December 5th, 2021 - 1 Timothy 4-6
Paul here is contrasting his sound teaching with the false teachings he denounces. The early church regarded itself as already in the last times and in fact many believed they would see Jesus return in their lifetime. Hence the sense of urgency to take the gospel to as many people as they could. Paul is still concerned about the false teachers and their heresies. He viewed these folks as having dead consciences. Either they don’t function at all or they function wickedly, and they rendered judgements that opposed the truth of the gospel. Again Paul commanded Timothy to teach the believers the truth. He has to respond to the false teachers. And if Timothy does this, he will be a worthy servant of Jesus Christ. Being a worthy servant involves a whole pattern of conduct, modeled by Paul and based on sound doctrine. Good teaching unifies Word and deed, belief and behavior. Paul even went so far as to compare physical training to godly training, which it’s better and preferable. Even for us today, only those whose lives are shaped by the Good News are worthy teachers of it. And the false teachers were not! Timothy was to be an example. It is clear he is a younger man but Paul cautioned that should not matter. Timothy had to be above reproach and he was to be an example to all who saw him in terms of how he lived his life, in his love, his faith, and his purity. He was to read the scriptures out loud for all to hear and then encourage the believers. Not much has changed between then and now. We too as believers should be leading lives that are above reproach. We too should be examples in the way we live, in our love, faith, and purity. When Timothy was commissioned, other believers laid hands on him and his spiritual gifts were identified and spoken out loud. The laying on of hands signifies recognition, authorization, and blessing. Timothy was to not forget that Paul’s ministry and that of his representatives was under the authority of the church.
Chapter five addresses the right conduct in God’s household as it relates to young and old, widows, elders, and slaves. Proper honor within the household cuts across social and economic boundaries. Paul had a soft spot for widows but that most likely came from his Jewish background where the people were commanded to care for the widows, orphans, and the poor. A widow without wealth or family, which was painfully common, was alone in a world that did not provide for her. The Christian community was expected to care for such widows among it as members. Some have argued that this passage suggests a religious order of widows in the first century church at Ephesus, but there is no certain evidence of a religious order of widows in the first century church, only of a ministry of care for community members without means. The only recourse for a widow who was truly alone was hope in God. Some widows in Ephesus were living only for pleasure, more interested in receiving than giving. They did not need support. Paul spoke of faith here in terms of not a mere belief but a way of life. Widows required different approaches. Young and old were typically divided about age 40. Elders would have been 50 or older. Older widows were to have been the wife of only one husband and faithful to him. She was also to have been well respected because of the good she has done. She is to have been kind to strangers; in other words she practiced hospitality. Young widows still in their child bearing years required a different approach. Paul was concerned that the false teachers were leading them astray. He may well have been worried that they would remarry and choose an unbeliever, renouncing their previous pledge which wasn’t marriage but their faith, which they would surrender upon entering into a pagan marriage. Such a marriage as this would have alienated them from Christ.
Too seldom do those who are fully supported by the church invest their lives in remarkable piety. Abusing the church’s support does not help them or the Good News. The fact that Paul is worried about them talking about things they shouldn’t, means they are already involved in the false teachings. So, Paul advised young widows to remarry and to marry believers because their current actions were hurting their testimony for the Good News. Following the false teachers meant they were following the evil one. They had committed apostasy, renouncing Christ, probably in connection with the false teachers and their self indulgence. Individual households still maintained their functions and identity within the church, and they were not overshadowed by the church. Just like in Judaism, community leaders were typically older men who were leaders in the community. Both the letters to Timothy and Titus recognize the office of elder. But the word is also used in the secular world for older men who lead in the community at large.
