1st Timothy 4: Predicting the Future…Today!

1st Timothy 4
We are living in unsettling times. Certainly, I am finding them unsettling. As I write this, various issues dominate the news and our culture:

  • The horrifying shootings in Orlando;
  • The rise of varying forms of extremism;
  • The knee-jerk response to this in the form of extreme secularism;
  • The pressure to conform to these various agendas.

I find these things unsettling as a Christian. The worldview I hold to is coming under increasing attack, and I find myself being put under increased pressure to abandon my views and conform to what the world thinks. I find this unsettling, and I expect this: I cannot imagine how difficult this must feel to older Christians, who are used to the Biblical Christian worldview being the majority held in society.

Even more unsettling is the fact that some professing Christians are going along with some of these agendas and modifying what they believe, not in the light of God’s Word in the Bible, but to conform to what the world wants or expects.

These things are unsettling, and may cause us dismay. One thing we shouldn’t feel, however, is surprise because at various points in the Bible, there are predictions that this very thing would happen! 1st Timothy 4 is one of those places.

1. Abandon the Truth (v. 1-5)
It wouldn’t  be fair to say that Paul predicted these things happening. Paul, quite rightly, points to God as the inspiration for this prediction:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. (v. 1-2)

It would have taken a great deal of foresight for Paul to make this prediction (although, knowing what he knew about God and the world, I’m sure Paul could have deduced the direction the world would take). I therefore think it must have been God who spoke through Paul, and gave him a real sense of what we, today, are experiencing.

Why does Paul suggest that those who are not following or teaching God’s ways are in fact following and teaching things from deceiving spirits or demons?

In the Christian faith, the overall emphasis of God is to put the world to right. God ultimately achieves this through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Since this is God’s emphasis, we can conclude (and indeed see!) that the enemies of God are working to disrupt and destroy God’s attempts to put the world to right.

Therefore, whenever a person believes, teaches or works for something which is contrary to God, His plans and His desires, they are actually contributing to the cause to destroy all that God is working to achieve in setting the world right. I believe there are a minority of people who will actively pursue this, but the vast majority will be contributing inadvertently. Many will be unaware that their actions are contrary to what God wants. It is for this reason that verses 6-10 are so important.

2. Be the Example… (v. 6-10)
Although Paul has changed subject to speak more about culture, he refers back to the first three chapters in this section. He encourages Timothy, and by extension, us:

If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. (v. 6)

We are all called to point out to others (but especially our fellow Christians) when they are not living in a way which fits with what God requires of us. This can be difficult at times, as not everyone may readily receive our prompting. This is why, if we ever are to correct fellow believers, we must do so in a spirit of love and gentleness.

It is in this section we find some interesting verses which relate to salvation:

This is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe. (v. 10)

In this verse, we see two things:

  1. Clearly, God has a desire for all people to be saved: if this were not the case, He could not be described as the Saviour of all people;
  2. This is not the same as saying all people are saved: if all people were saved, Paul would not need to make the distinction between God’s desire to save all from sin, and those who end up being saved.

This is a complex piece of theology, and there isn’t the time to go deeper into these issues here. But it is still worth noting, and we can return to it later.

3. …Even Although You’re Young (v. 11-16)
So, Paul foresees the direction the world will take, and encourages Christians to stand out and stand up for the way God would have things. He offers this encouragement in this letter to his young friend, Timothy, so these next verses shouldn’t come as a surprise:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (v. 12)

I personally find this a very encouraging verse. As a young man training for pastoral ministry, I sometimes feel I lack either the wisdom or necessary experience to be an effective Church leader. I, and I hope other Christian young people, take this as both an encouragement and challenge that we should set an example to all followers of Jesus, no matter their age or stage in life.

Conclusion
There is no better conclusion to this section that to simply allow Paul to speak for himself. The encouragement he gives us in the final two verses are far better than anything I could come up with myself!

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (v. 15-16)

1st Timothy 3: How to Be a Leader

1st Timothy 3
I feel it’s time for me to return to this series of posts, and try to offer some thoughts on what a Bible passages is saying to us today.

