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Studies in 1 Timothy: What Has God Commanded? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Joseph R. Holder   



 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it 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; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.  (1 Timothy 1:5-11)

 Typically we leave the term “commandment” in this lesson in a generic setting; God has generally commanded certain things.  Contextually we should not leave the passage so void of specifics.  In the first verse of this letter Paul indicates that he is writing to Timothy “by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ.”  The contextual presence of this term links our study verses directly to this opening statement from Paul, and requires that we view our passage as a specific explanation of Paul’s intent in writing First Timothy.  It tells us what the Holy Spirit intended with the letter from Paul to his young helper on behalf of the Ephesian church. 

 Only in the Galatian letter do we see such abruptness in Paul’s openings as appears here.  Although we see no hint that Paul is upset with Timothy, we do get the impression that he has a profound conviction of need to address; to correct a problem through Timothy’s ministry at Ephesus.  Timothy is not the pastor at Ephesus, but was rather left there as Paul’s spokesman, assigned to correct certain problems that Paul discovered during his last visit.  The absence of a paragraph that acknowledges thankfulness for Timothy or other such pleasantries further leads me to conclude that Paul’s letter to Timothy has a specific purpose to confront and to correct problems in this church.
 
 Since we recently studied Second Peter, we should make an obvious notation of the differences in form or structure between Paul’s concern for false teachers at Ephesus and Peter’s concern for false teachers among his readers.  Before confronting the false teachers, Peter establishes the positive factors that will assist his readers in avoiding the problem of false teachers.  Then in his second and third chapters he confronts the false teachers with disarming directness.  In First Timothy Paul confronts the question of false teachers immediately.  The subsequent themes of the letter that appear in significant details cover practices that will ensure a sound and healthy church that is capable of avoiding the snares of false teachers.  Thus in Second Peter we see the positive emphasis first followed by the negative.  In First Timothy we see the negative set forth at the outset, followed by the positive. 

 In both Second Peter and First Timothy we see the character of the false teachers emphasized more directly than their teachings, though in First Timothy we see more of the doctrinal content of the false teachers than we see in Second Peter.  From Second Peter we gather that Peter views the false teachers as depraved—in fact likely unsaved—men who are to be rejected by the church as clearly as their teachings.  In First Timothy we sense that one of Timothy’s charges is to confront those who are teaching false ideas with the idea of recovering them.  I believe that this difference accounts for the fact that overall First Timothy is far more positive and constructive in its tone than Second Peter.  Paul wants no one at Ephesus to doubt that Timothy is his representative and that both Timothy and the church are to know without question what Paul teaches and expects them to teach.  Apostolic authority clearly appears in his tone to Timothy, but the intent consistently appears that Timothy is to carry this message to convince those in error, along with the whole church, of Paul’s teaching and their responsibility.
 
 “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.”  Godly teaching must grow out of a loving heart both in the teacher and the taught.  Regardless of other lessons we may gain from Jesus’ interrogation of Peter after the resurrection (John 21:15-24), we cannot avoid the obvious point that the man who teaches God’s children with authority and blessing must do so out of a loving heart, love first and foremost for the Lord Jesus Christ, but also love for His “sheep” and “lambs.”  Teaching conviction must further grow out of a pure, not hypocritical, heart.  The man who teaches must believe what he teaches to be God’s truth.  He must not teach with guile.  He cannot intentionally mislead those whom he teaches.  It is possible, though deplorable, that a preacher-teacher may intentionally mislead people to believe his errant teaching.  Paul will not allow such equivocation in a teacher.  A preacher should use tact, grace, and diplomacy, but Paul forbids the use of intentionally deceptive guile.

 Secondly, the godly teacher must teach out of a “pure heart.”  He must strive to practice what he preaches in his own life.  He cannot rationalize a habit of non-compliance in his personal life with the gospel that he teaches from the pulpit. 

