Saturday, December 2, 2017

SAINT PAUL'S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY - A QUICK COMMENTARY




“How to read the Bible” is an important question that should be asked by all serious disciples of Jesus. There truly is an “art and science” to reading the Scriptures. It is a science because there are certain laws that govern its interpretation. And there is an art to reading the Scriptures because the more you practice, the better you can do it.

Like any book within the canon of Scripture, we must concern ourselves with “context”. Who is writing to whom, when, where, and why are they writing, what is the historical setting that the book is written in, etc. First Timothy is a pastoral epistle of the Apostle Paul written to his son “in the Faith”, Timothy, who was the Bishop of Ephesus. (There are three pastoral epistles of the Apostle Paul: 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus.) These three pastoral epistles are descriptive of “the institutional aspects of the church.”But always keep in mind that the "Church" is not an institution, but a mystical reality that has institutions for earthly order.

Chapter 1: Paul, writing to Timothy (Bishop of the church at Ephesus), establishes the profound importance and significance of “sound doctrine”, aka. “The Faith” (1:2). “The Faith” springs from “God the Father, and Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:2). Paul warns Timothy to not “give heed” to teachings that generate “questioning” (doubting), and controversies. The teaching focus of the Church should be “sound doctrine" (1:10) which is based upon “The Faith”, which edifies the church members in a life of charity, purity of heart, and a good conscience (1:4, 5). As in Paul and Timothy’s day, there are today those people “desiring to be teachers” who have swerved (wandered) from sound doctrine unto “vain jangling”, who mishandle the word of God. Paul refers to “sound doctrine” in verse 10 which can be equated with “Holy Tradition” (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6), and with “The Faith” (Jude 3). The question to ask oneself is, “What is the “Faith” that Paul is speaking of, and “What are the “traditions” that Paul is speaking of?” The details of the “sound doctrine” are not spelled out in the text definitively, but it is understood that the Bishops have knowledge of the “sound doctrine.” The church inculcates the fullness of the Faith, even though the Bible does not give the details. Paul closes out his introductory remarks to Timothy with a Trinitarian doxology (1:17), and then makes it abundantly clear to Timothy that he is at war with false doctrine, and those false teachers who propagate unsound doctrine.

Chapter 2: Paul uses his introduction on the preeminence of sound doctrine as a spring board into the activities of the “institutional church” (1 Timothy 3:15). Jesus had said, “I will build my church”, and Paul revealed by the Spirit that the Church would have foundations, that is, the church would be “built upon the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). In verses 1 – 8 Paul gives God’s design for public worship, “First of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made…”: that all men “be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (2:4). God desires that the entire church pray in one accord (2:8). Verses 9-15 continue the theme of public worship with directions on modest apparel, and how women are to relate to their husbands in the context of the church. A question you may want to ask is, “Do we as a church pray together in one accord for the needs of the world?”In the Orthodox Church this is definitely a fact revealed in "the Great Litany." Over 40 years visiting Evangelical and/or Charismatic churches, and I have never witnessed intercession in one accord for the world and its needs. If church is invented "on the fly" it departs from the divine order prescribed by Holy Scripture. If you are an Evangelical pastor you may want to borrow "the Great Litany" for your congregation to pray.

Chapter 3: Paul reveals that the basic form of church government is founded in “offices” of ordained ministry, that is, the “offices” of bishop (3:1-7), and deacon (3:8-13). A bishop (episkopos = overseer in Greek) is to be the recognized (ordained) pastor/teacher/priest of the local church, meaning the church that resides in a particular city or countryside. FYI, each local church possesses the fullness of Christ. This is what is meant by the word “catholic” as found in the Nicene Creed. Catholic means universal in the sense that each local church everywhere, and for all time is complete in Christ, and possesses the fullness of truth as Jesus is the head of the church, which is his body (Ephesians 1:19-22). This hierarchy of church leadership is the very thing that leads the believers in a community (like Ephesus) to be in divine order. The gathering of the believers in a locale is “the house of God”, “the church of the living God”, which is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (3:15). The Church is catholic when it possesses the fullness of truth. This usage of the term “catholic” has no connection with the Roman Catholic Church.
    An important sidebar here is the topic of “truth.” The church is to be the foundation of “the truth.” And those who stand in the “office’ of “bishop” are responsible to "rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
    In verse 16 of chapter 3 Paul cascades from the churches responsibility to be the “pillar and ground of the truth”, into what the truth is, by quoting part of an ancient Christian credal hymn that clearly expresses the divinity of Jesus. Other such creeds are found in 1 Timothy 6:15; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Ephesians 5:14; Philippians 2:6-11; and Colossians 1:15-20. Creeds have been a part of the Church from the very beginning. The Apostles Creed was an early baptismal creed. The Nicene Creed has been confessed in churches weekly since the 4th century. A question you may ask is, ’Should a church have credal hymns whereby the saints can confess their mutual faith?” For my Evangelical friends, I think the practice of the Ancient Church confessing the Faith in unison via a creed, for 2000 years, is proof enough of its proper status as integral to divine worship.

