Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
David's Commentary Journal: 1 Timothy
1:1) Paul does not seize the apostleship. Perhaps he had many opportunities as a rising star in youth to take advantage of his prodigy and position and take control of his local religious organizations. Maybe he arose through the ranks of Pharisees to achieve the Sanhedrin through carefully constructed, planned and deliberated, faithfully executed self-design, or he may have seized upon the opportunity at the opportune moment, or perhaps some crafty mixture of both. Even if he achieved religious rank through personal ambition in former times, however, no such action would work here. Oh, yes, perhaps people would follow his authority, and he would impact Christianity for millenia, yet not necessarily for good. As a shrewd businessman and talented politician he would forever engrave his name on the annals of history and the hearts of humans, yet he might never realize his full potential. God could use Paul no matter how he fails in the present, but if he follows a alternative path, a divine one, God could perhaps use Paul in the present as well.
"Paul, an apostle...by the command of God," he writes Timothy. Paul could seize authority, or he could allow God to authoritatively confer authority to Paul. Which sounds more tempting, independent, enterprising, admirable? Which sounds more secure, established, correct? Satan plays on our emotions and ambitions, but God remains in authority. If Paul or Timothy--or we--are to take leadership, we must only do so at God's lead. He gives the command; he invokes the lead; he guides the follower and the follower's followers.
Note that Paul combines "God" with "our Savior" and, separately, "Christ Jesus" with "our hope." Does Paul somehow imply that God and not Jesus is the one who saves us? This interpretation might jump at use from the text, but alternatively we might reason that Paul uses a play on words. God uses "God," "Savior," and "Christ Jesus" to interweave the various designations of the same person. Knowing that Jesus is our Savior (cp Ti 2:13), we see Paul's thinly veiled equation of Jesus with God. Paul poetically joins the three references in one person while writing Titus: "Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (2:13), where Jesus Christ himself is "our great God and Savior."
1:2) Paul speaks as a father to his son. One question that always comes to me is, Does Timothy view Paul as his father? One exciting theme to track is how Paul plays his role as a father. Does he assume that Timothy has accepted this position, or must Paul continually reaffirm or convince Timothy of his sonship? Does Paul's fatherhood translate into paternalistic moralizing, or fatherly care? I think that people these days, here at the start of the 21st century, might have a tendency to find Paul's words arrogant, presumptuous. "What right has he to lord it over Timothy? Is Paul just power hungry? So suppose that Paul did convert Timothy. What right did Paul have to encroach on Timothy's beliefs? And what now if Timothy wants to be free, to discover religion for himself? Must he always check in with his 'father'?" Perhaps we shall have less criticism as we understand Paul's intentions and the spirit with which he guides his "true child in the faith." In an oft cold and cruel world, rare and blessed indeed is one who finds a true and faithful mentor, let alone a father.
Paul concludes his introduction with the longer form of his salutation. I'm sure that we could read a dozen motives into his inclusion of "mercy" rather than the mere "grace and peace" that we see in many other letters, but we'll be hard pressed to find solid basis for probably any of these motives. Maybe he just felt more verbose at the moment. Nonetheless, the words themselves have significance. Grace, mercy, and peace are at the core of Paul's message--especially grace and peace, seeing that he omits "mercy" in many a salutation. As the apostle to the Gentiles, he may have focused on grace since the people were less familiar with their sordid state. "Mercy" would not evoke the immediate feeling of relief, for the people might simply wonder, "Mercy for what? What have I done wrong?" Rather, upon hearing "grace," some people might respond, "Grace? Something offered that I never earned? Tell me more about it." Paul in no way would try to ignore the guilt from sin and our forlorn guiltiness; just read Romans for confirmation. His next word, "peace," would do away with any assumption of gracious gifts to good people. He captures interest with his proclamation of grace, then commands attention with his message of peace.
By contrast, Timothy comes from a Jewish background, having a believing Jewish mother, who had taught her son the ways of the Law. He likely understood not merely what sin was, but what sin was in his present life. No matter how powerfully he fought and writhed and bore his teeth in the face of sin, temptation continually got the best of him. Maybe for a time he could deceive himself, tell himself that he was all right, possibly even good, perhaps even better than quite a few of his neighbors, but if he kept honest, his sin would never disappear. What he needed, what Jesus offered, what Paul now proclaimed, was mercy. Nothing short of God's mercy would separate Timothy and all fellow humankind from their ill-desert. The mere mention of "mercy" might halt him in his tracks, quell the internal moaning, and give him hope, just as the resounding proclamation of "grace" would captivate otherwise lethargic or self-satisfied Gentile. And for the half-Jew, half-Gentile Timothy, Paul capitalizes on both proclamations and their common end: "Grace, mercy, and peace."
1:3) Paul doesn't always cut to the chase. Sometimes he digresses about the abundant blessings here or there--beautiful, often doctrinally wonderful digressions--for several long tracts before getting to his punch. Here, he enters the ring punching. He has a message for Timothy, and he lays it down. Paul is a father, who needs not to soften his words and work his audience. He knows that Timothy will listen avidly, as a child does to his daddy. Unlike Paul's lengthy digressions proving his apostleship to the Corinthians or reminding his fatherhood to the Galatians, Paul can dismiss with the pleasantries and get on to it. So let's get on to it, shall we?
