Thursday, December 31, 2009

1 Timothy 3:14-16

We end this year looking at the final 3 verses of 1 Timothy 3. We'll begin the new year, Lord willing, by examining chapter four of Paul's first letter to Timothy.

V14-16 – 14Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He [or God] appeared in a body [or in the flesh], was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

In the concluding passage of this chapter, we finally come to Paul’s reason for writing – to teach Timothy, in light of or in the meantime of his absence, how to teach others to live godly lives in the pagan culture. One commentator suggests that it’s much like Leviticus; the laws were given especially since the surrounding culture was so different from the laws. God wants sanctification and holiness; His people are to be set apart and different. After acknowledging that he hopes to come soon to see Timothy, Paul announces that the church (“ecclesia” literally means “the called out ones”) is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (v15). In other words, “the church of the living God,” referring to the called out people of God in His self-existence, upholds gospel truth. Now this seems an amazing statement, and Paul even refers to it as “the [great] mystery of godliness.” In order for the truth to be taught and applied, the church must thrive. And in order for the church to thrive, the truth must be taught and applied. This great truth, the gospel truth of Jesus Christ, is “beyond all question.” In other words, every believer acknowledges Jesus, “the mystery of godliness!”

Paul concludes with several lines that most likely were lyrics of an early Christian hymn. In v16, we read of six particulars, on which commentators have had different opinions over the years. One view is that these six notes are nothing more than revealed truth about Jesus Christ; thus the pattern would be A-B-C-D-E-F. We would read this verse as Paul saying that God “appeared in a body” (or in the flesh). This testimony to Jesus’ deity in the incarnation speaks again to the importance of Jesus’ humanity and also His preexistence. His vindication by the Spirit speaks to His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4), or the declaration of His sinless life. That He “was seen by angels” may refer to His resurrection day, or to His ascension into heaven (Acts 1:10-11). Being “preached among the nations” is a testimony again to the value of and God’s purpose for the church (2 Corinthians 4:6). “Believed on in the world” speaks to the amazing grace of God and the importance of faith. And finally, “taken up in glory” refers to the exaltation of Jesus Christ (Acts 7:56) as God, especially at His ascension into heaven.

Another view suggests that these six particulars represent a different pattern, focusing alternatively on Christ’s earthly (humiliating) and heavenly (exalted) experiences. The pattern would be A-B, B-A, A-B. He “appeared in a body,” was “preached among nations,” and was “believed on in the world;” these, of course are representative of Jesus’ earthly experiences. On the other hand, He “was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels,” and “was taken up in glory;” these elements are purely heavenly, referring to Jesus Christ’s exaltation.

Finally, there is another view that these six particulars mentioned by Paul are patterned A-B-C, A-B-C. If this is the case, we could see them as referring, in the first set, to revealed truths about Christ, and in the second set, to revealed truths about the Church of Jesus Christ. I like all three perspectives, but this last one is most intriguing. Jesus came as a man, was vindicated by the Spirit, and was seen by angels; He was born, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. And then He was preached among the nations, people in the world believed on Him, and they were taken to glory in Him.

1 Timothy 3:8-13

V8-13 – 8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11In the same way, their wives [or deaconesses] are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Paul turns his attention now to deacons (Acts 6:1-7). One commentator says, “The term ‘deacon’ means ‘ to raise dust,’ which is metaphorical for menial service. It became the general word for ‘ministry’ in the New Testament.” The character traits yielded here are similar; deacons are to exhibit self-control in what they say, what they drink, and how they spend (v8). And notice the importance of sound doctrine (v9); in other translations, the “deep truths” are translated as “mystery.” They are the revealed but challenging truths of the gospel, the substance of the Christian faith. In v10, Paul says that deacons must be tested, probably to see if they exhibit orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Where we read “nothing against them,” it’s the word for “blameless,” but it’s a synonym for “above reproach” (v2; Titus 1:6-7).