There is no evidence of paid clergy at this time but the word is never used for a continuous salary either. However, it does imply something beyond simply a show of respect. The quotes from scripture, both Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 suggest gifts of money. The charges by the false teachers may well have included charges against the leaders of the community. But nothing can be done without two or three witnesses. Paul then commanded Timothy to obey all of the instructions he had given him. The highest angels are often associated with God’s judgement. Timothy is called to keep himself apart from the false teachers, to not share the sins of others, and to not play favorites. He is also to make sure about the character of anyone who might be appointed to any leadership position within the church. The subject of wine was always interesting because many were concerned about purity and thus would not drink any wine. But the water was notoriously bad so they would mix part water and part wine to prevent stomach troubles. It seems that Timothy was trying to be pure and drink only water which was making him sick. Wine may have also been considered medicinal at this point. Verses 24-25 are proverbial and speak to God’s judgement.
Both believing and unbelieving masters should be treated with respect, which brings honor rather than shame to God’s name. The rest of the letter, verses 2-21 returns to the need for Timothy to confront the false teachers. This section closely resembles 1:3-20. It appears that the false teachers are doing their work to get wealthy. Paul warned Timothy to be on guard and to keep teaching Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead. These teachings would promote a godly life. But anyone who taught something different was a false teacher, they were arrogant, and they lacked understanding. This then resulted in such things as arguments that tended in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. They always cause trouble, their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth of the Good News. Just how these false teachers thought they would get rich wasn’t clear. In the wider culture there were many itinerant teachers who taught for pay. Abuse was common and often deserved the accusation that someone was teaching for gain and glory. It is quite possible that the false teachers were bringing this into the church in Ephesus. Or they could have been teaching a prosperity gospel. They seem to have had influence on wealthy believers, wealthy women in particular. Paul also reminded Timothy and the Ephesian church that true godliness with contentment is also great wealth. This isn’t just a philosophical outlook but total dependency on the sufficiency of Christ. Before ending the discussion of wealth Paul exhorted Timothy to live beyond reproach, commanding him to flee from the desire for wealth. The promise of external life moderates the appeal of wealth.
The faith that Timothy declared so well before witnesses probably refers to his confession at his baptism. Paul went on to emphasize the historical nature of Christ’s mediating work at His trial before Pilate, holding this up as an example or incentive for Timothy to remain steadfast under the pressure of the false teachers. Christ’s comings, both past and future are described by Paul as epiphanies or appearances. An epiphany is a divine intervention in a particular historical moment. The church is positioned between these past and future appearances of Christ. Christ’s first saving epiphany made possible a new life. His future epiphany will achieve final salvation. And even though the present is evil, our anticipation of Christ’s appearance creates accountability for living a godly life in the present. By contrast the false teachers advocated sinful behaviors because they assumed the resurrection had already occurred. In response Paul made it clear that salvation has begun but is not yet complete. The conduct of God’s household requires responsible living in the light of Christ’s past, present, and future saving work. Paul reminded Timothy that just the right time God will act and bring everything to fruition. God will then complete the salvation promised to us before the world began, which Christ enacted in His first appearance. The saving work of Christ is positioned within God’s sovereign and eternal purposes. This thought leads naturally into worship of God our Savior. This material might be quoted from a baptismal confession.
In light of what Paul said in verses 11-16, it is foolish to treasure the transient wealth of this age. It is better to store up treasures for the coming age through trust in God and by being rich in good works and generous in love for others. Christian hope leads to the management of resources which we are to use for enjoyment and for sharing Christ’s love with others. Paul ended with a blessing and an exhortation. He called Timothy, by name, to guard what God had entrusted to him. In other words Timothy is to guard the Good News of Jesus Christ. This was entrusted to him and to the church for safekeeping. But it is more than just the Good News. Timothy is also to guard the whole pattern of conduct expected from believers and leaders that flows from knowing the Good News. This would help stabilize and purify the church as it is buffeted by the false teachers, counterfeiters, and influences of the world. The Good News belongs to the tradition of the church and it requires creative and faithful interpretation to meet the changing and challenging circumstances and problems of the world. The letter closes rather abruptly so evidently there was no need of directions for the mission. And, somehow greetings were either not needed or unnecessary. The letter was sent to Timothy but clearly it was intended to be read to the whole church in Ephesus.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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