. Do not take each and every lesson and check off the required elements and avoid anything that might make instruction interesting. Rather see the end goal as the lives you would like to see your students living down the years: lives full of faith, hope, and love.

If you are a student, find the teachers who have the goal of teaching the Scriptures with clarity and common sense. Do not seek stimulation only. If your common sense contradicts what the teacher is saying, give your common sense a chance to speak to your heart. However, if the teacher is being clear about what the text says and your "common sense" is crying foul. Follow the text and the teacher.

Wednesday: The Legal use of the Law

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