Copyright © 2008, American Journal of Biblical Theology
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
When we think of Timothy, we probably envision a young and spiritually idealistic man, full of confidence, and ready to minister in any capacity that God would call. The historical context reveals that Timothy was probably in his thirties, old enough to be established in the faith, its doctrine, and fully capable of sharing it with others. However, the organizational structure of the society reserved any position of authority for its elderly, and by so doing, even a Christian church that is more worldly than sacred may show respect to Timothy, but it would be difficult for him to exercise any useful influence among its congregation. The Ephesian church was divided by various leaders, and being led away from the faith into numerous false teachings. How would one like Timothy minister in such a setting? How could he gain enough influence that he could successfully refute or change the positions of the church leaders? How can he minister in a congregation of such doctrinal diversity and remain true to the gospel?
As we have been looking at Paul's first letter to Timothy, we have noted that the modern Christian church is not unlike the church in Ephesus. The church is divided into quite disparate denominations that range in doctrine from conservative to cultic. The church is also disparate in its sources of doctrinal authority. Some accept God's Word as the source of spiritual truth. However, others give greater authority to church dogma, or to the teachings of human leaders. Consequently, the church is far less effective in the world that it would be if it were united under God's authority and His alone.
So, the questions pertaining to Timothy's dilemma pertain to every Christian today. How are Christians to serve in such a setting? How can Christians who know the truth gain enough influence that they can make a difference? How can Christians serve in such a diverse community and remain true to the gospel? As Paul closes this letter, he gives some guidance to Timothy that can help him to recognize those who are taking the church away from God's will and purpose, and how he can by his own testimony show them a better way.
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
One characteristic that seems to be common to doctrinally unsound churches is their worldliness. The church in Ephesus was characterized by the infiltration of a mixture Greek pagan philosophy and Jewish tradition. These were the world-views of the people in the lost community, views that came through the doors of their churches along with the members who were raised with them. It is not difficult to understand how the simple Gospel of grace could be replaced by people who think they have a better way. Most people who are members of Christian churches are indiscernible from those who are not. When outside of the doors of the church they live like the people of the world. Inside the doors many churches are also indistinguishable from secular clubs, tolerant of modern secular and humanistic philosophies, and only give lip-service to the gospel, if they give it any consideration at all. How did the church get to such a state? Why is the church not devastated by its apostasy, repenting, and seeking forgiveness for its worldly bent?
The church has wandered away from the truth by those who "teach otherwise," as Paul describes here. What are the characteristics of the false teacher who people are so quickly bent to follow? He (or she, of course) teaches from a position that is not grounded in God's Word, but rather contains ideas and positions that may sound logical and convincing, but are simply wrong. How many malicious teachers over the years have swayed people to their own way of thinking by misquoting and misusing scripture among those who are too ignorant of it to know the difference? Such an individual does not "agree to the sound instruction of Jesus Christ." Such an individual will often point to himself as the spiritual authority, taking that authority from Jesus who alone deserves it. He is puffed up by the hearing of his own words and by the response of the people he influences. His ego is fed by the praise of others. Timothy knows the truth, so he can recognize falsehood. False teachers feed on the ignorance of those who do not know the truth.
He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, 5Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
A need for satiated pride is a characteristic of many false teachers. When one considers the nature of Jesus Christ, one finds the heart of a servant, one who is humble. Why would any human have reason to be less humble than Jesus? An ego is as easy to see as a stoplight, and like a stoplight it should be a warning of danger ahead. The only appropriate motivation for Christian leadership is a love of the Lord that is expressed by that same love for people. Such love is not arrogant or rude, etc., (1 Cor. 13), but is instead caring and humble.
Paul then speaks of ignorance, knowing nothing. The false teacher does not have a deep knowledge and understanding of the depths of God's Word, but is rather driven by his own purposes. He is quick to argue his points and ready to defend them in order to protect his position of importance. The result is strife within the church. He is the church antagonist who will wage war among its members in order to maintain his position. The phrase, "my way or the highway" originates from this source. The church is divided, people are hurt, and yet the antagonist is left standing. Rather than wage war, Christians desire peace and reconciliation. Often, instead of confronting the antagonist, Christians will choose to allow him to continue his divisive and manipulative ways. People who are aware of the conflict will leave the church fellowship, and the antagonist continues. It is interesting that the word used for "proud" here is in a Greek tense that refers to something that is permanent. This is not an individual who is teachable, but rather set in his way, determined in his position. Against such an individual there is little to be done. His disputings are "perverse," or irrational. It is impossible to rationally communicate with one who is irrational. His mind is corrupted by pride and sin. He does not know the truth, and is not interested in it, choosing instead his own truth, assuming that the gain that he would have in his life comes from his own form of godliness. In his own eyes, he is the godly one, able to point to any number of rationalizations to defend his point. He has received his reward in the power, position, and possessions that he craves. He is never content, always wanting more: more power, more control, more massaging of his pride-driven ego.