We have one of Paul's letters to the Christians in Ephesus, and we also have one of Jesus' own letters to the church there. The crux of Paul's letter is unity. He embarks on what appears to be a massive doctrinal digression that soon becomes the core doctrinal introduction, the declaration of expansive blessings to every single person in Christ. Through the Cross we can universally--Jew and Gentile alike--unite with God and thus with one another, and now we must live out this unity. Brothers and sisters bicker, but in God's family, everyone grows up.
Interestingly, Jesus' letter takes a different tone, but with a similar message. No longer are the Ephesian Christians on the rise, deserving praise mixed with intermitent admonishment. Rather, the church has begun a decline, eliciting rebuke mixed with scattered compliments. By this later date the church at Ephesus has successfully battled bouts of false doctrine, surely the groan of almost every minister and the premonition of continuous guerilla warfare among church members. Yet the fight against heresy and apostasy is not heartless authority and declaration of martial law. The battle is won the old way, the way that Paul has advocated all the way back in his historic letter to the church: the way of love. Maybe the Ephesians have heeded Paul's message to "walk in love, as Christ has loved us and gave himself up for us" (Eph 5:2), but by the time of their next biblical letter, they have "abandoned the love you had at first" (Rev 2:4). They have endured persecution, withstood apostasy, and uncovered falsehood, yet they lack the spirit behind their works, the "love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience" (1 Tim 1:5) speaks of. Perhaps in their zealotry they have trampled on people, forgetting that the church is the "people, not the steeple," nor the by-laws and ecclesiastical structure. Jesus specifically describes the church as having forgotten the love "you had at first," possibly the love that first drew them together as a church--their love not only for one another, but also their common love for God. This love they have lost, much as we might lose our love for our spouse or family members through sheer familiarity. Paul has a solution: "Remain at Ephesus," he commands Timothy. Timothy can galvanize the church to recover its former love, to take up "our charge," the mutual charge from Jesus to all Christians to love just as he has love them.
Digression--The Origin of Love: In many ways true love for God starts with love for one's neighbor and love for God are one. John the apostle says, "He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 Jn 4:20) and continues shortly thereafter, "Everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him" (1 Jn 5:1). On the one hand, we cannot love God if we do not already love our fellow humans, implicitly easier to love because of their sheer physical, concrete presence. On the other hand, before we can say that we love God, we must also be able to say that we love our fellow Christians. From two angles John tells us the same thing: to start loving God, we start loving people. By loving people, we can learn the concrete responsibilities and heart involved with love, for we can see often with our very own eyes when we have failed to love a person. The beauty of the system, however, is that as we love people, we simultaneously begin to love God. John follows his argument with the twist, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God an obey his commandments" (v. 2). Love for God and love for one's neighbor are enwrapped in one another, because when we love our neighbor, we obey God's commandment and express our love for him. Love for our neighbors is the conduit through which we begin to and spur on our love for him.
One of the first questions that might come to mind is, if there are "any different doctrine," what is the doctrine? Paul might mean the totality of the doctrine that he has taught in his various epistles, or he may refer to the whole set of teachings from Jesus, upon which Paul often expounds. The next few verses will likely shed some light on Paul's meaning.
1:4) We certainly see what the doctrine does not consist of. "Myths and endless genealogies" are somehow antitheses of the ideal doctrine that Paul has in mind. The goal--or at least what should not be the goal--of the doctrine also becomes clear: it will promote "the stewardship from God that is by faith," rather than speculations.
What might we gather from Paul's negative description of this quintessential message? The conglomerate image of his negative description is a nebulous message full of trivialities and devoid and ineffective in promoting action. Rather than solidity, the wrong message has "myth." Instead of instilling faith, the message promotes "speculation." The message of Paul has substance and incites action, the "stewardship from God," or the wise management of his resources. We learn that we firmly have new life in Jesus, attendant with all the energy and freedom of new creation and the responsibility to employ that for God.
Still, we lack a positive description from Paul of this doctrine. In fact, we have not even seen a description of "any different doctrine," but rather non-doctrines, the absence of teaching, myths and speculation. We await Paul's further revelation.
1:5) At first reading this charge may seem to contain a threesome of widely disparate, distantly related characteristics, a mere hodge-podge of idealistic religious goals. Upon closer inspection we see Paul's cogent description of one of the most complex goals in life: love. He has placed this love in the context of a message, a message gone sourly wrong among the Ephesian Christians. They once loved, but they have lost that first love. A new set of mythological, speculative doctrine has emerged, perhaps robbing the Ephesians' concrete conception of God and instead replacing him with philosophical ideas. The multiplicity of doctrines--whose very teachings seemed to deny resolution--appears to have divided the church along multiple lines. No longer could they love God, and no longer could they love one another. Something had gone terribly wrong, and Paul is about to bring them back to the crux of their problem.
