15 March 2007

The Corporate and Individual Dimensions of Keeping the Faith

In the following paragraph, Paul returns to the charge he has given Timothy to silence the false teachers.

Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
Why does Paul give this charge to Timothy in accordance with the prophecies? Paul gives the charge to Timothy so that Timothy will fight the good fight for the salvation of the assembly and hold fast to his personal faith. I conclude that “fighting the good fight” is not synonymous with “holding on to faith” because Paul’s charge primarily concerns silencing the false teachers in the church. Giving the charge to silence false teachers so that Timothy would continue to battle sin in his life doesn’t follow. In addition, while a prophecy concerning Timothy’s usefulness in defending orthodoxy in the church does not seem out of place, a prophecy concerning Timothy’s perseverance seems unlikely. However, if “fighting the good fight” is not equal to “holding on to faith,” it is dependent upon it. It is important to keep in mind that keeping the faith has both personal and corporate dimensions, and the corporate dimension is dependent on the personal dimension.

There is a theology of perseverance which is assumed here but it is made clear elsewhere in Paul. To use the analogy of 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is exhorting Timothy to beat his body so that he will win the prize. If Timothy does not struggle to win, he will be disqualified from the prize and not become a participant in the benefits of the gospel. This is not to say that Timothy’s struggle merits the benefits of the gospel—far from it. Timothy must maintain faith as well as obedience. He must strive to keep the gospel central, to remember that Jesus came to save sinners! If he does not hold on to these things, he will shipwreck his faith like those false teachers who “want to be teachers of the Law.” The excommunication of Hymenaeus and Alexander provided a vivid example for Timothy to remember.

Only by holding on to personal faith and obedience will Timothy be in a position to silence the false teachers and reorder the church around the apostolic tradition.

09 March 2007

Grace to the Sinner Means Glory to the Savior.

Who gets the glory?The Law, Paul teaches in the previous few verses, was written against all those who endorse behavior contrary to “the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to” Paul. The fact that God had so entrusted him, or counted him faithful, is the source of the current doxology.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
To put Paul’s “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength” in bold relief, it must be contrasted with another prayer of thanksgiving offered by a certain man Jesus mentions in the gospels, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11–12). Paul’s opponents in Ephesus also had their food laws (4:3) and sought financial gain through their “godliness” (6:5).

What’s the difference? The difference is that “the grace of our Lord was poured out on [Paul] abundantly” (v. 14). Why is it that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners as bad as Paul (or as you and I)? It’s because, while unrepentant Pharisees are making lists of who they're better than and all the external requirements they fulfill, Paul is extolling the infinite mercy of Christ to those who believe and the eternal glory of the King who grants them eternal life. Grace to the sinner means glory to the Savior.

04 March 2007

The Law is Good

Sinaitic InjunctionsOne word rests on my fingertips ready to fit itself right into a one word summary of this passage: condemnation.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

It seems that Paul is both expanding on and implying what he said in Romans 7:7, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law.” Because the false teachers sought to teach the Law as a regulation for the Christian life, Paul shows just how the regulatory function of the Law looks when it is applied to sinful humanity. When the Law is applied to life as a regulation, it results only in condemnation of sin. That condemnation is not for the justified (Rom 8:1) but for lawless rejecters of Paul’s gospel. The Law, when used properly, is on Paul’s side against those who wish to be teachers of the Law. That’s why it’s so obvious to Paul that these teachers “don’t know what they are talking about” (v. 7).

However, those who submit to Paul’s gospel will not evaluated by the law. They will be granted mercy as Paul, the chief among sinners, was granted mercy (v. 16).

Theologically, what is the role of the Law for today?
I think using the Ten Commandments to show unbelievers their personal sin is not necessarily a bad idea. Paul evidently intended the list here to roughly parallel those Sinaitic injunctions: the fifth through the ninth commandments are especially clear and in order (though the fourth commandment is conspicuously absent). However, we must make clear to unbelievers that keeping the law “from now on” is both impossible and ineffective in erasing past sins. In addition one aspect of genuine conversion and union with Christ is dying to the law (Rom 7:4). The law’s condemnation is laid to rest along with its regulatory authority over believer's lives. The Law is good, but it works for Paul’s gospel, not against it.