Thursday, May 27, 2010

Protecting the Integrity of the Gospel

On my way home from work yesterday, I heard NPR reporter Richard Harris comment to Melissa Block that there were complications in the “top kill” procedure being employed by BP in order to stop the current massive flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  This process involves filling a mixture of a dense mud-like substance into the rig’s blowout preventer (the part that didn’t prevent the blowout) in hopes of stifling the flow of crude oil.  Harris said that different types of top kills had been successful in the past, but some had not—and that there were risks.  It is possible that if they place too much weight inside the preventer or the well at the wrong pressure, they could actually cause the metal of the well pipe to sheer, thus allowing pressurized oil to escape through the pipe and then through the sea floor—as if the current disaster were not enough.  So they are quite concerned with protecting the integrity of the well wall.

In our last post, we introduced the idea that Paul was communicating to Timothy the preciousness of the gospel by urging him to command certain people not to pervert the gospel, nor to take the gospel lightly, but to uphold it.  The idea of issuing a command may sound harsh, but we saw earlier that if a command is motivated by love, issued in love, and if the goal or end of it is love, then such a command is wonderful.

I think the entire letter is wrapped around this idea.  Your translation may use a different word than command, like charge or instruct.  But we see the idea of this command three times in chapter 1 (vv. 3, 5, 18), and once again in chapter 6 (v. 13).  Clearly Paul took it seriously, and wanted Timothy to do so as well.

So how do we uphold the gospel?  How do we follow Paul’s urging of Timothy’s command?  It begins by protecting the integrity of the gospel.

1. We are to protect the integrity of the gospel of Christ.
     (1 Timothy 1.3-4)

As Paul is leaving the city of Ephesus, he wants to leave the church there in the capable hands of Timothy.  And his first priority is to protect the integrity of the gospel message he had taught there.  He tells Timothy:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge [command] certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. (1 Timothy 1.3-4, ESV)

The faithful, godly stewardship he mentions is the message and work of the gospel (we’ll see that later in v. 11).  We should make no mistake: The gospel message has internal integrity.  It was conceived in the mind of God, was effected and placed on display in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and has been shared with consistency and power since the time of Christ.  The concern in protecting the integrity of the gospel does not come from within the message.  No, the concern, like the integrity of the well mentioned above, comes from external pressures that threaten to corrupt its good work.

How?  Throughout the New Testament, one of the gravest concerns the Scripture writers had was of the increasing influence of wrong teaching in their day.  False doctrines had infiltrated the church even in its earliest days.  Paul had warned his church plants to be on guard for the gospel for the sake of the church.  Here is what he tells the Ephesian church leaders on a different occasion:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.  I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.  And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.  (Acts 20.28-32, NASB)

Paul was genuinely concerned for their welfare.  He tells them not only to watch out for outsiders, “savage wolves” who would come in to the community of truth in an attempt to corrupt the gospel message, but also for the deceivers among their own people, the wolves in sheep’s clothing who would desire to draw people away with a false gospel.

Listen to the way Peter says it:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.  (2 Peter 2.1-3, NASB)

Harsh words, but the toughness comes from a man who been commanded by Jesus to “feed my sheep.”  The many biblical commands surrounding the protection of the integrity of the gospel message cannot be taken lightly.  They are loving, because eternal life and death are at stake.

[This is part 2 of 5 in a miniseries titled, A Loving Command.  The larger series on 1 Timothy is called The Community of Truth.]

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Loving Command

As a little boy, I must have rejected authority and needed reminding a lot.  I remember one particular story that my mom would tell me over and over again.  It was an apparently true tale about an overseas church leader who lived near a rainforest region.  One evening he saw his son standing under a tree and instantly yelled to his son to lay down.  The son immediately obeyed, without understanding, questioning or complaining.  Then the father called out to the son to get up on his hands and knees, and to begin crawling forward.  Immediately the son responded.  After the boy had crawled a few feet, the father yelled that he should stand up and start running towards him.  And yet again, the son immediately followed his dad’s commands, running until he reached where his father was.  Upon arriving there, the dad turned his son around to reveal that a 10-foot Boa constrictor was hanging just above where the son had been standing.

