Friday, January 08, 2010

1 Timothy 5:3-8

V3-8 – 3Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. 5The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. 6But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. 8If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

V3-16 offer a discussion of widowhood, and the problems Ephesus was facing in this regard. Apparently young widows were causing problems, affected by the false teachers. Paul begins v3 with a command to honor – or care for (“give proper recognition”) – the needy (destitute) widows in the congregation. He gives extended instructions for widows with family members who can care for them; family members honoring each other is pleasing to God (v4). We find in v4 the implication that grown children are to care for their elderly parents, and the command for children to honor their father and mother comes to mind (Ephesians 6:1-2).

One commentator says, “Paul is perfectly aware of the phenomenon of children who refuse to take responsibility for caring for their parents. You remember the old Dutch proverb: ‘It seems easier for one poor father to rear ten children than for ten rich children to care for one poor father.’ Paul knew this reality even two thousand years ago, before the days of Medicare and Medicaid and modern healthcare and nursing homes, and all the problems that have come with extended life expectancy. Paul knew that problem of families refusing to take responsibility for the care of their own family members, and Paul has some very strong words for those who refuse to do so” (v8).

In v5, we recognize the truly needy widow as one who has and continues to live alone, has and continues to live in godliness (as opposed to living for pleasure – v6), and has and continues to put her hope in God through prayer. For these widows, such as Anna in Luke 2:37 and maybe Dorcas in Acts 9:36, the church must be God’s hands in response to her prayers. Paul speaks in v6 of widows who live for pleasure; this may refer to their turning to prostitution to make a living or to their being sexually exploited by the false teachers. In saying they are spiritually dead, though living in the flesh, Paul is being quite stern with them, effectively accusing them not only of being spiritually killed by the false teachers but also of spiritually killing others by their lifestyles.

In v7-8, Paul again issues strict military commands for everyone in the Ephesian congregation to “provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family.” Being “open to blame” echoes Jesus’ teaching in Mark 7:9-13. As Christians, we must practice what we preach. Our orthodoxy must be seen in our orthopraxy; otherwise, we are no better than these spiritually dead young widows. In fact, Paul says in v8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives (orthopraxy in response to orthodoxy)…he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” In other words, how can we claim to represent Christ to the world if we don’t take care of our own?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

1 Timothy 5:1-2

V1-2 – 1Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

Here in v1, Paul balances what he had told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12, and where that passage implied an ongoing action that was to be stopped, this command implies something that hasn’t happened yet, something that shouldn’t start to happen. The young minister should not abuse his authority with the congregation as a whole, or specifically with other leaders within the congregation, but he should lead by example, treating his congregation like he would treat his own family (Leviticus 19:32). And people within the congregation, like family members, need to be handled differently.

In v2, Paul treads carefully. Because of Timothy’s young age and because of the likelihood that there was sexual exploitation taking place by the false teachers (2 Timothy 3:6), he urges Timothy to maintain “absolute purity” in his dealings with older women and younger women, treating them as mothers and sisters, respectively.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

1 Timothy 4:11-16

V11-16 – 11Command and teach these things. 12Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 13Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Sometimes gentleness is appropriate for a Pastor (v6; Jude 22), but other times demands must be made of a congregation (v11; Jude 23). The word used in v11, translated “command,” is more literally referring to the giving of strict military orders. Timothy needed to take charge, since, as one commentator claimed, “false teachers and their surrogates (possibly younger widows – 2 Timothy 3:6-7)” were disrupting this church. The way he could take charge was by teaching the sound doctrine, the truth of God’s word. He needed to probe the hearts of his congregation.

In v12 and v14, Paul issues a pair of negative commands (“do not let anyone look down on you because you are young” and “do not neglect your gift”), which may clue us in to the struggles that Timothy faced (youth and timidity). The verb tense (present active imperative along with a negative participle) implies that people were indeed looking down on him because of his youth and that he was neglecting his gift, perhaps because of the response or lack thereof. This needed to stop immediately. Timothy needed to become bolder (2 Timothy 1:6-7), and his own godly living (speech, life, love, faith, and purity) and devotion to teaching and preaching (v12-13) is the good example that he must cling to in order to take charge of the Ephesian congregation, until Paul joined him there in Ephesus.

Paul measures Timothy’s success by his diligence, or persistence, and in turn, his progress (v15). Timothy is to be absorbed in, consumed by, and strenuously exercising “the public reading of Scripture…preaching and…teaching,” and his progress refers to both his own spiritual life and his ministry. Though arguably faithful, he has not arrived at the goal yet; neither has he completed the task at hand. But progress is Paul’s goal for Timothy; when others see it, they will know and believe him. So progress is sought, not so others would see it in us, but so we might progress. And let us be encouraged that progress, not perfection, in this life, is God’s goal for us. That’s one reason I’ve titled my commentary A Work in Progress. It’ll never be completed, and I’ll always be working on; but the goal of my writing it is for personal progress in godliness. At the same time, we must not be satisfied with any perceived progress, but we ought to strive for faithfulness to Christ and be ever repentant, for we will fail, daily in most cases, to be faithful. Thankfully, as Paul will later say, Christ is faithful always. As we persevere, we can be sure that He is preserving us.

Finally, orthodoxy and orthopraxy are places false teachers went wrong. Thus Paul instructs Timothy to watch his life (orthopraxy) and his doctrine (orthodoxy) closely (v16), lest he fall into their errors. We must do the same. God saves by grace through faith, but our justification includes sanctification in the truth, which is seen in orthopraxy guided by orthodoxy, which is learned from others. In this sense, Timothy can save those who hear his message, by serving as God’s tool unto the sanctification of His church (Philippians 2:12-13). He’ll point people to Jesus and then believers to one another.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

1 Timothy 4:6-10

V6-10 – 6If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10(and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.

