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.

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