 Finally, the godly teacher must teach from a perspective of sincere, not duplicitous faith.  Faith in God and authentic belief in the clear message that he teaches must characterize his whole ministry. 

 These three divinely inspired filters must remain constantly in the mind of the wise teacher if he is to effectively teach and lead believers in their faith and conduct.  They challenge not only the teacher’s words and actions, but they equally probe his motives.  Those who preach should carefully screen every message—before preaching it, not afterwards—through these tests. 

 Once Paul sets the filters in place for the motive and content of the godly preacher-teacher he is prepared to begin his examination of the false teachers at Ephesus.  Everyone who fills the pulpit should do so from these foundational principles, but some do not.  What is the likely motive or outcome of a preacher who fails any one of these tests?  “From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.”  Paul’s first descriptive term is “vain jangling.”  This term is generally defined as simply “vain talking;” Trench is more specific, “that ‘talk of fools,’ which is foolishness and sin together.”  His next point confronts the spirit versus the content of the false teaching.  They desire “to be teachers” of the law, but they are void of understanding either the law, which they falsely claim as their authority, or the content of their teaching from the law.  This clause raises a relevant question.  Is a New Testament gospel preacher’s primary objective to “teach the law”?  We need not probe the tension between Old and New Testaments or law versus grace to address this question.  What is the primary content of a healthy New Testament gospel?  Whether we study the abbreviated copies of sermons from Acts or the theme of the various New Testament letters written by inspired men to various churches and individuals, we readily conclude that the Incarnate, crucified, risen, and ascended Christ is to be the constant pillar of every gospel message.  Aside from personal character and qualifications, these false teachers at Ephesus had the wrong objective in mind.  If they were marksmen on a target range, they would fail for they aimed at the wrong target.  Their preaching aimed at the wrong objective. 

 Rather than allowing us to think that he was in any way antinomian, against the law as if it were something odious, Paul quickly focuses our attention to the divine intent in the law.  God gave it, not as something to be despised and opposed, or to be neutralized into something irrelevant as the typical antinomian perspective teaches, Paul affirms that the law came from God and had (even has) a divinely approved purpose.  God intended the law for at least two functions.  First, based on Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, the law was designed to draw a fairly detailed analogy of the moral perfection and the priestly work of the Lord Jesus Christ, a “schoolmaster” to bring the chosen nation to Him when he arrived in human form.  Secondly, as Paul outlines in our study passage, God intended the law as a clear outline of His moral character, and the moral character that He expects us to live and to urge in others.  This premise explains Paul’s approach to the law in our passage.  There is nothing in the law to which a godly believer should object.  God intended it to confront sinners and to leave stubborn sinners without excuse in their sinful conduct.  Positively, the law depicts the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Negatively, it defines sin and leaves us with a constant reminder, “carved in stone,” that God has imposed certain absolute “commandments” upon us regarding moral conduct.  He did not give the law as a list of “helpful suggestions,” but as absolute moral commandments; “Thou shalt…” and “Thou shalt not….”

 “…[A]nd if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.”  We may legitimately engage the question as to whether New Testament believers should view themselves as “under the law” or not.  Paul makes an informative case on this question in Romans 6.  We may not wisely dispute that the moral implications of the law are as obligatory upon New Testament believers as Old.  There is no moral or ethical conflict between the law and the gospel, between the Old Testament and the New.  May we wisely respect the divine intent of the law in both particulars, and may we carefully hear its message regarding our Lord Jesus Christ in both His sinless person and His perfect sin-covering work.  For a person claiming to be an authoritative teacher in the church to imply conflict or to misuse the law is, according to Paul in this lesson, inexcusable.
 
Paul’s ultimate authority for his teaching was not the law, but “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.”  The gospel, not the law, was the basis for Paul’s epistemology, his source of knowledge and authority.  The law reflects God’s moral character and His commandments to man.  New Testament moral and ethical teachings harmonize perfectly with the moral content of the Mosaic Law.  However, Paul rejects the notion that a preacher should “take the hearer to Sinai before showing him Calvary.”  This is more the doctrine that Paul opposes than what he affirms.  May we follow this wise and inspired man and his teachings. 