Where do we find these false teachers? Often in small churches whose growth is stifled by the constant demands of the antagonist. We see him in the churches that are social clubs rather than sanctuaries for the hurt and needing people of their community. We see him in the cultic fellowships that place legalistic demands on their members. Unfortunately, we seem to see him just about everywhere. It was the state of the divided house churches of Ephesus and it is characteristic of the divided church of Christ today.
What is Paul's advice concerning Timothy's dealing with such an individual? Paul teaches that Timothy is not to become partnered with him. Note that Paul does not lay down a process of debate or discipline. Such an approach only empowers the antagonist by giving him a battle flag. Ultimately the antagonist will be held responsible for the damage he has caused the Kingdom of God, and it is not up to Timothy to serve as Judge and Executioner. Jesus is the Judge and will deal with the one who persecutes Him. Paul certainly knows this from first-hand knowledge!
But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
Though the antagonist sees great value in the power he gropes for, Paul exposes his discontent. Paul describes true Christian service as that which is expressed in pure agape love, a service to God that brings with it a contentment that the antagonist will never experience or understand. The very thing that the prideful church member is searching for is held back from him by his own arrogance, but is available to him if he would simply let go of his thirst for power and give all of the authority back to God. Paul describes the folly of the search for worldly things, whether it be power or possession: we brought nothing into this world, and we will not take anything out. We can be content with what we have. To be otherwise is to remain discontent and always searching, seeking, and groping for more. This is not the life that God promised us. Jesus said, "The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that you may have life and live it more abundantly." (John 10:10) Literally, Jesus says that He has come so we can live life, "to the full." It is in Jesus that we find peace and fulfillment, not in the acquisition of power or possessions. It is in self-control we find virtue, not in the manipulation and control of others.
But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
In our culture it is usually the wealthy who gain power. People without wealth are often quick to give authority to those who have it. Great wealth has become a prerequisite for those who run for high elected offices. Unfortunately, the world-view and skill set that make a person wealthy is not the same as that which makes a good leader. The acquisition of wealth is simply the accumulation of the "things of this world," that Paul previously reminds us have little value compared with the true gain that is received when one is content with what they have and know the full peace and joy of their salvation. Every one of us is caught in a battle between our love for the Lord, and our love for the things of this world, two mutually exclusive authorities. Therein lies the problem. Satan, as the "prince of this world" (not it's Lord, be reminded), can use the things of this world to tempt and ensnare people, turning their focus away from the Lord towards the things of this world. None of us is immune. When we do turn away from God's plan for us we fall into the "foolish and hurtful lusts that drown men in destruction and perdition." For those who are lost, a focus on the things of this world will blind them to the things of God, leading them to reject God and take their apostasy to the grave. It is of these that Paul prescribes destruction and perdition. Jesus said, "it is easier for camel to walk through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 19:24). One does not have to look far to recognize that very few rich people turn their hearts and lives to Jesus.
For those who are saved, the world still has the same attraction. However, the Holy Spirit and God's Word reveal to every Christian the nature of the snares of this world, and as members of this society, Christians must apply some wisdom when interacting with it. The riches and properties of this world can be a great temptation, and nobody is immune. As one who has lived a life of somewhat disciplined stewardship, I still look at a new Harley-Davidson Dyna Super Glide motorcycle with near covetousness. (I drove a motorcycle to work about 20 years ago and later gave it to someone who needed it more than I, and I miss the riding experience.)
Let us not move too far from the context. Paul is exposing the identification of those false teachers who were in the Ephesian congregation. Here he is looking at the wealthy members who held the power.
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
This is probably one of the most quoted (and misquoted) scriptures in the New Testament. The Greek word that is used for "money" carries a broader definition than simply the English words "money" or "cash." Related to the context of these verses, it literally refers to the "valued things of this world." A useful word to describe this is "mammon." Observed in this way, Paul's statement makes a lot of sense. In this conflict between our love for God and our love for the world, it is that love for the world that turns us from God. Turning from God is the root of sin. I often point out the struggle that many Christians suffer as "spiritual schizophrenia", an attempt to live the Christian life as a fence sitter with one foot in heaven and the other in the world, Mugwumps who cannot decide fully where their true allegiance lies.
