Thursday, April 08, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (11)

As with many things in the Christian walk, balance is in order. Sound doctrine says that godliness comes from faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But this requires study and attention. The gospel is so much more than getting people to pray a formulaic prayer. Faith is a gift and a mystery. To come to faith and belief in Jesus the Messiah is life changing. Along these lines, Paul tells Timothy and us that to preach and teach the gospel is good for the leader:

In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. Prescribe and teach these things. (1 Timothy 4:6-11)

Notice the balance of "faith and sound doctrine." Note the advice to "discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness." The metaphor between bodily discipline, which in context means physical exercise, and godliness. The first birth brings physical life, but that life is lived best in physical fitness and health. The less fit that you are, the less you will be able to do and enjoy. The second birth brings spiritual life, but that too is lived best in spiritual fitness. This comes from:

  •  Good nutrition -- words of faith and sound doctrine. The whole counsel of Scripture seen through the eyes of faith and God's mercy worked through the salvation begun and perfected by Jesus the Messiah. Legalistic and strange interpretations are not healthy to our spirit. Paul has mentioned genealogies, food, marriage, and worldly fables so far in his letter. Most of the Scripture can be understood through common sense readings. Certainly everything that pertains to life and godliness is low hanging fruit. As teachers, we must strive to be accurate and clear in our expositions and avoid the temptation to be profound with the "deep things of God."
  • Goals -- We are running a race, as Paul frequently says elsewhere. The goal line is not so much the end of our lives, but becoming of one mind and character with Jesus the Messiah. This is not legalism. This is becoming. For this we "labor and strive" for ourselves and others.
  • A long view -- A couch potato cannot run a marathon one day after he begins a diet and exercise program. Paul tells Timothy that godliness holds promise for both the present life and the life to come. What we do on earth makes a difference about who we are in the new heaven and earth.

Paul does include a statement here that requires pause, "we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." What does it mean to say that God is the "Savior of all men?" Does this mean that all men are saved? We know that this is not true, because the Scriptures speak of hell and the lake of fire and the detritus outside the gates of the New Jerusalem. So through a variety of images and direct statements, we know that all men are not saved. I would draw an equivalency between these scriptures, both from this letter:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. (1 Timothy 4:10)

God is the Savior of all men because who wants all men to be saved. But all men do not respond to the gospel. According to Jesus' parable of the soils there are 4 distinct responses to the Word of God: hardness, shallowness, worldliness, and godliness. So when Paul says that God is the "Savior of all men, especially of believers," he is saying that believers have connected with that salvation.

Paul, again, uses the phrase "a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance" in his letter. The first time he used it to underscore that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Here he underscores the advantage of godliness for today and for all time.

Let's get in shape to run the race ahead of us. Let us help and train others to do the same.

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

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