Chapter 4: Here, in verses 1-10, Paul challenges Timothy (and all future bishops/pastors-priests/deacons) to do spiritual battle for the truth against the heretics and their seductive doctrines. A question you may ask is, “Is it biblical to reduce the Christian Faith to “Jesus only” with no regard for “sound doctrine”, the essentials of “The Faith”, or “knowledge of the truth?” The answer should be self-evident.
    The historical context in which Paul is writing to Timothy sees the spiritual landscape full of sects teaching a myriad of heresies, of which Timothy was responsible to expose, and to withstand with sound doctrine. He was to war for the truth (1:18) against “seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” These first century sects propagated Greek Gnosticism, and Jewish myths that communicated non-Christian views of God, Christ, humanity, and the world (cosmos).
    In verses 11-16 Paul exhorts Timothy to accept his responsibility to both, “command and teach” the people under his oversight. Verse 12 reveals that the content of his spiritual life should parallel his teaching. Verse 13 introduces us to God’s design for “public worship” (The NIV gives some sound commentary I think – “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture”). Following the reading of Scripture is preaching and teaching. It should be remembered that for centuries Christians did not possess their own copies of the Bible. The Bible was read systematically as a part of corporate worship. This practice produced the lectionaries that provide daily and weekly readings of the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles. A question you may ask is, “Is a church service complete without public reading of Scripture?” In verse 16 Paul challenges Timothy to “take heed” to himself, that is, his own spiritual life, AND to “the doctrine.” It is “the doctrine” that will save (preserve) both Timothy and his congregation from the “seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”

Chapter 5: In verses 1-16 Paul provides guidance for the church as concerns relationships within the family of God (Ephesians 3:14, 15). We are instructed to relate to older men as fathers, to older women as mothers, to younger men as brothers, and to younger women as sisters. Widows are to be cared for by immediate family. If no family exists the widows then become the responsibility of the church community if they meet the qualifications. A question to be asked is, “Are we as the church functioning as family?”
    In verses 17-25 Paul, again in the context of church polity, instructs Timothy in what way the members are to relate to those in leadership positions (those who would have had hands laid on them in ordination – Acts 14:23). Elders (Presbuteros in Greek): From the Greek comes the word presbytery, which means elders. Historically, presbyter was shortened to “prest” which gave way to the word “priest”. Originally, the local church had one bishop supported by numerous deacons. As a local church would grow in numbers, and the need for ministers grew, the bishop would ordain elders (priests) who would represent the bishop to the people. Church government has borne this form since the beginning; Bishop, priests (elders), deacons, and the people (laity), which share the priesthood with the elders/priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Paul guides that elders who rule well should be given double honour, “especially those who labor in the word and doctrine”; the material needs of the elders should be taken care of by the congregation (1 Corinthians 9:7-14); there are procedures in place for confronting elders; and ordination of elders should be a cautious process.

Chapter 6: Here we note that Paul instructs Timothy “how to teach” so that “God’s doctrine be not blasphemed” (6:1). All teaching should be judged firstly, in the light of the very teachings of Jesus Himself as recorded in the four gospels, and secondly all teachings should be scrutinized as to whether they contradict “the doctrine which is according to godliness” (6:3). Does the teaching lend to godly development, or does it feed worldly desires? Paul hones in on the subject of “mammon” (money, possessions, and things – see Matthew 6:19-24 and Mark 4:19). Paul chooses “mammon” as the proto-example of true teaching versus false teaching. Paul excoriates the false teacher as being “destitute of the truth”. Never let it be said that a pastor-teacher is destitute (poverty stricken) of the truth. Truth matters. A question that may be asked about a church is, “As a church do we desire truth, are we filling the people with truth?”
    In verses 13 – 16 Paul magnifies the divinity of Jesus again calling Him, “Lord”, and revealing that at His second coming He will be revealed as “the King of kings, and Lord of lords.” It should be noted that God (the Father) is distinct from the person of Jesus. And finally, Paul, in verses 20 and 21, reiterates that it is “The Faith” (6:21) that all teachings in the church should be scrutinized in light of. “The Faith” is what was committed to Timothy’s trust, and it is “The Faith” by which Timothy should judge any and all profane doctrines, vain babblings, and pseudo-science such as evolutionary theory.

The KJV versus the NIV (and other modern translations): Please take into consideration when studying the Bible in the English language that all Bible translations are not created equal. 1 Timothy is a classic example of the distortion that can take place when a translation is done poorly, or simply made to read easily with little knowledge of historical context, or done by people with an evil agenda. Since the late 1970’s The NIV has replaced the KJV as the Bible of choice in Bible-believing churches. My observation is that this reality has led to a dumbing down of the American church. I would strongly recommend that my brothers and sisters would begin to labor in the KJV or the RSV for both personal study, and teaching ministry; while using the NIV as a commentary for added insight. The original NIV (1978) is more reliable than the newer NIV's.

No comments:

Post a Comment