Without hedging, Paul goes directly for the goal: love. Love single-handedly reveals the innate inaneness of the Ephesians' false doctrines, reunifies the people, and rekindles their hearts for God. It takes charge of what we might not consider the priorities of love--nay, what we might even consider the antithesis of love. How might that be? Shouldn't love be kind, good, and gentle, as Paul later speaks of the fruit of the Spirit? Haven't we always known love to stem from affection, rather than judgment of other people's doctrines? Reunification, rekindling--fine. But condemnation of other people's beliefs, their convictions? Now this is sounding like some religious mask for bigotry and persecution. "Love" as a guise for dictatorship and thoughtless obedience.
But the interesting observation from Paul's charge is that it admits no phoniness. The charge itself is love--love of a particular kind. At church I try to show love by serving, and back home I try to live out love by obeying my parents and fulfilling responsibilities to my brother. In class I try to show kindness to others. But so often I realize that my love is duplicitous in motive. I try to show love, particularly to someone of special interest, or perhaps to suck up to someone of authority. I may act kindly merely to get along, to lessen my own hurdles and provide insurance for whenever I may need help in the future.
The love that Paul describes accepts none of this. It takes us back to the purest motives of love that we could ever have. It describes not love itself, but love's motives. Love "that issues from" pristine deep springs at the core of our soul is love that satisfies our neighbor, ourselves, and above all God himself. The standard is so high, the goal so wonderful, it's no surprise that we can detect immediately when we have not achieved it: on a perfectly white canvas, the slightest speck of darkness fixes our eye. If we can ascribe even the hint that we have done something slightly at the expense of another person's good and for our unneccessary good, then we have gone amiss. If instead we see that we loved from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, the loved one is blessed indeed.
What does a "pure heart" entail? Our heart usually refers to our motives. When we love from a pure heart, our motives are none other than the good of our neighbor and the glory of God. Paul does not mean to say that we neglect ourselves, but that we don't have ulterior motives in loving others. I could easily love my tax collector, for example, if he might give me a break. Would we call such love, love? Yes, in a way, but not love from a pure heart. Similarly, I might love some girl so that she would be with me, yet care little about her welfare. That love does not stem from a pure heart, but from false motives. Such love may not always hurt the other individual; in fact, she may love me with the same intention, only for herself. Nonetheless, something would be missing, the bond that should have kept us together in a symbiotic relationship but merely turned out to be one of mutual parasitism. Such love grabs from the other rather than gives. In contrast, Paul wants us to love because we love the other person. We act not to get something for ourselves--even if we would nevertheless--but because we seek the good of the other individual.
Love from a pure heart may make intuitive sense. The connection between love and a good conscience may not be so readily clear. What about a good conscience allows us to love more fully, or at all? About what should we have a good conscience? If our heart speaks about our motives in loving, perhaps our conscience speaks about the quality of our love. We know that sometimes we can get away with not quite loving someone, yet acting as if we do. We can find the right smile and the pleasant words, but as soon as the person leaves--or maybe when the person is still around, but just not as sociable or respectable as we might expect--we scoff, however subtly. Is that, in fact, love from a good conscience? No matter how many people may call us "friendly" or "so nice, so sweet," may we say with good conscience that we have loved our neighbor as ourselves? I think that God would cringe to hear such self-deception if we say yes. He wants our consciences to be clear with regard to how we hold people in our heart. If we scorn or simply just don't care, we cannot say in good faith that we have loved our neighbor, at least to the extent that we could. True, we need not love everyone to the maximum that anyone could ever love that person. We must balance our responsibilities among the multiple people we contact as a daily experience. Yet sometimes, maybe often, our conscience tells us that we could have loved someone more, without sacrificing love for others. We speak of love as a sacrifice, but what must we sacrifice by not scoffing at someone who knows less than we do? Or what must we give up by listening to an acquaintance for five more minutes? And how much do we lose by not lashing out--in front or behind the back of--against someone who has looked down at us? Sacrifice surely is involved, but quite often we gain more or save ourselves from extra trouble by the sacrifice--and yet we still refuse to make it. Do we have any reason to ignore our conscience?
Love that issues forth from pure motives and whole-heartedness denies phoniness--usually. One component of Paul's charge remains, concerning our hope in loving: "a sincere faith." Suppose that I become a caretaker for a bed-ridden child, for example, one whom I train day in and day out. I care for his every need and love him, realizing his dependence on me and fulfilling my every role as caretaker with kindness, cheerfulness, and diligence. But one day when I enter his room with milk and chocolate and pull back the shades, he asks, "Sir, would you help me today to try walking outside?" "Surely, son, it is a nice day outside, and the view is wonderful from in here." "And may I smell the fresh air and trod the fertile ground, for I feel much better, sir?" he persists. "Yes, allow me to open the windows so that you may sniff." "I really think I might be able to try, sir, the outside, with your assistance," he continues. I reply, "In due time, my son, in due time..." Now we can understand if the child is merely ambitious or naive, but how about if such conversations persist for days? What if years past, and soon the child is bed-ridden only because of atrophy stemming from disuse, rather than from illness or deformity?
True love demands that we believe our love to be effective. We must have faith that our love will benefit the person we love. Sometimes we can determine how much we believe in the effectiveness of our love by asking ourselves if we would be willing to change the way in which we love. If we benefit the person we love to the point that this person no longer needs some of our former care, are we willing to adapt to this person's new needs? Or do we always seek or believe that this person will forever be dependent on us? With sincere faith that our love can take effect in a person, we can love people continuously, no matter how they or the world around them changes. No longer must we love static snapshots of people, a figments of the past, but the living people themselves.