When my mom would repeat this story to me, in my antiauthoritarian spirit, I’m sure I wanted to say, “I don’t get it, Mom.”  But the point of the story is clear, and she and I both knew that.  There are times when a loving, gracious command is issued, for our good, in a way that we may not immediately understand.  And yet the command needs to be followed, since life and death are at stake.

If a command is motivated by love, issued in love, and if the goal or end of it is love, then such a command is wonderful.

And so begins the biblical letter we know as 1 Timothy—with a command.  In trying to understand the dynamic of the circumstances surrounding Paul’s writing of his first letter to Timothy, I always try to think of what it might have been like to be Timothy in this situation.  What would it feel like if I were a young man in a ministry that was given to me just as my mentor was about to go into another region, leaving me behind to finalize the work in that particular area?  I imagine that he waffled between youthful enthusiastic confidence, and immature feeble fear.  No wonder at times Paul tries to shore up Timothy’s confidence in Christ.  Already approximately in his late 20s to early 30s, Timothy was probably very capable, but easily might have questioned his ability to stand in the face of opposition.

It is this context into which Paul leaves him behind in order to carry out a very important task.  He must rid the church of false teaching.  Easy enough (sure).  More on this in a moment.

I love it when a letter of Scripture explicitly spells out the purpose for which it was written.  In the third chapter, Paul specifically states that he is writing so that “you [Timothy] may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3.15).  Although this specific statement is directed to Timothy (the “you” here is singular), much of the letter clearly addresses the entire church and their role in the community and its culture.  In modern terms, it would be like taking out an ad or posting an online public letter that is actually addressed to a private individual.  Paul was shrewd in the best sense.  He knew that he wanted to get some points across to the entire congregation, but he does it by telling Timothy—in an open letter.  So we know Paul’s purpose is to help them uphold and promote the truth.  And what is truth?  The answer to this question points us back to the first part of the letter where Paul refers to the truth as the glorious gospel of the blessed God (1.11).

As Paul left to go into Macedonia, he urged Timothy to stay in Ephesus and command others not to teach false doctrines—untrue versions or perversions of the one, true gospel.  Just like the story above, Paul understood that getting the gospel right, and keeping it right, was a matter of life and death in an eternal sense.

The command is still in force today, far beyond ancient Ephesus.

So how do we uphold the gospel?  How do we follow Paul’s urging of Timothy’s command?  It begins by protecting the integrity of the gospel, which we’ll look at next time.

[This is part 1 of 5 in a miniseries titled, A Loving Command.  The larger series on 1 Timothy is called The Community of Truth.]

The Community of Truth – Series Archive

A Series on 1 Timothy

Below you can find links to a series we will be developing here in the coming days on the biblical book of 1 Timothy. This post will serve as the series permalink, with parts updated as they are posted. We pray this will become a helpful resource in your Godward progress.

  1. A Loving Command (Introduction)
  2. Protecting the Integrity of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.3-4)
  3. Promoting the Goal of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.5-7)
  4. Proclaiming the Grace of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.8-11)
  5. Preserving the Progress of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.18-20)
  6. Intense Desire for Ministry (1 Tim 1.12-17)
  7. Gospel-Advancing Prayer (1 Tim 2.1-8)
  8. Purposeful, Ordered Design (1 Tim 2.8-15)
  9. Proven Character for Leadership (1 Tim 3.1-7)
  10. Respectable Volunteer Leaders (1 Tim 3.8-13)
  11. The Pillar and Pattern of the Truth (1 Tim 3.14-16)
  12. Falling Away from Faith (1 Tim 4.1-5)
  13. Good Servants of Christ Jesus (1 Tim 4.6-16)
  14. Church Life as Family (1 Tim 5.1-16)
  15. Maintaining Trustworthy Elders (1 Tim 5.17-25)
  16. When God Doesn’t Change My Circumstances (1 Tim 6.1-2)
  17. Godliness with Contentment (1 Tim 6.3-10, 17-19)
  18. Guarding the Trust (1 Tim 6.11-16, 20-21)