Wednesday, April 07, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (10)

Paul's next words are interesting. Note how the removal of the chapter transition clearly connects these two thoughts. 

By common confession,

Great is the mystery of godliness:
He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 3:16-4:5)

By prefacing this section with "By common confession," we can surmise that the next series of assertions comprise one of the first creeds among believers. I have taken some liberty to include "Great is the mystery of godliness" as part of the creed, although the New American Standard and other translations make this part of the introduction. Read it both ways and let me know what you think. The most ancient manuscripts had little by way of punctuation and chapter and verse markings were not present. Most of the time, context makes meaning and thought separation clear, but other times there is some wiggle room. Indeed, if you read Ephesians 1 in the NASB and track the side notes, you will see that there is alternate punctuation that colors the meaning of the text ever so slightly.

But back to the creed. Great is the mystery of godliness. Have you ever thought of godliness as a mystery? And yet why is it that some people come to faith in Jesus and begin to show such character change and then lead lives marked by goodliness; but others struggle and sometimes fall away? This creed uses mystery in the sense of a truth that cannot be fully understood and has un-expected causes. This is because this godliness is based on the other assertions in this creed. Here in creedal form are the great truths expressed in Philippians 2, Hebrews 1 and other places:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. (Hebrews 1:1-4)

The creed implicitly tells us that godliness is the result of what Jesus did and our response to it in faith. That is the mystery. Through faith we come to know Jesus the Messiah and through knowing Him, we increase in godliness. That is the gospel. What we were powerless to do, He accomplished for us. This is why we must structure our churches to let in all kinds of people from all kinds of background. This is why we must preach Jesus the Messiah and His crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and return. This is why we must also preach about the power and filling of the Holy Spirit as a means of knowing Jesus personally and having power and motivation to change our lives. This, rather than legalistic teaching, is the key and the mystery of godliness.

This is why Paul then moves to his next comments:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-4:5)

Paul exposes the heart of legalistic Christian living here. I look at "men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods" as being examples of the types of things the legalists will say. So let's look at Paul's points one by one:

  • later times -- The full force of what Paul addresses here will occur at some unspecified time in the future. I personally do not have a clue concerning whether this is still future. I see enough in this passage to warrant watchful diligence in the local church in which I serve and espcially watchful diligence in my own attitudes.
  • fall away from the faith -- Since faith is the foundation of the Christian life, this marks a transition to legalistic religion
  • deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons -- It is one of the unfortunate aspects of post enlightenment western civilization that we do not fully recognize the activity of the spiritual realm in the affairs of men. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge the presence of evil in the world as having sources and directions from outside the physical realm.
  • hypocrisy of liars -- Paul may or may not be referring to intentional lying here. I think that this is an important point, because there has been many a cult founded by sincere people who believed that what they were saying is true. But the doctrine that they preach is a lie, and there will be sufficient evidence to the discerning of the hypocrisy behind the lie.
  • forbid ... abstain -- As mentioned above, Paul refers to examples of legalistic doctrines
  • gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. -- It is funny how a legalistic environment can kill the enjoyment of life. In Jesus' day, the Pharisees would have preferred sick people to remain sick rather than have Jesus heal them during Sabbath hours.  Yet those same men would attend to one of their hurting animals. Jesus brought the right perspective to the issue, "So then it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."  Note again that Paul affirms belief and knowing the truth as contrasting the works of legalism.

As leaders we must properly discern these truths and communicate them to those who look to us for guidance. Paul is very brief in his words here, and I have added some of my own thoughts. By no means are the implications and meanings exhausted. What strikes me is the importance of teaching these things correctly. 

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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