This faith must ultimately extend from our faith in God. "We love," the apostle John declares, "because he first loved us" (1 Jn 4:19). "Love is from God" (v. 7), he notes earlier, showing that God is simultaneously the source and the demonstrator of love. The mechanism in which he gives us love is not some abstract administration, as if love were an entity, but a demonstration of the exact kind of love that he wants us to show one another: "he first loved us" by sending his Son, who loved both us and his Father to the point of death on the cross. "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him" (v. 9), John explains. Sending Jesus into the world ultimately meant sending him out of the world, into death and hell, so that "we might live through him." As we learn to trust God and begin to fully appreciate his sacrifice, we begin to understand his love, and through that understanding we understand how to love one another. We develop a sincere faith that he has loved and done so effectively, and now he provides us with the opportunity to begin loving our neighbor as he has loved us.
1:6) Without love--specifically a love that permits no phoniness--people can swerve into fruitless, useless debates. They may even value these discussions as critical to the faith and think that speak from love, seeking to steer their neighbors toward the truth. They err. The discussions are "vain," perhaps in both senses of the word. On the one hand, they accomplish nothing, but rather promote schism and bitterness among the chruch rather than "love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Col 3:14), as Paul writes the Colossians. On the other hand, they try to appear pious and intellectual; they are vain. Both definitions and both of their manifestations here go hand in hand, for the very worthlessness of their bickering stems from pride: "desiring to be teachers of the law" (1 Tim 1:7) for the position rather than the teaching itself.
1:7) We discern their inner motives as teachers when Paul describes them as "without undertsanding what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions." They have the teaching practice backward. The order for them is to teach, then learn. No wonder they go astray--and lead others along with them! And how often do we commit the same error ourselves? "Without understanding...the things about which they make confident assertions." Ouch. That sounds like me sometimes.
1:8) Paul here performs what these so-called teacher cannot: he accurately expounds on the law. Maybe these teachers saw the law as a means for self-exalation, a way to boast about one's greater, more diligent obedience. Paul says that they have misapplied the law; they have used the law unlawfully. Someone they felt that the law could somehow stroke their egos and give them an edge over one another. Somehow they missed their daily failure to meet the law's standards.
I wonder how much I live the same way, only in my own Christian-ness? When I obey the law, I feel a little more smug, a bit more impervious to judgment and a bit more justified in lording it over others. When I fall to sin, I feel worthless, hated by others and unworthy to gain their respect. My whole identity becomes enwrapped in my ability to perform. Interestingly, this performance does not seem restricted to spiritual obedience, but also my worldly success. I feel slammed when I publically make a mistake. I walk around in a half-daze and fear rejection when I give a simple "Hi." Something is missing, and that something is grace.
1:9) Paul's point is that the law does nothing but condemn. It never exalts a person, because people never match up to its demands. Sure, we might avoid the major sins, but we commit the same transgressions in our hearts. When Pauls says, "The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless," he essentially says that the law applies only to those who aren't under the law. And who are those people? Those who disobey the law. And that includes everyone. The law is only concerned with sinners and only concerned with revealing their sinfulness. It reveals my inner wickedness and daily disobedience. I have absolutely no reason to boast in myself, no matter how well I perform, whether spiritually or academically. I can cause a whole crowd to crack up with laughter and exalt me in their minds, yet still the law will condemn my every false motive and crude remark. On the flip side, I could bumble and stutter and make a fool of myself, and the law will condemn me not--unless, of course, I bumble and stiffen in pride as well. So then, whether the law condemns each of our acts or not, we still deserve nothing but to hang our heads in shame.
Ironically, the law may apply specifically to those whom Paul talks about. These people, for all their righteous speach and public piety, may have engaged in the ilicit behavior that Paul describes. They doubly misappropriate the law by applying it to themselves in their purported righteousness, when the law shouldn't apply, yet ignoring it in true righteousness, when the law very much applies. The opposing effects unfortunately do not cancel out one another, but instead amplify their effects, for now whether or not the law applies to them, they estrange themselves from God. As those who consider themselves a part of the group to whom the law no longer applies, they only deceive themselves; as those to whom the law applies, they ignore its condemnation and outreach. In either case, they have reached the state where they can ignore the law, for they have not united with Christ, the fulfiller of the law.
The law for these teachers is not good because they apply it to themselves as if they were just, though they are not. Thinking they are just, they fail to apply it as they should--a warning and spur to seek forgiveness--and do apply it as they shouldn't--a mechanism for believers. What specifically do they seek in the law? Perhaps they seek it as a means to maintain their righteousness. They may have thought that the law made them righteous and can now maintain that status before God and man. Little do they realize their misunderstanding from the outset, the fact that the law has done nothing but revealed their sinfulness and condemned them for it.
Most of the sins in the following list are what we might call extreme, things that most civil, more people don't commit. But not all. And some of these sins have become decreasingly shameful in society and increasingly prevalent.