In v11, Paul turns to either the deacons’ wives or deaconesses (Romans 16:1; Philippians 4:3; 1 Timothy 5:9). Perhaps some of the deceived women of the Ephesian congregation had come from this group (“malicious talkers”). These women were to have the same characteristics as deacons and to serve in the role of deacons, especially in places where male deacons could not serve (such as helping sick or elderly women). When Paul says that they must be “trustworthy in everything,” he’s specifically referring to their lifestyle choices, namely to fulfill their God-given roles rather than seek other roles out of pride or to self-satisfy. Finally, in v12-13, Paul returns to the importance of family management as a valuable and necessary characteristic for serving in church leadership. He says that the deacon who deacons well gains “an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” In other words, the servant is the one who is respected and assured – the last shall be first. In what ways are you a servant?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

1 Timothy 3:1-7

V1-7 – 1Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer [bishop], he desires a noble task. 2Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Paul focuses now on church leadership, the very problem Ephesus appeared to be having. Rather than leave the thought that women were snubbed, Paul makes sure that his audience realizes that not all men were fit for this position. Church leadership is extremely important, and it’s a matter over which the local church rises or falls. It was also a problem that seemed to be encouraged by the false teachers. So Paul focuses on the personal traits, not so much the duties, of elders and deacons. His thought process may be that putting the right people in place would lend to their duty fulfillment. On the contrary, false teachers emphasized duty for the sake of authority and not based on character qualities. In v1, Paul calls attention to an important topic (eldership), for the second of five times in the pastoral letters, by saying, “Here is a trustworthy saying.” The word “overseer” (v5; Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:17,28; Titus 1:5-7) is synonymous with “elder,” “pastor,” “bishop,” and “presbyter,” and the title describes the job function. For example, a teacher teaches, a pastor pastors, a shepherd shepherds, and a bishop bishops. Paul says it is good to covet a role in church leadership, and rather than wait for a clear calling from God, we may ascertain that the heart’s desire is the calling, for the Lord will give believers the desires of their hearts (Psalm 37:4).

In v2-7, Paul gives the traits of one qualified to lead God’s church. “Above reproach” entails being in good standing with Christians, as well as with non-Christians (v7; Titus 1:6-9). An elder must strive for holiness. “Husband of but one wife” has been really scrutinized by theologians, but given the sexual immorality of Greco-Roman culture, Paul likely means simply avoiding martial infidelity. Others suggest that Paul prohibits polygamy and divorce and/or remarriage after divorce or spouse-death with this trait as well. Paul mentions that an elder must be “temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable.” He is referring to sober-mindedness, sensibility, balance, orderliness, and courteousness. Finally in v2, “Able to teach” was especially important in the Ephesian congregation, given their trouble with false teachers. How important it is that leaders can convey truth to disciples!

In v3, Paul turns to negative traits – “not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” Paul never prescribes abstinence from alcohol, but makes it a point to avoid drunkenness while always being a good witness for Christ, especially regarding the weaker brothers (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8-10). V4-5 discuss management, or stewardship, and provide a familial illustration of its importance for the role of elder. For elders to lead the local church, they must show that they can lead their household.

V6 implies that elders could experience the big head (ego / pride) if given the role too soon into their walk as Christians; elders ought to be mature in the faith. Perhaps some elders in the Ephesian church, or former elders, had become false teachers and refused Paul’s apostolic authority. Also noteworthy, this last command is omitted to Titus, perhaps since the Ephesian church was well established and the Cretan church brand new. In other words, all of the Cretan Christians were new believers, so to appoint elders would require the ordaining of recent converts. Finally here, and in v7, Paul brings up the devil, acknowledging the spiritual warfare surrounding the church; selfishness – conceitedness and disgrace – opens the door for Satan.

Monday, December 28, 2009

1 Timothy 2:8-15

V8-15 – 8I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. 9I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15But women [or she] will be saved [or restored] through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

In v8, Paul mentions “men everywhere.” After covering prayer, he’s now transitioning into corporate worship, which includes prayer, rightly done by lifting holy hands (with words and lifestyle in agreement, opposed to those described in Isaiah 1:15), “without anger or disputing” (v8), a “settled opposition,” especially in attitude, toward each other. He’s excluding the false teachers and their messengers (perhaps young widows) with these elements of proper corporate prayer. Now Paul is not limiting participation to men (Acts 2:18, quoting Joel 2:28-32; 1 Corinthians 11:5), but it may be a clue to the specific problem in Ephesus. Perhaps the men were struggling with unity in worship, instead tending to anger and disputing; perhaps the men had become angry and discontinued corporate worship and prayer altogether, which led to the problem of women taking over the leadership, which Paul will address later. In other words, maybe the men weren’t stepping up to leadership, so the women did; but that wasn’t a justifiable reason. Whatever the reason, when Paul mentions the lifting up of holy hands (Psalm 63:4; 141:2), he’s thinking, again, of attitude issues. That’s reflected in his admonitions to women as well.

