Friday, December 18, 2009

1 Timothy 2:1-4

This entire chapter is devoted to instructions on prayer (v1-7) and worship (v8-15) in response to false teachings on these crucial elements of the faith. The latter half of this chapter emphasizes the divisive spirit of the false teachers.

V1-4 – 1I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Paul, with the word “then,” ties chapter 1 to chapter 2. He has urged Timothy to continue in faithfulness to Christ without being overly concerned with the appearance of outward success. How might Timothy best accomplish that task? Paul says with four different words that it comes through prayer. Praying for “everyone” (v1), or “all men,” is meant to show the inclusiveness of the gospel, in the response to the exclusivist false teachers; but it is often misinterpreted. Paul clarifies what he means in v2, basically including all kinds of people. So praying for everyone means praying for all kinds of people, including those in authority and even kings.

Praying for Nero at this time was probably not something that came easily to persecuted Christians, but doing so was intended to ease their trials (“that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”) Because Nero, and others in authority were persecuting the church, or trying them by teaching divisive and false doctrine, living peaceful and quiet, godly and holy (or dignified) lives, did not come easy; but maybe through prayer God would alleviate some of that tension, for godly living is good (v3; Jeremiah 29:7). The false teachers in Ephesus were unwilling to include certain people groups – namely kings and those in authority – in their prayers, thinking them too unspiritual and therefore unworthy of intercessory prayer. On the contrary says Paul, these prayers, including intercession, requests, and thanksgivings, please God our Savior (v3).

In v4, Paul says that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” We can acknowledge that Paul’s statement refers to God’s general benevolence in taking no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). God wants – He commands – all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). But at the same time, all people everywhere are not saved. So many question God’s will here. This is an illustration of His revealed will; in terms of what would be nice for each individual human and beneficial for humankind, salvation through faith in Christ (“a knowledge of the truth,” referring to an intimate, personal and complete knowledge of God) and repentance. God wants this, but His decretive will is that all kinds of people – from every tongue, tribe, and nation – would be saved. God, therefore, has not elected all people to salvation, but all kinds of people; the elect don’t come only from the poor class, or from Israel – they come from everywhere. God has a special love for His elect, as He brings them (us) to Himself. And another part of His decretive will is that some people would experience just judgment, while others receive mercy (Romans 9:1-24). This is all due to nothing on the part of the individual, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; but we are saved by His grace according to His good and perfect purpose. Allow Calvin to conclude:

“We see the childish folly of those who represent this passage to be opposed to predestination. ‘If God’ say they, ‘wishes all men indiscriminately to be saved, it is false that some are predestined by His eternal purpose to salvation, and others to perdition.’ They might have had some ground for saying this, if Paul were speaking here about individual men; although even then we should not have wanted the means of replying to their argument; for, although the will of God ought not to be judged from His secret decrees, when He reveals them to us by outward signs, yet it does not therefore follow that He has not determined with Himself what He intends to do as to every individual man. But I say nothing on that subject, because it has nothing to do with this passage; for the Apostle simply means, that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. Now the preaching of the gospel gives life; and hence he justly concludes that God invites all equally to partake salvation. But the present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons; for his sole object is, to include in this number princes and foreign nations. That God wishes the doctrine of salvation to be enjoyed by them as well as others, is evident from other passages of a similar nature.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

1 Timothy 1:18-20

V18-20 – 18Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. 20Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

In this passage, Paul returns to the theme from v3-7, not that Timothy should strive to succeed in succeeding Paul in his ministry, but that Timothy would continue faithful to Christ in his own ministry. He uses military language to get Timothy’s attention; in fact, one author defined a Christian as one who is engaged as a soldier in spiritual battle. That’s what Paul wants Timothy to recognize. He commands (“give you this instruction”) him to fight. He also speaks of prophecies given about Timothy, and commentators conclude that the elders who laid their hands on him (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6) as an ordination rite must have also prophesied about him and his ministry at that time. Paul is charging him not to forget the importance of that ceremony, which set him apart in a tangible way.

Regarding the importance for Timothy to cling to faith and a good conscience, notice that both are also mentioned in v5. Faith here may mean both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, while a good conscience results from those. David, after cutting the corner off Saul’s robe in the cave, was stricken by a guilty conscience; he knew, from his faith in God, he shouldn’t have done that, and he immediately repented (1 Samuel 24:4-6). The refusal to recognize and repent leads rightly to excommunication (v20). It appears that Paul has excommunicated (handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme) Hymenaeus (see 2 Timothy 2:16-17) and Alexander for the sake of discipline unto recognition of their sin and timely repentance. And here we hold out hope that they may yet return to godliness, but when Paul uses a similar metaphor in 1 Timothy 4:2 of the false teachers, there appears to be no hope for their restoration. Timothy is to note the shipwreck some have made of their lives by abandoning faith.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

1 Timothy 1:12-17

V12-17 – 12I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to His service. 13Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

