Ashley Hibbard, one of our visiting lectures this year, concludes the series with a discussion on chapter 6 Paul brings this letter to close by urging the young Timothy to hold fast to what was deposited in him – the sound doctrine (paratheke). The same challenge is out or us in this day and age. We are called upon to teach what is sound in our churches in order for the body of Christ to grow and reach full maturity. Blessings!
Paul’s great concern in his first letter to Timothy is to equip this young preacher with the right teaching that it will take to defend the Ephesian church from the false teachers that threaten them. In this last chapter, he draws two major conclusions: what to run from, and what to run towards.
In 1 Timothy 6:3-10, Paul describes the false teachers. Their teaching does not agree with the teachings of Jesus (6:3-4a), they love divisiveness and controversy (6:4b-5a), and they come to believe that following God results in wealth (6:5b). Paul then discusses the foolishness of this last point in great detail: real gain comes from a godly life that his been filled with contentment, not possessions (6:6-8), and the love of money drives people away from God and into sorrow (6:10).
One of Paul’s concerns seems to be that Timothy not fall into the trap of the false teachers. He tells Timothy to “flee these things” (6:11). He must run from this sort of evil. Temptations to sin are often insidious. Satan knows how to use our desires for good and turn them to evil. As a former zealous Pharisee and persecutor of the church, Paul knew that an excellent thing like a love of the truth can be warped into the sin of self-importance – the need to be right, and to correct others not in a spirit of peace, but to feed our sinful desire to be powerful. The Holy Spirit knew that we, with Timothy, need these warnings.
Part of fighting the good fight of faith (6:12) is knowing when to stop fighting – knowing what issues or doctrines need to be fought for, and what matters can be left to Christian conscience. Such lines are difficult to discern, but such discernment is necessary.
The issue of using the gospel to gain wealth is most important to discuss. Both in my North American context, and also what I have learned of southern Africa, there is in some sectors an increasing amount of what is called the “prosperity gospel.” It is in complete opposition to the gospel of Christ – a false gospel. Prosperity preachers teach that Jesus died not only to save us from our sins, but to save us from physical and economic suffering. The biblical gospel teaches that the way to greatness is the way of humility.
We are called to be generous, to be kind and peaceable, and to live lives that are characterised by sacrifice. We are called to trust God for our needs. We are called to be a people who suffer for the good of others, following the example of Jesus our master who suffered for the good of his rebellious creation.
Having told Timothy what he must flee from, Paul tells him what he must pursue. The Christian life is not primarily one of avoiding bad things, but it is first a life of pursuing God himself and living for his glory. Paul tells Timothy to pursue a life of Christian virtue. It is particularly interesting how he intersperses virtues that may at first seem somewhat at odds: love, steadfastness, gentleness, fighting the good fight. But in moving back and forth between these characteristics some of which we perceive as “active” and some that we perceive as “passive,” we begin to see a picture of a Christian life that can at once be strong and fearless, but also tender and compassionate. Boldness without love is heavy-handed.
Tenderness without conviction leads to passivity. Aa life where both boldness and love are held together in tension will lead to faithful Christian ministry, and be a life that follows the model of Jesus. Paul concludes by giving Timothy a solemn charge to continue in the commands of God until the return of Jesus (6:13-15a). This prospect gives Paul such joy that he cannot help but break out in a word of praise to the God to whom all praise and honour is due (6:15b-16). This is the end goal of all our work: our mission, our teaching, our holy living, our pursuit of justice – the end goal of it all is to see an ever-increasing number of people come to give all praise to the only One to whom it is due.