Unholy: Paul couldn't have picked a more generalized sin. More precisely, he doesn't describe a single sin, but a disposition for it. Of course we never lead fully holy lives, for even a single sin breaks us from the purity of holiness. Nonetheless, God has commanded us since the days of the Law through now: "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Pt 1:16; cp Lev 11:44). Under the Law the command meant nothing but failure and condemnation, but now under Christ, who frees us from sin, we find the grace to simultaneously make mistakes and make fewer of them. God eliminates the all-or-none status that we once faced, where we either obeyed God completely or lost all with even a single failure, to a graded, gracious status, where we learn to obey more and more, and all failures are washed away. God has in effect taken us out of the "public school" and placed us in the "private"; he works with us personally and understands our mistakes. He relieves us from obeying for the sake of perfection and instead allows us to obey because we love him.
If one word characterizes the entire Hebrew Bible, that word might be "holy." God is holy; therefore, we should be holy. Jesus states that the entire Hebrew Scriptures rest on two commandments: the greatest commandment, to love God with all our hearts, and the similar commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself, two commandments that provide the motivation to be holy. Holiness, the sum of the law, rests on our ability to love God and man. If we remove love, we cannot be holy, and if we remove holiness, we show that we do not love. Paul neatly sums up the law and shows how how all have disobeyed it, need God's forgiveness, and even after receiving it, need a daily change of heart to develop our love for God and show it through personal holiness.
Profane: If one word truthfully describes the Hebrew Scriptures, another word may falsely describe its central subject: "profane." To many the Law may seem like nothing but a collection of "don't"'s. It's a negative work, condemning otherwise natural and good acts as "profane." Or so we might think. What we must notice from Paul is that he couples "unholy and profance" as one unit, for one is the flip side of the other. What defines the profane is its unholiness. Profanity is wrong precisely because it offends God, and what does not offend God is not profanity. To God, profanity is not necessarily the opposite of proper rituals, but more precisely the opposite of holiness, a oneness with God. He wants us to avoid the profane so that we can dive into an open relationship with him. He seeks to unburden us from sin, not shackle us within ritual. He condemns profanity because he loves us to love him.
Strike their mothers and fathers: Well, now that's cold. Surely none or very few of us do that? The original commandment, however, says merely that we should not fail to honor our parents. To dishonor them in any way, whether financially or through neglect, we strike them, slapping them in their faces after all they have sacrificed for us. Some, to be sure, have not sacrificed much for their children. Do they deserve to be struck? Not anymore than their kids deserved to be neglected. We have a responsibility to our parents much as they had a responsibility for us.
Murderers: Again, not I, right? Jesus says that if we become angry with, insult, or curse someone, we have murdered that person in our heart. Just as God looks beyond mere ritual when describing profanity, so also he looks into the heart when evaluating murder.
1:10) Sexually immoral: Likewise Jesus describes lust in one's heart as the equivalent of adultery. Sexual immorality is ultimately an act of the heart, something even the most timid and lonely of us can commit.
Men who practice homosexuality: This one won't escape the eyes of many today, especially those in my current city. What's wrong with homosexuallity? Aren't people born with it in their genes? Possibly, but people are also born with natural inclinations to all sorts of sexual immoralities, not to mention anger, jealousy, and a whole slew of other sins. We're sinners, and we're sinners natually. Homosexuality may be natural for some, but God wants us to rise above our fallen nature. His greater plan lies within heterosexual union or celibacy.
Enslavers: I think that this practice has died down considerably. Unless we start counting the nagging husband or wife. Or the oppressive boss. And apparently slavery still runs strong worldwide, in sweatshops and other cruel forms of inhumane employment.
Liars: Now Paul's striking low, isn't he? I mean, probably few of us lie on a daily basis...er, well, we just stretch the truth...
Perjurers: The temptation is strong in court, I'm sure.
Whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine: Paul unleases a catch-all, not because he wants to condemn everyone in his path, but because the Law is extremely wide in its net. None escape its condemnation. We have all failed it--and not once or twice, but as a pattern of our lives. As enslavers, we ironically are enslaved, daily, hourly giving into our natural inclinations to be happy at God's expense. He wants us to be happy and in the happiest way, and he has provided to Law to expose how we only cheat ourselves from his goodness.
1:11) Steeped in sin and under the condemnation of the law, we have no recourse but to throw ourselves at the feet of the Judge. It's particularly convenient that the Judge is also simultaneously the Lawmaker and the Chief Executive--of the universe. He can make and he can break the Law. One conundrum is how he could break the law if it stems from his own nature. Does he go against himself? One reason he cannot arbitrarily defy the Law and merely set us all free at once is because he gave the Law for a purpose, a purpose in accordance with his immutable nature--holiness. We simply cannot come to him as unholy beings. Nonetheless, he can break the Law in other ways. He can send down someone to make us holy. In a sense this doesn't make sense, because from all we know, no one can simply make another person holy. I couldn't walk into a court and ask to die in place of someone on death row, because that person must bear his own punishment. But God can do these kinds of things. That's why he sends down his only Son--Jesus, God himself--to die for us. God can break his own law, so long as he remains consistent with its purpose.
