Friday, March 19, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (5)

This November every newspaper in this country will have a headline that reads, "<P> WINS" where <P> will probably be one of Bush, Kerry, or Nader. It is a good bet that at least one of these names is bad news for you. Bush supporters dread Kerry/Nader. Kerry/Nader supporters dread Bush. What are you going to do if your man loses? What are you going to do if he wins? Let me suggest these next words of Paul:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 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. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

It is amazing to me how much God takes credit and responsibility for those who govern the world? The book of Daniel maps out the broad sweep of human empires that all work the purposes of God. While those kings basked in their victories and spoils, the Lord moved His purposes forward:

  1. Before the Babylonian invasion, Nebuchadnezzar carted off the young royals from Jerusalem and brought them into his court. Among them was Daniel, who eventually came to be almost second in command. Daniel would later provide inspiration and protective oversight for those whom Nebuchadnezzar would exile.
  2. A few years later, Nebuchadnezzar carted off another 10,000 Jews. These were craftsmen and builders. They came to Babylon and built communities. Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah provided encouragement to this group.
  3. A few years later, Nebuchadnezzar demolished Jerusalem and deported its people. Thanks to the earlier deportations, there were communities that could receive the refugees.
  4. The consequence of all this is the purging from the Jews of their persistent idolatry. The majority of the Jews since then have been solidly monotheistic and zealous for the true and living God.
  5. So the Medean/Persian empire came next to return the Jews to their land and fund the rebuilding of the city and temple.
  6. Alexander the great conquered the world and made Greek the common language. He also inspired more widespread search for knowledge. Although he died, the presence of a universal business language encouraged the Jews to translate their Scriptures into Greek. For the first time, the Scriptures were available in a broadly known language. Many Gentiles began to pursue a knowledge of God. This is why, when you read the book of Acts, that every synagogue that Paul preached in contained a number of "godly Gentiles."
  7. Then Rome came and built roads and established the Pax Romana--Roman Peace. At this time, Jesus came, died and rose from the dead. The gospel could spread rapidly because of the roads, relatively safe travel, and the Greek language.

So you can see that for all the externals, the Lord is constantly moving forward His program for the salvation of the world. Many times His people were caught in the momentous events and suffered. But He is always with His people who trust Him.

Although we should note and praise the broad sweeps of historical destiny, Paul directs us to pray that those in authority enable us to "lead a quiet and tranquil life in all godliness and dignity." In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, it is the Hobbits who represent this truth. They are the ones who lead such lives, often unaware of the protecting services of Gandalf and the Rangers. 

So you can see from the persistent move of history, that the road for the gospel continues to open and widen. There will come a day, when we all will be able to live Hobbit lives. For now, there is work to do. God desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. In terms of nations, tribes, and tongues, we are nearing its fulfillment.

Will it be Bush or Kerry? At one level, the result matters. I do not deny the fundamental differences between these two men. But I am confident of this. The man in office a year from now will be the one who will move the Lord's ultimate plan forward. It matters not whether the man makes it easier or harder for us to lead Christian lives. He, like Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, Alexander and his 4 generals, and the Caesars move at the direction of God to work His purposes on the earth.

Does this not deserve our entreaties, prayers, petitions, and thanskgiving?

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

Thursday, March 18, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (4)

Paul ends this fist section of First Timothy with this:

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)

Note, again, how Paul's greeting meshes with his message. In the greeting he writes, "Paul, an Apostle ... according to the commandment of God." He now writes to Timothy, "This command I entrust to you..." Leadership is not autonomous. Leadership is in the service of those that are led and works to accomplish the goals of the Head, which is Jesus Christ.

Paul told Timothy that the goal of instruction is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" and here Paul urges him to keep the faith and a good conscience. He now warns that not keeping a good conscience can lead to the shipwreck of faith. We need to teach the truth and be honest with our failings to follow. That is integrity and maintains a good conscience. To teach the truth and live the lie in secret is very dangerous indeed. 

Whereas Paul was anonymous regarding those who taught strange doctrines and dallied in speculative non-essentials, he names names when it comes to bad doctrine. Hymenaeus and Alexander have blasphemed. Paul wants Timothy and others to know their names so that they can avoid their teaching. In Second Timothy, we get a clue regarding what Hymenaeus taught:

and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:17-18)

So leaders: Be wary of speculating about things on which the Scriptures say little. Promote those things about which the Scriptures have much to say. Command, teach, and live in a way that promotes love, faith, and a good conscience.

