Sunday, March 4, 2012

Scripture Sunday: 1st Timothy

Paul is writing to his protege Timothy, a young pastor at Ephesus who needs a little advice and encouragement. Paul sees Timothy not just as a co-laborer in the ministry, but as "my own son in the faith" (1:2), so Paul has extra incentive to care for Timothy and to give him sound counsel.

There have been some false teachings circulating at the Ephesian church, but Paul is quick to remind people that true Christianity is very simple and non-convoluted: "Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned" (1:5). The very heart of God's intention for us is that we would show love from a pure heart and have a genuine faith in him. But in Ephesus, people are trying out complicated doctrines and they're making themselves out to be teachers of God's word when they really don't understand what they are talking about. Still, Paul doesn't think of himself as a lofty, special minister of God just because he hasn't fallen off into foolishness like these people. He is just a sinner saved by the mercy of God. As he says, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." (1:15).

In Chapter 2, Paul talks to Timothy about the importance of prayer. "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (2:1-2) We are supposed to pray for everyone, but especially for people in authority because their decisions affect our daily lives. Praying for others can be a difficult thing to remember, and it's also easy to turn prayer for our world/national/regional/local leaders into a quick "God bless the president, Amen!" type of prayer, but Paul is mentioning this for a reason. It's an important act we should be practicing daily.

Chapter 2 also includes some interesting things about the role of women in the church. He recommends that, "In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works" (2:9-10). Some denominations of Christianity have taken this verse to mean that women should not wear jewelry or makeup, but most of us see this verse as being about not trying to draw attention to yourself. By dressing in a nice, modest manner, a woman is able to focus less on her own appearance and more on serving the Lord. Self-absorption and vanity don't mesh well with a servant's heart.

Chapter 3 talks about what a man must be like if he wants to be a bishop (pastor/leader) or a deacon in the church. It's a pretty extensive list, all related to personal character. Chapter 4 is a warning about people who will fall away from the church and spread lies and hypocrisy. Many of the false doctrinal issues Paul mentions seem to relate to Christians trying to adhere to the Jewish dietary laws, which Paul hints is just absurd: "For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." (4:4-5). The old rules do not govern us any more--no food is unclean if we thank God for it and accept it as part of his creation.

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