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.]