Questions: What is wrong doctrine? What is good doctrine? How can we tell the difference? What’s love got to do with it? When should we lay down the law? Why do we need grace? What is our chief boast? To what we must hold on?
“Read More” to pursue answers from First Timothy.
Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence
And fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I would know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.
I find it intriguing that Paul refers to God (the Father) as Saviour, not Jesus; though I don’t know how significant that really is. The focus seems to be on the fact that he is discharging a duty, as one under orders from above. Which perhaps parallels the situation he has placed his discipleTimothy in:
While this feels like (and might even be) a ritual greeting, I suspect Paul chose these three blessings because he knew Timothy needed them to in his current assignment:
As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine,
That certainly sounds like something where he’ll need a lot of grace in order to show mercy and feel peace! So what is the wrong doctrine he needs to discourage?
Are we spending time on fruitless questions, or are we building faith? How can we tell?
Ooh! That last word is literally “unhypocritical.” The goal is to get people loving from the heart, not putting on an act to “seem” good. That’s really all there is to it — though we often try to add more:
Techies would translate “understanding” as “grok“, or (in the vernacular) “to get it.” This to me is one of the great tragedies of modern Christian education, whether in Sunday School or seminaries. We have become so obsessed with facts that we often neglect understanding (ironically, children’s Sunday School classes often better at getting to the heart meaning of Biblical stories that many sermons!).
Okay, I confess: this is one of my pet peeves, so I probably harp on it too much. Then again, it appears to be one of Paul’s as well. 🙂 Like me, he’s less concerned about laying down the law as understanding its purpose, so that we use it rightly:
And what does it mean to use the law lawfully?
Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
Now, this is actually pretty mind-boggling. The goal is not to obey the Law. The Law is important, even essential, but it is more like a prerequisite, to tell us what not to do. The real goal, as mentioned above, is to Love, with a pure heart and unhypocritical faith.
This is especially true for touchy subjects like homosexuality, which are almost certainly addressed above. Alas, so few people (on either side of the issue) bother to pay attention to the full context of what Paul is commanding: the Right obsesses about the Law and ignores Love, while the Left does the opposite.
The shared tragedy of both sides is that they have lost sight of the Good News of God’s love for us as sinners:
According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.
Which Paul, fortunately for us, never did:
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;
Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did [it] ignorantly in unbelief.
That is, he never forgot that he was a sinner saved by “exceeding abundant” grace:
And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
In fact, he sincerely saw himself as the worst sinner of all:
I don’t think this is mere hyperbole, or even just a reference to his past life. Just as he saw his past sins as due to ignorance, he can look kindly on the faults of others. But I suspect he could not so easily overlook his current failings, given how much grace (and truth) God had shown him.
I too am the worst sinner I know, even if I’m more “moral” than most.
This, to me, is the chief difference between Christian ethics and atheistic moralities; the latter all seem to assume that, at the very least, we i) want to know what’s good, and ii) are sufficiently pure in our hearts to correctly perceive it. From this perspective, our moral authority is based on our own claims of moral perfection.
Unlike Paul, whose chief claim to greatness is simply that he has received overwhelming mercy:
Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
So that God gets all the glory, not him:
Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, [be] honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
But all this — powerful and relevant as it is — seems merely a digression from his main point, which is to encourage Timothy:
Paul doesn’t shy away from militaristic language. He knows that Timothy is in for the fight of his life, and that he needs to “man up” and face it head on:
Holding faith, and a good conscience;
for the alternative is death:
which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:
And in case that isn’t blunt enough, he names names:
I don’t even want to think about what they might have to done to deserve such a fate. I’m more concerned about the nature of this “faith” we need to hold onto. Hopefully we’ll understand more of what Paul means as we work through these next couple epistles…
God, like Paul I know what it means to be the chief of sinners — and to be the recipient of Amazing Grace. Father, forgive me for the times I’ve engaged in foolish controversy, and merely “acted out” my faith, rather than living it from the heart. Lord, pour out your mercy and grace upon me, that I might be an agent of Love in your world. May I always seek your glory, and my own. Make me worthy to follow in the footsteps of men like Paul — and Timothy — who fought the good fight, and kept the faith until the end. I ask this in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to whom belongs honor and glory for ever and ever, Amen.
Today’s devotional marks my first excursion into the epistles. I’ve been contemplating studying 2 Timothy for a while due to its treatment of Scripture, which is the focus of my Second Goalpost with Alan. Also, the whole issue of leadership has been on my mind as our church begins a new Leadership Development program, which naturally turns my thoughts towards the pastoral epistles. Still, I occasionally feel the tug towards finishing the Pentateuch, and perhaps moving back onto a chronological roadmap for studying the Bible. What finally decided me was putting together an Index of all my devotionals to date. Apart of the embarrassing gaps, what struck me most is that I’d sampled all the major sections of the Bible except the Epistles. So, I figured I may as well give them their due, and spend the next couple weeks on Timothy and Titus. After that, who knows?