The amazing things about God's law-breaking is that he builds it into the law itself. In a way the United States breaks its own laws all the time (and I'm not just talking about shady government practices). The legislative branch can make new laws to go completely contrary to old ones. The judicial branch can rule laws illegal. The executive branch may choose not to enforce certain laws. God, as judge, lawmaker, and executive all in one, is the government--the heavenly, universal government--and can make or break as he pleases, all legally. But that's not what's particularly amazing. The astounding part is that God has peppered the Law with provisions for and predictions of its own downfall. The Law make specific references to how it will pass away with the coming of the "gospel of the blessed God." The gospel is that "of the blessed God" not only because he has designed it since the inception of the Law, but also because he enacts it a the Law's breaking. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
1:12) One question that has plagued me since my junior high days is why we attribute our strength to God when non-Christians often display similar strength but attribute it to themselves? Does the difference lie in the activity, as if they would be powerless in spiritual endeavors? Possibly, though we seem to find many who build great and grand ministries yet later show themselves to not be of the faith at all. And what about situations where the distinction between the spirtual and the secular becomes grayer? Can I trust God to strengthen me during my studies, for example? Even this task that seems so clearly secular proves spiritual according to other perspectives--we study to sharpen our minds for ministry and God's other callings in life. Conversely, we employ many of the same secular techniques in spiritual ministries as in secular business. Just look at the ads for Christian groups, conferences, and even movies. What makes the distinction...or does one even exist?
Paul thanks God for strengthening Paul and speaks specifically about a distinctly spiritual ministry: "appointing me to his service." He elaborates by stating why Jesus gives Paul strength: "because he judged me faithful." He later describes why he needs this strength: "though formerly I was a blasphermer, persecutor, and insolent opponent" (v. 13). He has a spiritual deficiency, and he needs spiritual strength.
And perhaps that's where the source of our strength becomes clear. Where we need strength, the Lord can provide it. Where we don't, we can work just as everyone else works, by our own strength. In some areas we have no choice but to rely on God for strength. We remain helpless and incapable to achieve our own salvation from sin, for example, and need him to rescue us. Even as Christians we lack spiritual strength to fully serve him. I may play the greatest church and draw in the most wonderful musicians and deacons and ushers and speakers, yet I depend on God's strength to draw the congregation and work in people's hearts--not to mention that I need God's strength to complete all this heroic planning in the first place. In school some people manage to do well, far better than even the most devoted Christians. In whatever ways those Christians are deficient, they can turn to God. In whatever ways those who succeed more can do better, they can turn to God.
In another, God deserves our glory even in areas where we were sufficient, where we seemed to work from our own powers. "For who sees anything different in you?" Pauls asks the Corinthians in his first canonical letter to them. "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor 6:7). Paul does not see "anything different in you," the people in the Corinthian church, despite all their different statuses and reputation among their peers. What he sees are God's creation, his own workmanship. Often as Christians we might focus on their status as God's new workmanship, created in Christ for good works, but God's handiwork extends even further back. From our very conception in the womb, God has formed us: "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; my soul knows it very well" (Ps 139:13-4). Deep inside probably many of us know all too well that we are the creation of another. We did not form ourselves. We may have inherited some powerful and potent genes, cut, stitched, washed, dried, and packaged better than many of our peers--but someone else did the cutting, stitching, washing, drying, packaging. We just wear what we've been given...and yet we have the audacity to boast as if we had made ourselves? We merely took what we were given and made the most of it, or sometimes not even that. God makes; we make the most of.
Does God hire us on a probationary basis? We are used to "proving ourselves" before an employer or even a new aquaintence will fully accept us. Does God work the same way? Paul says that God appointed Paul to service "because he judged me faithful." Note first that Paul does not speak of salvation, nor of service in general, nor a final evaluation, but specifically of service in a peculiar, particularly high position. God wants to work through us, and he cannot work when we continually resist and turn to idols. As we prove faithful, he invests more and more in us. That's not to say that he won't invest exorbitant energy into the most unfaithful follower of Jesus, but that he pours extra resources not merely to strengthen our character, but also to strengthen our service to others.
1:13) We might begin to infer by this probationary period that God only accepts and uses the naturally smart and competent. Paul goes to great lengths to contradict this natural assumption. He describes himself as the chief of sinners, simultaneously a blasphermer, persecutor, and insolent opponent in his former life. He didn't even have a hint of shame for his sin, but rather self-righteous pride. When God accepted him, God accepted a sodden, trodden sinner.
The reason for God's mercy has always confused me, however: "I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief." What happens when Christians sin, particularly when they sin knowingly? Of course we mostly don't want to do so...yet deep inside, or perhaps not even so deep, we know that we have sinned in full knowledge of the truth. Will God not show us mercy?
One question that arrives from Paul's explanation for receiving God's mercy is the defining factor in "ignorantly in unbelief"? He might mean that God will show mercy so long as we sin merely out of ignorance, or maybe only when we're still unbelievers, or maybe both. I'm inclined to see unbelief as the defining factor, for unbelief includes ignorance. If we don't believe in God, we don't even know that we're sinning, because we have no idea who we're sinning against or at least don't think that there's any God out there whom we're disobeying. Of course this still doesn't address whether God would forgive the sins we commit after becoming believers.
