TAKE HOLD OF TRUTH

 

Week of October 1, 2006

 

Bible Passages:1 Timothy 1:3-7, 12-20.

 

Biblical Truth: When God gives a person an opportunity to lead, He also encourages and empowers the person to lead.

 

Identify the False Teaching: 1 Timothy 1:3-7.

 

[3] As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, [4] nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. [5] But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. [6] For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, [7] wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.†† [NASU]

 

[3] Paulís preoccupation is with the importance of maintaining true or sound doctrine, and of refuting false doctrine. The verb (teach strange doctrines) Paul uses both in 1:3 and in 6:3 clearly indicates that there is a norm of doctrine from which the false teachers had deviated. It is variously designated in the Pastorals. It is called Ďthe faithí, Ďthe truthí, Ďthe sound doctrineí, Ďthe teachingí and Ďthe good deposití. In nearly every one of these expressions the noun is preceded by the definite article, indicating that already a body of doctrine existed which was an agreed standard by which all teaching could be tested and judged. It was the teaching of Christ and of his apostles.

 

[4] These false teachers may have been allegorizers. They were certainly speculators. They treated the law as a happy hunting-ground for their conjectures. Paul now indicates two consequences of the false teaching. It obstructs both faith and love. Myths and genealogies promote controversies. False teaching promotes speculation rather than Godís work or plan [administration] which is by faith. The reference seems to be to Godís revealed plan of salvation, of which we are stewards, and to which we must respond by faith. For speculation raises doubts, while revelation evokes faith. Paul feared that the Ephesians might spend so much time in fruitless discussion of novel doctrines that they would not carry out Godís plan of bringing people to a place of obedience and faith before Jesus.

 

[5]This false teaching promotes controversies, arguments and quarrels about the law, whereas the goal of this command, or perhaps the end of all Christian moral preaching, is love, which come from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Heart is the seat of the mind, the emotions, and the will. The seat of religious experience from which moral conduct springs. Conscience refers to an individualís inner awareness of the moral quality of personal actions. Paul recognized that a conscience can be scarred by receiving imperfect information (1 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:15). In order to develop a good conscience, individuals must fill their minds with Godís message and render obedience to it (1 Cor. 8:7-12; 1 Pet. 3:15-16). Sincere faith is a trust in God characterized by being always ready to listen to truth, and a constant desire to do right. Faith is sincere only when it is not mere talk but is genuine trust and confidence in God.

 

[6-7]Some refers to the same group as certain men in verse 3. The two verbs [straying, turned aside] indicate the importance of maintaining a straight course. Thus Paul paints a double contrast, between speculation and faith in Godís revelation, and between controversy and love for one another. Here are two practical tests for us to apply to all teaching. The first is the test of faith: does it come from God, being in agreement with apostolic doctrine (so that it may be received by faith), or is it the product of fertile human imagination? The second is the test of love: does it promote unity in the body of Christ, or if not (since truth itself can divide), is it irresponsibly divisive? Faith means that we receive it from God; love means that it builds up the church. The ultimate criteria by which to judge any teaching are whether it promotes the glory of God and the good of the church. Fruitless discussion contains a prefix that means empty, useless, or meaningless. The false teachers had Jewish roots shown by their desire to be teachers of the law.

 

Take Your Stand on the Gospel of Grace: 1 Timothy 1:12-17.

 

[12] I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, [13] even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; [14] and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. [15] It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.[16] Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. [17] Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.[NASU]

 

[12]Turning away from the false teachers and their misuse of the law, Paul now writes about himself and the gospel which has been entrusted to him. His whole life is permeated with thanksgiving, not only for his salvation but also for the privilege of having been made an apostle. In particular Paul mentions three related blessings. First, I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has given me strength [12a]. It is striking that he refers to the inner strength Christ has given him, even before he specifies the ministry for which he needed to be strengthened. The appointment would have been inconceivable without the equipment. Secondly, I thank Christ that he considered me faithful [12b]. This cannot mean that Jesus Christ trusted him because he perceived him to be inherently trustworthy. His faithfulness was not the cause or motive, but the fruit and effect, of the grace of God in calling him to the ministry. This Paul expressly declares in 1 Cor. 7:25: who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. If Christ had discovered Paulís trustworthiness without bestowing that grace upon him, then Paul would not have a reason for such affectionate thanksgiving. Thirdly, I thank Christ for appointing me to his service [12c]. Paul is clearly referring to his commissioning as apostle to the Gentiles.