 Gordon Fee offers several pertinent points regarding the specifics, and lack thereof, of the false teachings that troubled the Ephesian church.  

1. The term “other doctrine” literally means another teaching.  Occasionally in the Greek culture it also referred to novel teaching.  In this sense a theological “novelty” is not an innocent or poorly thought-out triviality.  It more refers to a distinct perversion of the gospel.  Occasionally Bible students and teachers alike will apply untested esoteric ideas to a passage that does not match the grammatical message or the historical-contextual interpretation well at all.  It appears that Paul has a more insidious error in mind, though such thoughtless creative imagination should be viewed with more caution than passivity.  Thoughtlessness and Biblical interpretation are dangerous partners indeed.  Fee indicates that the verb tense suggests that Paul intends for those who have been teaching other doctrine to do so no longer.  Rather than viewing these words as a generic prohibition, the intent is that current activity cease. 

2. The reference to fables and endless genealogies may suggest a synthesis of Hellenistic and Jewish teachings.  This unusual blend would be predictable from “Diasporo Jews,” Jews dispersed throughout the Roman Empire as contrasted with Jews who lived in Judah.  They had deep Jewish roots, but they also lived in a distinctly Greco-Roman culture, so one should not be surprised to see these ideas come together in an unusual combination. 

3. Fee rejects the likelihood of the common gnostic philosophy that apparently invaded the church at Colosse and possibly Corinth (also the recipients of 1 John).  Gnosticism was a major problem to the first and second century churches, but we need not make it the only problem that existed.
 
4. R. Kent Hughes adds to Fee’s list.  Adding to the fear that a sound and well-instructed church can quickly fall into error, Hughes underscores the urgency of Paul’s instructions to Timothy on behalf of the Ephesian church. 
1:19; some have rejected the message and make shipwreck of their faith.
4:1; The Spirit specifically warns that some will depart from the true teachings and give more heed to doctrines of devils and seducing spirits than to the accepted truth of the gospel. 
5:15; some have already turned away from the truth to follow Satan.  
6:10; some will follow greed for money, piercing their spiritual selves through with a dart and griefs.   
6:21; some wander from the faith.
  
5. Whatever the specific errors may have been Paul’s emphasis on the qualifications and character of elders and deacons distinctly implies that the problem involved men who failed these qualifications.  The details that Paul gives to the qualifications for church office make a point that we cannot minimize or ignore.  We cannot compromise the qualifications listed without grave dangers to our churches. 

  Perhaps one of the major points for us, given Peter’s second letter and Paul’s first letter to Timothy, is the multitude of problems that we are liable to face as a local church, along with the variety of reactions that we should adopt to deal with them.  It is easy to embrace an overly simplistic view of problems that is either too lax or too harsh.  You can’t ignore cancer in your body and avoid the danger that it will eventually take your life.  Neither can you ignore serious problems in your church without similar danger to the church’s survival.  Pollyanna is not a good role model for churches with problems.  An equal danger on the opposite side of the question is the threat to the mission of a local church from unreasonable, not to mention unscriptural, harshness and severity.  You don’t amputate your arm because you discover a small splinter in your index finger.  You focus on removing the splinter and healing the wound.  This diversity of problems and of solutions may surface one of our most challenging problems.  We have witnessed excommunication as a severe disciplinary measure, but we have largely become oblivious to any other form of possible discipline.  We may have actually missed the true intent of excommunication by this attitude.  “…With such an one no not to eat…” (1 Corinthians 5:11) more likely refers to eating the Communion supper than to a common meal.  If so, the indication is that barring an errant member from the Communion table was an accepted form of first century church discipline, a measure that doesn’t even register with us.  If we assign a low value to the Communion table, we will fail to see the appeal of such a measure to an errant member, adopting a “so what” attitude rather than viewing this measure as a grave factor to a member’s spiritual health and conscience. 