We might do well to remember that Paul speaks personally rather than giving a directly applicable, general principle. His particular situation refers to sin of an almost egregious nature--blasphemy, persecution, and insolent opposition. True believers, those whom God supernaturally alters, will not--cannot--sin in such a way. To sin as such would indicate one's lack of belief. God would accordingly offer mercy for such sin, committed in unbelief. He wouldn't offer such mercy to believers, simply because they would never need it. As believers we continue to sin in sometimes rather ugly ways, yet we need not fear such a slavish lifestyle to sin, slavish often out of sheer ignorance of our disobedience. "For sin will not have dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace" (Rom 6:14), Paul tells us elsewhere.
1:14) Whose faith and love is Paul talking about? He might refer to his faith in Christ, which Christ honored by giving grace to Paul. If so, "faith...in Christ" would be parallel with "love...in Christ," but what does it mean to have love in Christ? Don't we normally have love "for," not "in," someone? Moreover, Paul speaks of a "faith...that [is] in Christ," as if the possessor of faith were Christ, not Paul. Together with the same syntax with love, Paul indicates that just as Jesus gives overflowing grace, so also do faith and love overflow toward Paul. Paul, in desperate need of grace, short on true faith, and lacking in sincere love, finds overflowing provision to meet each insufficiency.
I've always considered myself short on faith. A sceptic at heart, I have doubted everything from textbooks to teachers to the Bible since elementary school. Doubt is useful, but I come to points where I wish that I could just take things at face value. I simply wish that I had more faith. Unfortunately, doubt seems like a self-defeating cycle, a Catch-22 where I can't believe because I don't receive, and I don't receive because I can't believe. God grants, or so I thought, faith only to those who already believe. That works out fine for those w/ faith to start, but what about me, or especially those who don't have the basic faith that is engrained simply from a childhood surrounded by faithful Christianity? Jesus offers the solution by simply overwhelming us with faith. He takes the initiative to give us faith even when we're steeped in the mightiest of sin. He gives the faith to get things going--but he doesn't just give a seed. He gives faith overflowing and throws in grace and love at similar volume.
1:15) "That Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." That couldn't be a more accurate description of myself. There are times when I begin to think myself righteous, and it's those times that I'm probably at my lowest, spiritually. If Paul can say with such humility and self-helplessness that he relies on Jesus, how much more can I? What a blessing that I can rely on Jesus' sacrifice and forgiveness as a saying "trustworthy and full of acceptance." Sometimes my sin seems overwhelming, trapping me in guilt and hopelessness. Only the power of Jesus can unfasten my chains and show me the light of life and forgiveness.
1:16) I can claim no merit for this forgiveness. I earned freedom from sin not from my fortitude nor strength of faith, but ultimately by the mere act of God. I didn't attract God because he somehow found me beautiful and worthy of honor, but "for this reason...that Christ might display his perfect patience." Well, I guess that refers specifically to Paul, who, "as the foremost," trusts in Jesus only after a frightfully long road, fraught with sin of the highest order and mightiest self-deception. Paul serves as an example to me. My road to salvation was long, fraught with skepticism and slavery to sin, yet all along the way Jesus showed patience and guided me continually back toward him. Even now as a believer I must look to Paul for encouragement with my ongoing battles with sin and struggle for spiritual maturity. I can find solace in Jesus' enduring, perfect patience, ever willing to watch over and tend me as a fragile flower--a flower with an incessant tendency toward becoming a weed.
1:17) After expouding the magnificent patience and grace of Jesus, Paul praises "the only God." In other words, Paul seems to equate Jesus with God. We find yet another passage that could be interpreted without acknowledging the deity of Christ, but which becomes increasingly tenuous to do so.
Jesus has "perfect patience"; he is the "King of ages." By ruling for all time, he rules time itself. So much of the anxiety that governs our life stems from our watches. We continually watch the clock tick away as our ambitions accelerate out of our grasp. Other times we struggle with anxious boredom as we wait for time to pass while we await results or relaxation. We have trouble enjoying the now, and what we look forward to in the future seems to pass in a blink. Not so with God. He sees all time at once and gets to enjoy it all together. He sees our birth along with each of our birthdays and all the celebration at once. He also sees the hardships that bring us from one birthday to the next and ultimately to the grave. In them he sees his purpose fulfilled and the resurrection that comes. Moreover, nothing fazes him, yet he still manages to find joy and excitement with the changing of the times. He is not limited by time's beckon; he is the immortal, invisible one, the only one, "the only God," who operates in a timeless dimension that we cannot see and which he governs eternally.