What happens when we give authority to the things of this world rather than to God? The desire to do so is certainly the result of coveting after it, and to do so is to err from the faith. The things of this world can draw us away from God, and by so doing cause us great injury and sorrow. Often we want those things so much that we will borrow money to purchase them, only to be enslaved to the loan payments and unable to practice godly stewardship. There is no limit to the stress and chaos that can result from seeking the things of this world rather than the kingdom of God.
But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
How is the Christian to relate to the riches and possessions of this world? Just as Christians are told to avoid partnership with wicked men, Christians are to flee from the power of mammon. Christians are to place their attention on those virtues that are of real value, those values that will bring real peace and joy. When one seeks first the kingdom of God (and His righteousness), the meeting of all of one's needs are promised (Matt 6:33). A righteous life is characterized not by worldly possessions, but by righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness, and other godly virtues. It is through the true expression of these virtues that real peace is found, and once one has experienced this, the value of the world's riches seems to simply fade away like a vapor in the wind. When one first seeks God and gets a taste of the kingdom, it is far easier to understand the lack of value held in this worlds attractions, and easier to "flee" from them.
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
So, how does one engage in the conflict between the authority of God and the authority of the things of this world? How does one engage in battle when confronted with individuals who are antagonistic to grace? Paul prescribes a "good fight of faith." The tools for battle have already been listed: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness (or humility.) When confronted with a false teacher, one who seeks to exercise personal control over the body of Christ, the plan of attack is simple: the "man of God" is to respond with a love and patience that is demonstrated in a righteous and godly life. This allows God to be the agent of change in the life of the antagonist, and maintains the witness of the love of God. Rather than "laying hold" on this world, the testimony of the Christian's calling to faith is evident when he lays hold on eternal life. The means and tools of the antagonist who is prepared for worldly battle, are fully disarmed when he is confronted with love and patience.
Herein, Paul provides the formula for confronting false teaching in a godly manner. He describes what a "good fight" truly is. There is always the temptation to fight using the tools and means of this world, using vocal and written arguments that are meant to sway and convince. Instead, the good fight is waged with righteousness, patience, and love. This is not to say that the fight is easy, however. In fact, this may be the most difficult way to wage the fight. It is hard to simply be patient and watch what is happening. The Greek for "good fight" is literally, "good agony." I am reminded of how the prophet Jeremiah wept for Israel. Fighting the good fight can be a true agony that brings many tears and heartaches. I am convinced that this is one of the main reasons why pastors are so mobile, serving a congregation an average of only three years. Three years is just long enough to become exhausted trying to fight the good fight. My shortest tenure was a year by which time the setting was negatively affecting my own health.
I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; 14That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Knowing the stress of the "battle," Paul affirms his charge to Timothy to maintain righteousness, patience, and love. If Timothy were to accept what Paul has been saying as good advice, Paul turns it into a commandment. As an illustration of the "good fight," Paul turns to the example of Jesus before His accusers during his Passion. Jesus had the power to strike down his opponents. Instead, Jesus was silent, expressing only love and patience with those who abused him. His few words were words of love. Even before Pilate, who was torn by his duty to punish Jesus but his desire to set him free, Jesus absolved Pilate of that responsibility when He stated that His life was His to give, not for Pilate to take. (A statement which, by the way, also absolves the Jew's of any charges that they "killed Jesus.)
Paul charges Timothy to keep to the "good fight" without compromise. If Timothy is tempted to engage the conflict with angry words or emotional actions, he is reminded that he is commanded to refrain from such tactics. In this way, Timothy will be "unrebukeable," and no person will be able to find fault with him, and use that fault against him. Furthermore Timothy is to keep up the good fight until Jesus comes. It is interesting to note that in Paul's second letter to Timothy, as Paul nears what he implies is the end of his life, he says, "I have fought the good fight." (2 Tim. 4:7). This metaphor was never kept far from Timothy who, facing the chaos of the Ephesian church, needed to understand the concept.
Which in his times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.