 

[13-14]He now gives further substance to his thanksgiving by reminding Timothy what he had been, how he received mercy, and why God had shown him mercy. First, he uses three words to describe what he had been: I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man [13a]. Secondly, Paul describes how he received mercy. Twice he uses the same verb I was shown mercy [13b, 16a]. To mercy Paul now adds grace, having already bracketed them in his opening greeting [14]. Grace overflowed like a river which cannot be contained but bursts its banks and carries everything before it, sweeping irresistibly on. The river of grace brought with it faith and love to which Paul has already assigned a primacy [4,5]. Grace overflowed, and faith and love sprang up. Grace flooded with faith a heart previously filled with unbelief, and flooded with love a heart previously polluted with hatred.

 

[15]No wonder Paul goes on to quote the first of the five Ďtrustworthy sayingsí which occur in the Pastorals [3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8]. Paul presents these sayings as a faithful presentation of Godís message. The first faithful saying is a concise summary of the Gospel. First the content of the gospel is true and trustworthy, in distinction to the speculative nonsense of the false teachers. Secondly, the offer of the gospel is universal. Thirdly, the essence of the gospel is that Christ came to save sinners. The law is meant for the condemnation of sinners; the gospel for their salvation. Fourthly, the application of the gospel is personal [among whom I am foremost of all]. Paul was so vividly aware of his own sins that he could not conceive that anybody could be worse. It is the language of every sinner whose conscience has been awakened and disturbed by the Holy Spirit.

 

[16]Why did God have mercy on Paul. The only possible answer is because God is a merciful God. Ultimately, there is no other explanation. His merciful forgiveness originates not within us, as if we had any merit which inclined (let alone obliged) God to show mercy, but within his own merciful character, whose property is always to have mercy. Nevertheless, Paul mentions two factors which in his case might be said to have predisposed God to be merciful. The first concerned his past ignorant unbelief: I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief [13b]. Mind you, Paul is not saying that his ignorance established a claim on Godís mercy (or mercy would no longer be mercy, nor would grace be grace), but only that his opposition was not open-eyed and willful. If Paulís ignorant unbelief in the past was one reason why God had mercy on him, a second related to the faith of others in the future. It was this experience of Christís grace, mercy and patience which underlay Paulís evangelistic enthusiasm.

 

[17]No wonder Paul broke out into a spontaneous doxology. He addressed God as the King, the sovereign ruler of all things, who not only reigns over the natural order and the historical process, but has also established his special kingdom through Christ and by the Spirit over his redeemed people. The divine King is now characterized by four attributes. First, he is eternal, beyond the fluctuations of time. Secondly, he is immortal, beyond the ravages of decay and death. Thirdly, he is invisible, beyond the limits of every horizon. For nobody has ever seen God [John 1:18; 1 John 4:12], and indeed nobody can see him [6:16]. All that human beings have ever glimpsed is his glory, which has been defined as the outward shining of his inward being. Fourthly, the King is the only God. What Paul is affirming is the uniqueness of Godís being. He has no rivals. The honor Paul gave to God involves esteem and reverence due to God because of his personal qualities of excellence. The term glory is an acknowledgment of Godís majesty and power.

 

Contend for the Truth: 1 Timothy 1:18-20.

