In this seminal post of a new series of I-II Timothy, Paul explains the aim of a good pastor in comparison to the useless teaching of those who stray from the Gospel.
In two of my classes (The Teaching Ministry of the Church and Paul’s Pastoral Theology), I am working through I-II Timothy seeing how Paul describes both the role of a pastor and of a teacher. I figured I might as well turn these into blog posts and share them so that the Church can benefit from what I’m learning as well!
After an initial set of greetings (containing an interesting title for God the Father: “our Savior”), Paul tells Timothy to stay behind in Ephesus. Paul has already written to this church (see both the letters to Colossians and Ephesians), and soon, John would take over and write up to four letters to them. The church needed special attention for many reasons, and Paul, at this time, thought Timothy was the best church to tend to those needs.
One of the major problems facing the church right now was their teaching staff, essentially. Certain men (who are not named yet, but may be the later named Hymaneus and Alexander) are teaching false doctrine, leading the church astray. Paul leaves Timothy behind in order to combat these false teachings in three ways: in raising up good, new leaders; in teaching healthy doctrine in conjunction with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God; and by teaching the church how to live in light of the Gospel. We’ll deal with these solutions in turn, but for this first post, I will examine what faults Paul finds in these false teachers and how Paul exhorts Timothy to be a better, more Christ honoring pastor. In these exhortations, we will find universal expectations that help guide our leadership as well.
First, Paul starts off discussing his problems with the Ephesian leadership. By focusing on the wrong aspects of the Christian faith, these leaders have fallen into “vain discussion” (1:6) and “speculation” (1:4). We don’t know exactly what they are teaching, but the discussion on the Law in 1:7-11, it is easy to imagine it is another class with Jewish teachers, potentially Jewish Christian teachers. They are making two grave errors: they are making confident assertions about the Law, which they don’t understand (1:6-7) and they are devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies rather than stewarding the gospel (1:4). This does not mean that biblical genealogies are unhelpful for Christians – we remember that Paul later reminds Timothy to cling to the Scriptures he grew up with (2 Timothy 3:15) which are God-breathed and helpful (2 Timothy 3:16). What Paul seems to be warning against here is not reading genealogies, but falling into speculations and myths rather than working with the gospel that has been entrusted to Christian teachers.
This gets us to the core of Paul’s problem: the teachers have traded their stewardship with vain discussions, which distracts them from the main charge. Leaders are charged, ultimately, with loving their church. This love issues from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith (1:5). While Paul is not explicit yet about what these false leaders were teaching, he makes a different point clearly enough. Whatever distracts us from love, from our stewardship of the gospel, and drags us into debates and speculation is not of God and should be avoided at all costs.
Thankfully, by the grace and mercy of God, we’re not out of hope. Ultimately, this stewardship comes from God, by faith. Because it comes from God, it is immutable, unchangeable, and irrevocable (Romans 11:29). We also know that it is Christ who works powerfully in us to carry out this charge (Colossians 1:24-29) and God, who began it in us, will continue this work in us and in the church until the day Christ returns (Philippians 1:6). We carry this stewardship by faith in God (Romans 1:16), who increases our weak faith when we ask (Hebrews 4:16; Mark 9:23-25).
Specifically in I Timothy, though, Paul gives three baseline values which, when taken together, issue forth this love that we are charged with. First, Paul says that this love comes from a pure heart. Ultimately, this purity comes from God, who’s purity became a basis of praise and faith in the Second Temple period (cf. Tobit 8:15). This purity can simply mean clean (cf. Matthew 27:59; Luke 11:14), but it also has a liturgical dimension (cf. Romans 14:20). Though we cannot make our own hearts clean, God can, so the love that issues out of a pure heart is a love that comes from a heart that has been cleansed by Christ in the Spirit.
Secondly, Paul says that love issues from a good conscience. Good can mean morally good, of course. But the term Paul chooses also refers to the value an item presents to its owner (thinks utils; cf. Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13). This suggests that, for the Christian, the conscience is a gift given by God to keep us on the right moral track while presenting value to us as leaders. This good conscience is presented in contrast to another conscience, one seared by following false teaching presented by demons (I Timothy 4:1-2; cf. Galatians 1). If the conscience can be seared by listening to false teacher, then the collorary is that the conscience is made good through the process of sanctification as we strive to obey God in the gospel as articulated by the Scriptures.
Finally, Paul says that love issues out of a sincere faith. Faith, of course, is the means by which the Christian has life in Christ to the praise of the Father (Romans 1:16-17). It is substance of the things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). I think Paul, who is in agreement with all New Testament authors, might be saying that a sincere faith is one that is worked out through actions (cf. James 2:16-17; Ephesians 2:10; Romans 2:6-11; etc.) Regardless, true love can only issue out of faith in Christ empowered by the Spirit.
By reminding Timothy of the main charge of love given to the pastor, and three aspects which bolster and empower that love we are charged to, Paul also teaches us modern church leaders how to be more effective in our stewardship of the gospel. Pastors and teachers are the obvious candidates for this type of teaching, but there are a lot of ways we can be teachers in our churches. We can teach Sunday school, or youth group, or we might be small group leaders. These teachings are important for all different types of leaders, whether or not we are pastors.
I know we can fall into the trap of thinking that endlessly studying theology is a God-honoring use of our time. I know I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that hours spent in theological books is the best way to please God, for sure. But Paul here notes that this type of studying does in fact have its own dangers: we may be pulled into vain discussions and speculation rather than stewarding the ministry given to us. Now, of course, Paul is not saying that proper study of theology is wrong: the rest of the letter consistently encourages Timothy to preach healthy doctrine. How would we know healthy doctrine if we do not study the Scriptures and faithful expositors of the Scriptures? But this study must never make us idle in our ministry, in that we fail to love our communities.
For those who have fallen into the trap, or for those inspired to follow God in obedience, Paul offers three aspects of true love which we can walk in according to the grace of God. First, we must be mindful that our love issues out of a pure heart: we can thank God for both giving us a new heart (Ezekiel 36) and pray in repentance that God would continue to clean our hearts (Psalm 51). Second, we must be mindful that true love comes from a good conscience. Through the sanctification of the Spirit, we can walk in obedience to true teaching, which gives us a good conscience. Finally, we must be mindful that true love comes from a sincere faith. This faith is a gift of God, one which we can ask for more of, which he gladly offers. When we walk with pure hearts, good consciences, and sincere faith, we can know that we are being faithful with the stewardship granted to us by God in faith.