In v9, Paul addresses modesty for women (1 Peter 3:3-4). Greco-Roman culture appreciated extravagant dress, but again, this exhortation has motive and attitude in mind, not just mere behavior. We may again speculate that some of the Ephesian women had gotten caught up in the women’s freedom movement that spread throughout the Roman Empire at this time in history (1 Corinthians 11:2-16). Or perhaps we could conclude that the false teachers were going after the wealthy women of the congregation whose husbands were too busy to guard their wives from these wolves. Nevertheless, women ought to dress with modesty and discretion, in order that they would be esteemed as modest and discreet women of God.

Much ado is made about Paul’s statements in v11-12, but submission is the matter at hand. Paul’s command for Christian to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21) is not a matter of value or status in God’s sight, but rather a matter of God-given roles within various relationships. Interestingly the Greek word for “to have authority” in v12 more literally implies the usurping of authority, which again, was a particularly Ephesian problem of the moment, and it is used only here in all of Scripture (see 1 Corinthians 14:34). So again, maybe the men weren’t leading well, so the women took that role. It’s good for the women to want good leadership, and it’s quite a testimony to Christianity that women were encouraged in that day and age to be disciples and learn Biblical instruction; but rather than take it themselves, they ought to strive to encourage the men of the congregation to lead it. And God gave the leadership of God’s Church (the preaching and teaching eldership) to qualified men; Paul will detail those qualifications in the next chapter. Finally, it’s important to guard against the two extremes for women (and for men, for that matter) – that they can do nothing and that they can do everything. All people in the Church have God-defined roles, which are crucial for the Body of Christ to function as God intended.

V13-15 wrap up Paul’s thoughts here with an analogy. He appeals to creation for his command (see 1 Corinthians 11:8-12), and his reasoning is almost certainly situational. The Ephesian women were being deceiving by the false teachers (1 Timothy 5:11-15; 2 Timothy 3:6-7); so Paul takes a Scripture passage to show that it wasn’t the first time. But elsewhere (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22), Paul is comfortable blaming Adam for the introduction of sin into creation. Calvin comments:

“Because [Eve] had given fatal advice, it was right that she should learn that she was under the power and will of another; and because she had drawn her husband aside from the command of God, it was right that she should be deprived of all liberty and placed under the yoke. Besides, the Apostle does not rest his argument entirely or absolutely on the cause of the transgression, but founds it on the sentence which was pronounced by God. Yet it may be thought that these [following] two statements are somewhat contradictory: that the subjection of the woman is the punishment of her transgression, and yet that it was imposed on her from the creation; for thence it will follow, that she was doomed to servitude before she sinned. I reply, there is nothing to hinder that the condition of obeying should be natural from the beginning, and that afterwards the accidental condition of serving should come into existence; so that the subjection was now less voluntary and agreeable than it had formerly been.”
Paul speaks of the deceived women being saved, as in “redemption from deception” (v14). Though Paul is deemed controversial at best when he mentions childbearing as the apparent means to this salvation (v15), he is claiming that women need to return to their God-given role (Genesis 3:16), instead of seeking church leadership in sexual abstinence, which may have been encouraged by the pre-Gnostic false teachers. There is nothing to gain salvifically for women to strive for something other than for what they were created (to help their husbands). The goal should always be evangelism and discipleship, rather than pursuit of personal freedom and societal advancement; and this is true for both men and women, though they attain that by different means (roles). Paul suggests instead continuing in faith, which again points to a proper attitude of submission to God’s commands, and it was clearly especially important for these deceived women regarding their God-given role.