 

[18] This command I entrust to you, Timothy, myson, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, [19] keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. [20] Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.[NASU]

 

[18-20] The verb command conveys a sense of urgent obligation. The prophecies probably represent promising comments concerning Timothyís spiritual usefulness spoken at earlier occasions in his ministry. The military term fight the good fight suggests that Timothy faced a grueling spiritual battle and not a pleasant rural retreat. Certainly to defend the revealed truth of God against those who deny or distort it, and to demolish strongholds of error, is to engage in a dangerous and difficult fight, which demands spiritual weapons, especially the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. In particular, Timothy must keep holding on to faith and a good conscience [19a]. Timothy possesses two valuable things which he must carefully guard, an objective treasure called the faith, meaning the apostolic faith, and a subjective one called a good conscience. Moreover, they need to be preserved together [as in 1:5 and 3:9]. Paulís appeal in verse 19 reminds us that correct belief alone does not guarantee a useful Christian life. Each Christian must combine a right understanding of Christ with a proper response to that understanding.

 

Concerning Hymenaeus and Alexander, the word used for their rejection of conscience means to push something or someone away, to repudiate. It implies a violent and deliberate rejection. Having done this to their conscience, they have shipwrecked their faith. Conversely, it is precisely by preserving a good conscience that Timothy will be able to keep the faith. Thus belief and behavior, conviction and conscience, the intellectual and the moral, are closely linked. This is because Godís truth contains ethical demands. As Jesus said, if anyone chooses to do Godís will, he will find out (or know) whether my teaching comes from God [John 7:17]. In other words, doing is the key to discovering, obedience the key to assurance. By contrast, it is when people are determined to live in unrighteousness that they suppress the truth. So if we disregard the voice of conscience, allowing sin to remain unconfessed and unforsaken, our faith will not long survive. Anybody whose conscience has been so manipulated as to be rendered insensitive is in a very dangerous condition, wide open to the deceptions of the devil [4:1-2]. A bad conscience is the mother of all heresies, wrote Calvin.

 

Whom I have handed over to Satan [20] has at least two possible interpretations. First, it may refer to some illness or physical disability Satan is allowed to inflict on evildoers. Second, it may be used as a semitechnical phrase that regards life in the church as the sphere of the Spirit and life outside the church as the sphere of Satan. Paul may have been saying that he had removed the offenders from the fellowship of the church and placed them in Satanís realm, where they would experience his malice. This seems the more likely interpretation. The purpose of handing them over to Satan was not merely punitive but chiefly corrective or formative in purpose. Paul hoped that Satanís affliction of the troublemakers would teach them not to insult the Lord by their words and deeds. It is instructive to study the context of 1 Cor. 5:5 in which Paul also spoke of handing a sinner over to Satan.

Summary In this first chapter, which concerns the place of doctrine in the local church, Paul gives valuable instruction about false teaching. Its essential nature is that it is a deviation from revealed truth. Its damaging results are that it replaces faith with speculation and love with dissension. Its fundamental cause is the rejection of a good conscience before God. Paulís words are helpful at three points of application. First, in verses 3-11 Paul warned against the false doctrine permeating Ephesus. He accused the heretics of not properly understanding and using the law. His words show the importance of having a theological understanding of the gospel. Second, in 12-17 Paul refreshingly recounted his conversion experience. We must never move beyond the excitement and joy our conversion generates in us. Third, in 18-20 Paul was reminding Timothy of truths that he had previously heard. Much Christian communication consists not of bringing new ideas forward but of recounting tested, tried principles which we often forget or neglect.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.††† How can we distinguish between false teaching and true teaching? How do you decide if some teaching is speculation or if it is furthering the work or plan of God? What two practical tests does Paul give us to apply to all teaching?

 

2.††† Why does Paul list these three ingredients as necessary for genuine love in verse 5? How does each ingredient contribute to genuine love?

 

3.††† Why does Paul emphasize the qualities of faith and a good conscience in order to fight the good fight [18-19]?

 

References:

1 Timothy, Thomas Lea, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of 1 Timothy, John Stott, InterVarsity Press.