In this passage, Paul reviews his calling as a testimony to the power of the gospel at work in him. In other words, Paul himself serves as an example of the gospel at work. The first response to understanding God’s grace in salvation is thanksgiving. Notice again, thanking God and/or thanking Christ (and/or the Holy Spirit for that matter) are practically and doctrinally synonymous, much to the chagrin of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (I can’t help but mention that the Oneness Pentecostals don’t have the same problem, since they see God and Christ as one being in a modalistic framework.) Paul is thankful to Christ for strength, for considering him faithful, and for appointing him to His service (v12). Paul was the least faithful person he could think of, at least in regard to the gospel, and that’s why he acknowledges the mercy shown him, though he was “once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (as Saul of Tarsus, under the law). Paul attributes that mercy to the fact that he was an ignorant unbeliever (v13). Now this statement doesn’t work when you break the speed limit; you can’t say, “But I didn’t know.” And that’s not what Paul is saying either. Rather Paul is saying that his attempt to be righteous by law keeping was ignorant. He didn’t know Jesus, and so he was condemnable; the law didn’t help him, and he needed to abandon it. But he shown mercy under the gospel, not under the law, as God’s grace, “along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (v14), abundantly poured out on him in the fullest sense.

The fruit of grace is faith and love. This realization and self-reminder causes him to evoke a “trustworthy saying” (1 Timothy 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8), the truth that “Christ Jesus came into the world [implying His pre-existence] to save sinners (v15). There’s a six-point sermon in that part of v15. God’s grace has no limits in terms of the degree of sinner it can save. Early on, Paul called himself “the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9), and then five years later, “less than the least of all God’s people” (Ephesians 3:8); and now towards the end of his life, he considered himself to be the worst of all sinners, yet he was saved. That means anyone can be saved by trusting Christ, for it is by grace that we are saved, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). And it also means that Paul’s estimation of himself decreased as his understanding of the gospel of grace increased. John the Baptist understood this, saying, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30); and that’s what we come to understand as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

Paul says in v16 that it was “for this very reason” that he was saved. The gospel came to him in order that he may be an example of the great patience and willingness and ability of God to forgive. Paul was a sincere false teacher prior to conversion, and the fact that God had mercy on him, again, means that God will save all, no matter what, who come to Him in faith. It is the gospel – welcoming the Person of Jesus Christ as Lord, believing specific truths about Him, and waging war unto holy living – that brings eternal life, that saves, and that transforms. And when Paul mentions eternal life in v16, he’s thinking not of the duration of that everlasting life, but the fact that it entails life in its fullness, which is both immediate and to come, both now and later. Paul was saved by the gospel to serve, and his gracious, dependent, and undeserved ministry service reveals that he was truly saved by the gospel.

Finally, in v17, Paul issues a brief but glorious doxology (similar to 1 Timothy 6:15-16). He can’t help but praise God when he reflects on the grace shown to him in the gospel, and that’s a sign of genuine conversion. He refers to God literally as “King of the universe,” “eternal” in the sense of “God of all ages,” thinking past, present, and future, “immortal,” or literally “incorruptible,” as in the ever-living and only self-existent One, “invisible,” referring to God as Spirit, and as “the only God,” referring to the culturally unique position of the day of monotheism. Paul chooses these magisterial characteristics to describe God, and then he rightly ascribes to God “honor and glory for ever and ever.” The honor mentioned here is akin to the Hebrew word “kabod,” also seen in v11 translated “blessed.” It refers to infinite value and weight and brilliance and worthiness. And then the glory mentioned is ambiguous; it could refer to God’s righteousness, holiness, perfect character and image, or even His splendorous presence.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

1 Timothy 1:6-11

V6-11 – 6Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. 8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that law [or that the law] is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which He entrusted to me.

Paul begins this section (v6-7) by explaining the false teachers’ motive. They engage in meaningless talk out of pride (not out of love, which is the means and the desired end), thinking themselves capable of teaching the law, but they don’t even grasp it for themselves. They end up confidently affirming things about the law that they don’t really understand. They ought to be fruitful (teaching sound doctrine in love, which edifies and produces love), but they prove to be fruitless (speculating out of pride, which doesn’t edify or produce love). And just in case Timothy needed a refresher course on the law, especially in relation to what these false teachers were proclaiming, Paul gives that in v8-11, which is one long sentence in the Greek language.

His digression on the law implies that it is good when used properly, as a corrective rod and directional staff that reveals our sin and guides us to Christ. The law has no power over us unto condemnation once we are safe in Christ; however, the law is still useful since it reveals God’s character. And the specific sins he mentions in v9-10 mirror the actual Ten Commandments (Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:21), which align with sound doctrine. Paul concludes in v11 that one’s determination of sound teaching and understanding of the law must be in accord with the gospel message. In other words, the law doesn’t determine the meaning of the gospel; rather, the gospel helps us to see the intention of the law, which is to convict us of and restrain sin. (It is also used to point us to Christ and guide us in righteous living once we come to Christ by grace through faith for salvation.)

Finally, with the seldom-used term, “blessed God,” Paul is referring to the truth that only God – Yahweh (YHWH) – is worthy of praise, and only doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel has value. And just in case the Jehovah’s Witnesses are nodding their heads in agreement with Paul, he goes on immediately (v12) to thank Christ as equivalent to Yahweh, thereby refuting the JW’s, as the One who appeared to him on the Damascus Road and commissioned him for gospel ministry.