 Regarding the specific emphasis that Paul puts on the qualifications for the office of deacons and elders in this letter, I offer another question.  Typically we view ordination to these offices as a lifelong assignment.  Without question, it should be so, but what does a church do when a man who holds one of these offices no longer qualifies for the office?  The accepted reaction of our generation is to ignore it.  Pretend it doesn’t exist and hope that it will simply resolve itself. 

Occasionally I have encountered local churches that used the office of deacon specifically as a motivational tool with young male members.  “He is a good man.  We should ordain him to the office of deacon and get him involved so that he will stay with us.”  The New Testament’s teachings regarding this position know nothing of such a low view toward this office.  Quite the opposite, Paul and other New Testament writers view the office as belonging to men who are seasoned in the faith and, by that seasoning, demonstrate a strong commitment to their faith and wisdom beyond their personal humanity regarding matters of church business and activity.  “Let these things first be proved…” does not allow for the office of deacon to be used as a motivational tool for young inexperienced members. 

 Should a church revoke the ordination of a man who no longer meets the qualifications of either office?  As radical as this question may seem, consider it only in light of Paul’s teaching in this letter.  Is it possible for a church to revoke a man’s position in such a way as to help him respect the gravity of the office and the authority the church should have over his life?  In New Testament times there were not several thousand varieties of “Christian” churches from which one might choose.  There was one choice only. In our time this question is difficult indeed.  Before taking such a step a church should work with loving patience so as to ensure the faithful endurance of the man involved and his family.  Loving patience works far better than harshness in matters of church authority and discipline.  Some denominations practice appointing deacons for a limited period of time rather than for life.  Since the office of deacon does not involve a divine call, but rather qualifications of mature faith and the other qualities that are listed, both in Acts 6 and in Paul’s Pastoral epistles, this is a possibility that does not at all conflict with Scripture.  Since the office of elder or minister does involve a divine call, it presents a church with a greater challenge.  My preference would be to work long and hard with the man in this office to help him come to terms with his deficiencies and regain his Biblical qualifications. 

Many years ago a leading minister in an independent church in southern California was confronted with his ungodly conduct toward a female member of the large church that he served.  Upon learning that the church’s elders (This church practiced elder rule.) had undeniable evidence of his sin, this man confessed to the sin and accepted the recommendation of the elders that he step down as pastor, as well as from any form of active ministry, for a season of supervised restoration.  He agreed, but within a couple of months the leader of another denomination in the area contacted this man and offered him a lucrative position in public ministry in his church.  The errant preacher immediately accepted the offer.  However, despite limited success in his new position, this man never regained the unclouded respect in the Christian community that he formerly enjoyed.  I believe that, had he submitted to the elders in his original church and actually worked with them to repent and to regain his self-discipline, he could have been restored to far greater respect than he ever regained by his chosen course.  This episode was outside our fellowship, but because I listened to this man on a local Christian radio station, his situation intrigued me.  I followed it with interest over several decades. 

In this case I believe the man erred so as to permanently cripple, if not terminate, his ministry by his running from his church’s efforts to help him repent and regain his ministry.  I believe his original church’s approach of temporary inactive ministry, followed by supervised restoration, could have helped him regain the respect of his position in time.  His avoidance of the consequences of his action revealed a deeper flaw in his person that left him permanently handicapped to full respect.  According to Paul in our study lesson, the glorious gospel is committed in “trust” to a man who fills the ministry.  The man who honors the office must live up to that trust and retain the respect and confidence of those to whom he serves. 

 Regardless of our church culture, we cannot take the teachings of Paul’s pastoral letters lightly without bringing grave danger to our church and to its divinely assigned mission.  Are we prepared to live this model seriously?

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