Paul points out that being a good minister is what Timothy was trained to do, and that comes through shepherding with sound doctrine. The first phrase in v6 literally means, “to suggest.” Shepherding sometimes requires gentle nudging (Jude 22), and other times harsh commands and rebuke (v11; Jude 23); both are appropriate in their place. Later in v6, after Paul mentions being “a good minister of Christ Jesus,” he speaks of being “brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.” This literally means, “Constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine that you have followed.” In other words, Paul is declaring what a good minister needs – sound doctrine – for food, and he is saying that Timothy has had that. Timothy is faithful thus far in his ministry, and Paul is encouraging him to continue training himself unto godliness (v7) by sticking with sound doctrine and avoiding the “godless myths and old wives’ tales” of the false teachers.

Paul contrasts physical training, which has “some value” (v8), with spiritual training unto godliness, which “has value for all things.” Spiritual health is to be a priority over physical health, because it carries over into “the life to come” (3 John 2). Some commentators think Paul is writing about exercise, while others think he is referring to various ritualistic fasting or sexual abstinence, which eventually led to monks and nuns. In our culture, certainly the former applies, but in Paul’s culture, the latter is more likely his intention. One commentator says of the crucial word “godliness,” “This is a pivotal term in the Pastoral Letters. It refers to the doctrinal and daily lifestyle implications of the gospel. It describes not the exceptional, but the expected. It is a compound term from ‘good’ (eu) and ‘worship’ (sebomai). True worship is daily living by means of proper thinking.” And Paul issues the reminder of “a trustworthy saying” in v9, referring either to the importance of godliness in v8 or the fact of v10, that our hope lies in “the living God, who is the Savior.”

In the parenthetical remark of v10, Paul uses athletic metaphors to reveal his strenuous effort in proclaiming the gospel – the word “strive” might better be rendered “suffer reproach” or “agonize.” Also, notice the pronouncement that God, the self-existent One, is Savior of all men, to which Paul adds, “especially [or, that is,] of those who believe.” In other words, the call to repent and be saved is for all, in the sense that all kinds of people will respond by grace, for not all people hear the call of God due to their spiritual deadness. Salvation is a gift from God, for all who believe receive it. Jesus is the only Savior, and that’s exclusive, but He’s available for all kinds of men, not Jews only, and that’s inclusive.

Monday, January 04, 2010

1 Timothy 4:1-5

V1-5 – 1The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Paul is adamant about refuting false teaching, and here he does so in regards to marriage and food, acknowledging that both are good if received with thanksgiving. The false teachers were encouraging abstinence on both accounts. But Paul shows that their character is flawed along with their teaching.

Paul begins by claiming the Spirit’s clear revelation (v1). He could be writing in the ilk of Old Testament prophecy, in which the prophets commonly took their own setting and related it eschatologically; if so, it’s no surprise that Paul mentions the apostasy of some, following deceiving spirits and demons. Rather than abandoning their salvation (they never had it), we ought to see this as their abandoning of their only means of salvation, the sound doctrine of the gospel (“the faith”). He could also be writing as a recipient of direct revelation from the Spirit, which happened perhaps frequently in Paul’s holy life of fully devoted ministry. Or he could be referring to the revelation given and passed on from other inspired teachers, such as that of Agabus in Acts 21:11. Regardless, Paul goes on to detail the negatives of the false teachers.

The teachings of demons and deceiving spirits (1 Kings 22:21-23; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 John 4:1-2) come from the false teachers, “hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared” (v2). Paul is concluding that there is no hope for their repentance (Ephesians 4:19; Titus 1:15); they have been branded with Satan’s mark (Revelation 13:16,17; 14:11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). One commentator says, “Because these men have refused to see truth, they are now incapable of seeing truth (2 Corinthians 4:4). This is the unpardonable sin of the Gospels and the sin unto death of 1 John 5.”

In v3, Paul comes to a pair of teachings they give that are false – “they forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods.” These false teachings were common not only of Gnosticism, but also of the pre-Gnostic mixture with ascetic Judaism that was likely the false teaching Paul and other New Testament writers were refuting. On the contrary, Paul says, God created these things (marriage and food/drink) “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth” (v4). Notice that we believe and also know the truth; and notice that even though all things are permissible in this sense, since God’s word says all things are clean, not all things are beneficial for Christian edification (1 Corinthians 6:12; 10:23). We must be discerning for the sake of weaker brothers without allowing our own freedom, especially cultural traditions, to be “rejected” (Romans 14). This is not easy, perhaps the hardest implementation of the Christian faith in community with other believers, and we must do it prayerfully.

DC 402 - Week 1

We began our final stretch of the Discipleship Curriculum course this morning with a review of Isaiah, which we read over the Thanksgiving and Christmas break. We'll meet for the next 18 consecutive weeks covering the 402 and 403 material. For the next 3 weeks, we'll be covering Christian history. Here's how this week's workload might break down:

Monday - Read Exodus 25-31, 35-40, and Psalms 81-84, and comment
Tuesday - Read Ethel Herr's article, "Church History: What's in it for You?" and m
emorize Hebrews 11:1-2, as well as the optional verse 6 - "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for... And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." - and review previous memory verses, such as Matthew 28:19-20, 1 Corinthians 10:11, and 1 Peter 2:12
Wednesday - Read chapters 1-2 of Christian History Made Easy and review memory verses
Thursday - Read chapters 3-4 of Christian History Made Easy and review memory verses
Friday - Work on the first of your three one-page bullet-point reports on a character from Christian history and review memory verses