I have often, in my own mind, referred to the individual who is trying to run the church as the "chief potentate." By taking control of the body, he is usurping the control that is reserve for the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that is in the heart and life of every other believer in the congregation. We are reminded that Jesus Christ is the only Potentate, the only King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Spiritual authority is not found in the things of this world, nor in its leaders. Spiritual authority is not found in the church leadership. Spiritual authority is reserved for Jesus Christ, alone. It is Jesus who is immortal. It is Jesus who dwells where no man can go. It is Jesus who deserves all of the honor and glory. The honor and glory that is reserved for Jesus is to go to no man. The spiritual leader is not a potentate, that is, one who holds power. The spiritual leader is humble, recognizing that all authority is in Christ, and all Christians are on an equal footing, saved only by God's grace and deserving nothing.
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; 18That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; 19Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
Is it impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God? Paul has spent most of his letter to Timothy exposing the world's power to destroy the church, particularly pointing to those with power and possessions as the main force of that power. Still, God's grace is open to all, and it is not impossible for a rich person to find faith in God. Furthermore, it is not impossible for a Christian to become wealthy. However, with wealth comes additional responsibility, so Paul gives Timothy some advice on how to counsel wealthy Christians.
1. Do not be proud. It is easy for the wealthy to think of themselves as better than those who are not. However, wealth is only the mammon of this world, and that which is of true value is the man's eternal soul, and no person's soul is more valuable than another: each is infinitely valuable to God. Consequently, there is no place for pride ... we are all of immense value to God.
2. Do not trust in your wealth. It is the capacity of wealth to sustain one's manner of living that most serves to cause the rich to turn their back on God. Those who depend upon God have no such temptation. The wealthy are reminded that their true source of life is God and Him alone. Events and catastrophes can take away wealth in the length of the time of a single heartbeat. Nothing will ever take away God's love.
3. God provides all of the things we enjoy. Those "things of this world" are still in God's domain, and Christians are to be proper stewards of all they have whether it be considered by others to be a lot, or a little. The responsibility for stewardship is the same.
4. Ready to distribute. If the wealthy person is controlled by his wealth, he will hold on to it, and by so doing, be a slave to it. A wealthy Christian who is living a life of righteousness, patience, and love recognizes his responsibility to stewardship and will be generous. By his generosity, he can be used of God to provide materials and blessings to others who have needs. God often provides for the needs of some people through the actions of other people. Wealthy Christians have an opportunity to do good works that many others will never have.
5. Willing to communicate. This statement is related to the previous words, and does not refer to speech alone, but to a nature of sharing one's life as well as one's words.
It should be noted that this is not a list of rules for the wealthy. It is a list of the characteristics of a righteous Christian who is wealthy. There is a great difference between the two concepts. If a wealthy person tries to "obey" these rules, he is only seeking a blessing from works. This is not, and is never Paul's intent. The faithful nature of a Christian is simply evident by these natural characteristics, characteristics that "lay up in store" a good testimony against the final judgment. Even the richest man cannot buy eternal life, but the man who has already attained it can receive a tremendous blessing by ministering to others on his way to it.
Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: 21Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.;
Paul concludes this letter rather abruptly, characteristic of the tone of the entire letter. Paul is entrusting Timothy with the care of the church in Ephesus, a task that is challenging at best. This phrase carries the meaning of the legal terminology that refers to holding something of great value in trust against a future claim. Timothy is entrusted with the gospel of Jesus Christ as he seeks to lead the Ephesians back to the truth. Paul has already given advice on how to engage in a "good fight," yet he reminds Timothy to avoid getting into verbal debates as a method for attaining his purpose. The viewpoints of those who have taken the church away from the gospel are profane (worldly), vain (powerless) and comprised of false knowledge. The Greeks placed great authority in their secular and pagan philosophies, but since their premises all reject the grace of God, they are simply false. Still, Timothy is not to enter into the debate with them, as such an approach would not only be fruitless, but would serve to strengthen the enemy. The influence of these false doctrines is pervasive in the congregation, and the people have subsequently "erred concerning the faith."
The church in Ephesus was in a state of doctrinal chaos, fragmented by a disparate leadership that for any number of reasons took the cluster of congregations in various directions, all of which were away from the faith. Paul charged Timothy with the task of bringing the church back to the truth. The message to Timothy is as relevant today as it was in the first century. Godly men and women have an opportunity to recognize false doctrine and false leadership and respond to it in an appropriate way: fighting the "good fight" by demonstrating uncompromised integrity, righteousness, patience, and love as they demonstrate with their lives and with their teaching what is true, what is edifying, and what is fully the Word of God.