Friday, April 09, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (12)

Paul now has some personal words for Timothy:

Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 

Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 

Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:12-16)

"Let no one look down on your youthfulness." Let me do some math here. This letter to Timothy is dated 62 AD. It was during Paul's second missionary journey that he brought Timothy into his ministry (Acts 16:1). The date for this would have been as early as 49 AD and as late as 51 AD. If Timothy were about 17 or 18 when Paul circumcised him, Timothy would now be between 28 and 31 years old. This is not exactly what I would call youthful. On the other hand, Paul's letter assumes Timothy to be a leader of leaders in Ephesus and for such a task and position being 30 is quite young. And so, young Timothy must demonstrate his capacity to lead by maturity in character and example. In doing so, the 30 year old can have authority over the 45 year old elder that he has just appointed.

As the leader in Ephesus, Timothy is to conduct the meetings of the church in Ephesus and pay attention to:

  • The public reading of Scripture -- Unlike the USA, which last I heard has an average of 6.7 Bibles per household, personal copies of the Scriptures were not common in Paul's day. Therefore, people had their One Year Bible, if you will, through hearing it read. I should also note that the Scriptures that Timothy would be reading to the congregation would have constituted the Old Testament only.
  • Exhortation -- Using the Scriptures to appeal for change in hearts and behavior. Once again, this would be based on the Old Testament and would have drawn from the Torah (Law), Prophets, and Writings of Wisdom. As Paul wrote earlier, "We know the Law is good if one uses it lawfully."
  • Teaching -- General knowledge: history, prophecy, organization of the books, background information, etc. These are the foundations by which we perceive the plans of God and understand the Scriptures.

I will cover the rest of what Paul says in this section on Monday. 

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

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. ><>

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. ><>

Monday, April 05, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (9)

Paul moves from the qualifications of elders to that of deacons:

Deacons likewise must be 

  • men of dignity, 
  • not double-tongued, 
  • or addicted to much wine 
  • or fond of sordid gain, 
  • but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 

These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 

Women must likewise be 

  • dignified, 
  • not malicious gossips, but temperate, 
  • faithful in all things. 

Deacons must be 

  • husbands of only one wife, and 
  • good managers of their children and their own households. 

For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:8-13)

Deacons are those who work to meet the physical needs of  the body. They were first introduced in Acts 6 when the apostles saw a need for some to oversee the distribution of the food to the widows. 

Given the distinction between elders and deacons, it should not surprise us that:

  1. There is more latitude in character. For example, the elder is not to be addicted to wine, but the deacon is not to be addicted to much wine. They do not have to be above approach. They do not have to have a good reputation outside the church community.
  2. There is no requirement that a deacon be able to teach. 
  3. That women can be deacons.
  4. That new believers can be deacons.

The structure of Paul's deacon section makes the conclusion that women may be deacons somewhat in question, but only a little. He mentions women in the middle of the section. If he had placed it at the end or the beginning, one could make a firmer argument for exclusion. Placing it in the middle implies inclusiveness. Also, the only thing that perhaps would give pause to women deacons is that Paul talks about women and then says "Deacons must be husbands of one wife. etc." This is easily reconciled. In the first case, if "one wife" refers primarily to polygamy, few women would aspire to be the wife of multiple husbands. In the second case, Paul assumes that it is the husband who is the manager of the home and not the wife. This is consistent with his other teachings; especially 1 Corinthians 11. 

The model that I have for the church and its people are that:

  1. All believers will be given a "manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7) Each and every believer has a gift and a purpose to perform for the body and its commission to make disciples of all nations. Some of these gifts may take time to develop and mature, but we must all pursue them.
  2. There are some service tasks in body that require coordination or they are of a regular basis. These have need for people in recognized positions of authority in order to get the work done. This is a deacon role and may be filled by men and women. We must exercise some thought and care concerning Paul's admonition about giving a woman authority over a man. There is probably some wiggle room, depending on whether Paul meant elder authority specifically or whether he meant general authority.
  3. The spiritual and vision leadership in the church is the position granted to elders. These should be men of high character and who are able to teach.

For those that would like to make much of the baby boomer's grand experiment in gender issues, I urge an evaluation of the outcomes.

  • Are our families in better shape?
  • When we talk of God the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son, do the roles modeled in the Church give clear definition of these theological terms. What struck me about the Biblical Gynecology papers is that those in the church who hold an egalitarian view of men and women remove the authority the Father has over the Son.
  • Do the roles modeled in the church provide proper illustrations of other theological principles. God as a father and a husband. Israel and the Church as wives. Jesus has the head of the church as the husband is the head of the wife. We can not keep the comfort of these illustrations if we abandon the representative examples in our homes.

There may not be much that we can do to change society at the moment, but if the church will teach and promote Biblical authority roles within it, then the church will show a health in relationships and joy among its members that will cause many outside to notice and come in. If we do not, then we will experience the same disintegration among us that we have seen in the world. Paul concludes this section of 1 Timothy with a similar sentiment:

I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

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