Monday, March 31, 2014

The Goal of Instruction - 1st Timothy 1:3-7

"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, 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. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 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." (1 Timothy 1:3-7)
Some have believed that Timothy served as a local pastor in Ephesus. However, I find no evidence in the scriptures or the early Christian writings that would suggest this. Everything we know of Timothy is in relation to his serving with Paul in his apostolic ministry. Here, when Paul urges Timothy to remain behind in Ephesus, there is nothing to indicate that he became a pastor or elder of the church, simply he continued on as an extension of Paul's ministry to correct some faulty teaching that was in the church that Paul had planted.

It is unclear exactly what heresy was being propagated throughout Ephesus. I used to think Paul was referring to Judaism because of the importance genealogies served in proving which tribe you descended from, but Ephesus was not a Jewish center. It is more likely that Paul was referring to one of the Gnostic heresies of the day. These heresies had developed an idea of layer upon layer of gods, each one begetting the next layer and so on. There was also a competition among the gnostics to try and out do each other by coming up with new and more expansive layers of gods, each according to the speculations of their own minds. It was an endless and fruitless pursuit that only led to arguing. Worse of all, such pursuits help no one to grow in regards to God or His Kingdom. Turtullian wrote of such Gnostic sects saying,
"This is rather the glory which they catch at, to compass the fall of those who stand, not the raising of those who are down. Accordingly, since the very work which they purpose to themselves comes not from the building up of their own society, but from the demolition of the truth, they undermine our edifices, that they may erect their own. Only deprive them of the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the divinity of the Creator, and they have not another objection to talk about. The consequence is, that they more easily accomplish the ruin of standing houses than the erection of fallen ruins. It is only when they have such objects in view that they show themselves humble and bland and respectful. Otherwise they know no respect even for their own leaders." (Turtullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 42)
All they had was the destruction of what already existed. They had no word or message that could serve to build anyone up, only tear down. There is so much "noise" today even in Christian circles; some of it maybe helpful but some of it only serves to unsettle and distract. It seems that some exist only to tell us what we aught not to believe and to convince us of how we are doing it wrong as they are the purveyors of how to "get it right." However, the administration of God is by faith. Our teaching and communication should be to encourage one another's faith, not bring it into question. We should seek to promote what is right, not simply point out what is wrong. We should aim to build up, not always tearing down. Our ministry should exist to serve the faith of others, not as a means of hocking our own brand of belief or, as more often the case, unbelief.

The goal of the Father is that we might "become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29) This should be our goal too; not that people might become like us but that they may become like Christ. Far too often, those who teach a "law" teach a "law" that is conformed to them; a law that is patterned after their own behavior; condemning what they do not do and excusing what they do do. The goal of their "law" is to make people like them. Their "law" serves as an external means to coerce the conformance of others that they might not themselves feel condemned. Paul writes of those who were insisting on keeping the laws of Moses saying, "For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh." (Galatians 6:13) When someone can force us to keep their "law" it reinforces to them that they are right and assuages them of any sense of guilt for not keeping God's "law". However, in the end, often both are harmed. One by not repenting and the other by succumbing to the deception of the first.

God has not called us to conform others to our own doctrines and laws, but to help others to know God and to grow closer to Him that they may become conformed to His image, not our own.

David Robison

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