1:18) [(All the phrases in this and the next verse merely modify and expand upon the first statement of this v., rather than adding to its action.) Probably not--the 4th phrase could still extend to this first statement (12/24/04)]
What charge does Paul speak of? Likely the same charge that he mentioned back in v.5: "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure hear and a good conscience and a sincere faith." Admittedly he doesn't even explicitly say the charge, but "the aim of our charge." Looking back a few vv. even more, we come across what may be the charge itself" "Remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies" (vv.3-4). The charge is essentially negative. As if to balance the negative tone and draw out the equally important, itegral, positive flip-side, Paul describes the aim, the motivation, of the charge as one of love in its sincerest manifestation. To that charge and its motivation Paul now returns. He speaks as one who previously held the responsibility of the charge. He had to lead the church and maintain its doctrinal order. Now as the bearer of the charge, he can "entrust to you, Timothy," the charge, handing it over. Paul nears the end of his life and realizes that he must pass on his duty--or at least part of it. Note that Paul never entrusts his charge both to guard previously disclosed doctrine and reveal more of it. New revelation might be coming to a close, and whoever may proclaim what new doctrine remains to be revealed, Timothy likely will not mediate its delivery. Rather, the prophecies have been made about Timothy himself. And I guess it's not so bad not getting to prophesy if one is the subject of (good) prophecy.
Prophecies in times past were made about Timothy, and now time comes to fulfill them so "that by them you may wage the good warfare." The prophecies coupled with their fulfillment in the charge that Paul entrusts to Timothy firmly establishes him as a commander in "the good warfare." Most people today shy away from warfare, to the point that it has become almost politically incorrect, often for many good reasons. This warfare, however, is "good warfare." Again Paul juxtaposes two seemingly antithetical terms. How can warfare, an almost inherently bad thing, be called good? The "bad" side to the specific warfare of which Paul speaks is the rebuking and discipline that Timothy may have to show false and errant teachers. The good is the motivation for and attitude with which Timothy should carry out his charge: "love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (v.5), motives that admit no malice or duplicity of heart.
1:19) Similarly, Paul reiterates those motives here: "holding faith and a good conscience." More specifically, he refers to the attitude with which Timothy must act--clothed in faith and good conscience--while he has spoken specifically of "the aim," the motive, before.
What a frightening thought--to "shipwreck" one's faith. In what ways may true believers wreck their faith? Or can believers do so? What in fact does it mean to shipwreck one's faith?
1:20) It makes sense that by not "holding faith," we shipwreck our faith. Paul was rather familiar with shipwrecks, according to records in Acts, and in each account the ship never returned. He seems to indicate by "shipwreck" that these people have lost their faith--a faith than will never return. They set out with faith, but they never made it. That doesn't necessarily mean that they had saving faith; they may have merely begun with a kernel of faith that never fully materialized. Paul seems to speak in line with the writer to the Heb, who writes of those who "have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and powers of the age to come" (6:3-5), terms that depict a close but not necessarily an actual union with God in true faith. These people embark from their former lifestyle and have "enlightened...tasted...shared...tasted" the things of God, yet never fully eaten and owned these things. Instead, they eventually "fall away" (6:6), never to return again to the faith. They have shipwrecked their faith, meaning that their faith is just that--wrecked, destroyed, gone. Having become enlightened but never believing, they have essentially consciously rejected the faith.
I first heard of Hymenaeus and Alexander when a pastor told me of some raucous members of his cogregration. These members--mere youths, if I recall correctly--had become vibrant in the faith, but later turned away. Seeking somehow to draw them back, the pastor asked his church board to hand them "over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme." Needless to say, I was shocked. I understood that the pastor quoted from Scripture, and not even some archaic Old Testament passage, but I still couldn't believe that he applied the passage so literally. Moreover, I wasn't even exactly sure of how literal the passage is. As I look afresh at the passage, I would make a tentative conclusion that Paul speaks of those who have turned irrevocably away from the faith. When the pastor and his board prayed that God would hand these people over to Satan, the pastor assumed that their fate was sealed, and now they just needed to be put away so that they could no longer damage the church. Instead, he interpreted the passage to mean that God would merely open the doors for Satan to attack these people and drive them back to God, effectively converting rebellion into repentance. Different interpretations have a dramatically different outlook on the survival of these two members.
In the end, I doubt that these prayers could have any negative influence on the members. Supposing that the "shipwreck interpretation," which assumes that by "shipwreck" Paul means that these people have already sealed their fates and no longer have an opportunity to return to God (cp Heb 6), turning these people over Satan seals their fate no more, but merely removes certain menace from the congregation. If they for some reason have not yet shipwrecked their faith, I doubt that God would honor the prayer. Suppose instead that the "second chance interpretation" is correct. If so, this prayer could only mean that God would provide a dramatic impetus to drive these people back to God. The negative effect might be that they could have returned without such drastic measures, but at least in the end they return, likely with greater vigor and security than they would have by any other means.
Still, I would only apply this passage after careful deliberation, both on the interpretation of the passage and the analysis of the situation at hand. Playing with Satan does not strike me as a light affair. Nonetheless, to deliberate so long that we never apply the passage could have its own drastic results. The church may sustain an unnecessary internal menace, or lapsing believers may never return to the faith. Sometimes the only solution is to act on faith, believing that God knows the consequences of requests just as perfectly as he knows our needs in the first place. The beauty of prayer to the one and only God is that we know that he has the most effective conversion system to filter out unwarranted, even erroneous prayers, and channel that faith into answers for our unknown needs. Ultimately we need not faith in our request, but faith in God himself, the one who knows and answers. "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (Js 5:16), for the righteous person, no matter how inaccurate his thought, has faith in the God who works.