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

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (3)

There are some things that the Scriptures speak of tangentially but are things that generate more than tangential interest. "Who is Satan and where did he come from?" is an example. This combination of sparse Scripture and abundant curiosity is one of the reasons that teachers and students can become embroiled in strange doctrines. It takes maturity to leave such things alone and move on and cherish the substantive subjects. The Scriptures are not there to satisfy our curiosity about evil and its origins, but they are full of God's goodness and a life of faith. The answer to strange doctrine, then, is the correct application of the whole counsel of Scripture:

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted. 

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. 

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:8-17) 

There are many evangelical Christians who count the Old Testament as a bad thing. They confidently assert, "We are no longer under the Law but under grace!" Although there is a certain element of truth in the statement, the truth requires more finesse. After all, the promise of the New Covenant as written in Jeremiah is this, "...I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." (Jeremiah 31:33b). Here Paul says several things:

  1. The Law is able to identify sin and to teach truth about God and His paths. The same evangelicals who say "Not Law, but Grace" can often be heard saying or singing, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." This is a quote from Psalm 119 and speaks about the Law. Law is light. It is not darkness. People can use it in dark ways, but that does not extinguish the light. The Law is for sinners because it can tell them of their sin so that they know from what they need to be saved. The problem with Law is not that it is bad, but that it cannot impart righteousness. It can tell me that I am jealous and murderous, it cannot make me be a loving and generous person.
  2. Paul counts himself as the chief of sinners. He uses the present tense when he says this. If Paul, near the end of his days, can call himself the chief of sinners, then who am I to say that the Law has no benefit to me.
  3. Acknowledging sin is the means by which we find mercy. Law and Grace are partners.

Grace is not a New Testament concept. The Old Testament word "chesed" which is often translated as "loving-kindness" would call grace a synonym. Faith is not a New Testament concept either, which Paul makes clear in Romans, "For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'” (Romans 4:3) The New Covenant is about the giving of the Holy Spirit and free access to God by virtue of the superior quality of Jesus death over the death of goats and bulls.

The contrast between what the Law reveals about mankind and the grace and mercy that flow from the work of Jesus Christ move Paul to praise. 

By avoiding the commands of God and focusing only on grace, we cannot have a complete picture of who He is and who we are. we use the Law illegally when we use it to justify ourselves and condemn others. Rather, if the Law condemns us, and we seek mercy, grace, and power by the Holy Spirit, the Law becomes written on our hearts and we can move in the fruit of the Spirit against which there is no Law:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

This is cause for praise.

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

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

Monday, March 15, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton

If you aspire to Christian leadership, the letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus are worth studying. Paul is passing the baton of leadership to the second generation of Christian leaders. In them, we observe what Paul considered important as he teaches them about goals, responsibilities, and technique. They are of great value.

Paul begins his first letter to Timothy with this greeting:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:1-2)

As I have noted in my expositions of Philemon and Philippians, Paul's greetings have a way of under girding the central message of the letter. The same can be said here. Note the elements:

  • Paul calls himself an apostle. By this he is writing the letter from his office as an apostle. The letter, therefore, carries apostolic weight. 
  • Paul emphasizes this further by saying that his authority derives from the commandment of God and Jesus. Since this letter instructs Timothy to be a leader of leaders, Paul establishes that which safeguards Christian leadership: the correct interpretation and application of Scripture..
  • Paul refers to God as our Savior. We tend to think of Jesus as our Savior, but Paul indirectly reminds us that the Father desired to save and sent His Son into the world to accomplish it.
  • Paul refers to Christ Jesus as our hope. It is through Him that salvation has come.
  • Paul writes as apostle, but also as a spiritual father to Timothy. Where Timothy is concerned, Paul's apostolic authority is mediated through a father's affection.

There comes a time in life when a one begins to think about turning things over to the next generation. I find that happening to me more and more. For example, I am beginning to make the preparations for this year's Passover dinner at my church. Once more, I will sit with my youngest son and coach him in the "four questions." Before him came his two older sisters and his older brothers. He is the last of the children that I have. Who should be next, except my oldest grand daughter? At that time, who should lead the Passover celebration in the church? It will be time for my son, her father, to pick up the tradition and carry it forward.

Paul has been about the business of the gospel for many years when he wrote this letter to Timothy. The year is around 62 A.D. Paul is over sixty years old. His body bears the scars of dangerous endeavors. It is no accident that the last letters we have from Paul are to the next generation of church leaders. He has begun to pass on his legacy. In so doing he continues to pass that same legacy to generation after generation of leaders.

Tomorrow, I will begin the study of this letter in earnest. You will see the connection between the greeting and the first issue for which Paul has instruction.

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