Previously in this series, we have reflected on the need for the Truth of God’s Word, and by that we mean the whole Bible. Then, we considered what it looks like to live as an ordinary Christian, and how this differs from the world around us.

Paul continues along this theme, but shifts his focus to those who are pursuing a call to Church leadership.

1. Qualities for Church Leadership (v. 1-13)

Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. (v.1)

This passage of the Bible speaks to me on a very personal level, as I approach the end of my training for full time ministry. It is helpful for me to reflect on the qualities I should expect of myself in order to be an effective and authentic Christian leader.

Paul speaks to two forms of Church leadership here:

  • episkopos: This is usually translated as “overseer” or “elder”. The role of this Church leader is to have oversight of the affairs of the local Christian community. Although this word is applied to episcopal Church government, I find it difficult to justify any form of Church polity from these verses alone.
  • diakonos: This carries connotations of a servant leadership. In the modern Church, deacons tend to follow this idea of a servant ministry: looking for ways to service others.

I would, however, argue that any form of ministry should contain elements from both: oversight and service. Certainly, this was the kind of leadership Jesus demonstrated: He led the disciples, He had oversight over them; but He was also keen to serve His disciples. A good example of this was when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in John 13.

The qualities Paul highlights are fairly self-explanatory; there’s not much I can add by way of reflection! I would note that the expectations and qualities for overseers and deacons are very similar. From this section, and by way of summary, I think Paul suggests that the following qualities should be sought in a Church leader. He or she should:

  • Be above reproach, self-controlled, respectable and hospitable;
  • Faithful to his or her spouse (I know the text reads for male leaders, but I think this can be applied the other way to include women. See my previous post to explore a little about women in leadership);
  • Be of a temperate nature;
  • Able to teach;
  • Not prone to drunkenness, violence, being quarrelsome, or loving money;
  • Can manage his or her own family;
  • Should not be a recent convert;
  • Must have a good reputation with outsiders.
  • Be sincere;
  • Keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience;
  • Must first be tested before being admitted to office.

This is quite an incredible and detailed list. It could almost put you off becoming a Church leader! What is clear, however, is that Paul believed there should be a fairly strict set of criteria which should be applied to Church leaders. The question is; why?

I believe the reason for such strict criteria is because of the recognition that Church leaders set examples to the rest of the Christian community. The sort of behaviour deemed acceptable or unacceptable for a follower of Jesus is often derived from what the Church leader does or does not do.

That is not to say that our faith or salvation is based on how we live. It is, however, the case that, once we begin following Jesus Christ, we are called to live in a way which reflects His ways, and we do this in response to the love God has shown us through Jesus.

If that is the case for the ordinary follower of Jesus, how much more for those in Church leadership? Just as Paul encouraged his fellow Christians to follow his example as they, in turn, try and follow Jesus’ example (1 Cor. 11:1), so people will look to us as Church leaders, trying to follow our example as they in turn try and follow Jesus.

It’s also worth noting the following from James :

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1 NIVUK)

Church leaders will be judged more strictly, and not just be those to whom they are accountable on earth. When we stand before God, He will ask us how we responded to his call to minister to His people! How we live will not affect our salvation (Christ has covered that completely!), but we should be prepared to give an account for how we live, as others will follow our example.

Why is Paul Writing? (v. 14-15)

As is often the case in Paul’s letters, he covers a range of issues. At this point in the letter, we are reaching a point where he is about to change gears and consider other matters. As he does this, he explains why he has written this letter to his friend:

I am writing to you with these instructions so that…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar of truth. (v. 14-15)

Who is Jesus? (v. 16)
Paul completes this section with a wonderful, short statement of who Jesus is. I think this speaks for itself:

He appeared in the flesh,
Was vindicated by the Spirit,
Was seen by angels,
Was preached among nations,
Was believed on in the world,
Was taken up in glory. (v.16)

Conclusion
This chapter should cause us to pause and consider how God is calling us to live, especially as Church leaders. This is of great importance, as others will follow our example. Yet, it is encouraging that this chapter ends with an allusion to the Gospel, as Paul reminds us exactly who Jesus is.

1st Timothy 2: Be Different

1st Timothy 2
In the last chapter of Timothy, we thought about Truth. Now, we are going to think about what being a Christian looks like. Christians are to be different from the rest of the world.

1. Be Praying for ALL People (v. 1-4)
This chapter opens with an explicit command: pray for all people. This includes friends, family, colleagues, even “all those in authority”! Praying for some people may come more naturally than praying for others, but we are still called to pray for all people.

Why? Paul gives us two reasons: 

  1. “…that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (v. 2) We pray that we are allowed, as Christians, to live peacefully and reflecting the love of God to others. This motive for prayer focuses on self.
  2. “This is good, and is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (v. 3-4) God is pleased with us when we pray, especially when we pray that all people would come to know God. This motive for prayer focusses on others. 

Praying for all people may not come naturally, but we are still called to try and pray for all.

2. Be Witnessing for Christ (v. 5-7)

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. (v. 5-6)

I think these verses speak for themselves. Paul goes on to say that his call in life is to share the reality of these verses with others. As Christians, we are also called to share this with others. 

We can do this in different ways; from being involved in Church, to working in our community, to meeting someone for a cuppa. No matter what we do, we are to do it in a way which witnesses to the love of God found in Jesus Christ. 

3. Be Different…Act Different (v. 8-12)
These verses contain some gender-specific teaching from Paul:

  • Men: conduct yourselves “without anger or quarrelling” (v. 8). It is a stereotype to think that men are filled with anger or violence. Unfortunately, it is a stereotype often proven to be true. Here, Paul is urging men not to live in the way which is wrong. Men; do not conform to stereotypes! Be different for Christ!
  • Women: live with “modesty and self-control” (v. 9). Again, it may be a stereotype, but there are those who live without modesty or self-control (go to the average club on a Saturday night if you need evidence of this!) Again, the urge here is not to live in a way which is wrong. Women; do not conform to stereotypes! Be different for Christ!

This leads into two verses of Scripture which are quite unpopular in our current culture:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. (v. 11-12)

These verses are labelled as “sexist”, and have been misused to advocate the oppression of women. This is, however, incompatible with the wider view of gender in the Christian faith, which advocates equality among the sexes, not least because, “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

An alternative translation of these verses from N.T. Wright helps shed some light on what’s really going on in these verses:

They must study undisturbed, in full submission to God. I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them, rather that they should be left undisturbed. (N.T. Wright, 2011:464)

He goes on to comment:

…can equally mean: ‘I don’t mean to imply that I’ now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women’…Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10 that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop what gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them. (N.T. Wright, 2004:25-26)

I think this is helpful, and allows us to fit these verses into wider Christian beliefs. 

We are to be different, then, by not adhering to stereotypes.

4. A Tangent (v. 13-15)
Sometimes when Paul writes letters, he ends up going off on tangents. The final two verses of this chapter feel like a tangent.

I would, however, make two observations from these verses:

  1. Paul states that Eve was deceived, but not Adam (v. 14). We can interpret this as either: a. a reason to blame women for sin, or b. Adam sinned “with his eyes open”. In other words, he wasn’t deceived into sinning, but did so willingly, following what Eve had done. I think the latter is a much more reasonable conclusion, and a damning one at that!
  2. What does, “she will be saved through child-bearing”? (v.15) mean? The idea is that, although Adam and Eve sinned, through bearing offspring, salvation was to be found: Jesus Christ was the offspring of Adam and Eve, albeit after several generations.

Conclusion
How are Christians to be different? Firstly, Christians are to be different by praying for all people. Secondly, Christians are to be different by witnessing for Jesus Christ. Thirdly, Christians are to be different by acting and interacting differently. We are not to adhere to stereotypes, but to live in the way that God wants.

As some final words of encouragement, I point you to the last words of this chapter: I encourage you to “continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (v. 15). Make this your prayer, and God will help you do just that.