Today we are starting the third part of our series looking at what are known as the pastoral epistles. Letters written by Paul to individuals, church leaders and fellow workers as opposed to whole Churches. Technically they are not private correspondence as they would have probably been read out in public, so they do speak to the churches as well. Some of you will remember the much loved Tv ad for BASF cassette tapes … A solider receives a cassette tape from his girl, he’s excited and plays it while all the men in his squad around him listening… and a song starts “Dear John, oh how I hate to write, but my love for you is dying, tonight I’m with another, you’d like him John he’s your brother”… It’s a deeply personal letter but the ad ends with an old soldier with tears in his eyes saying “play it again John”… the epistles were for the recipient but the church listened in and as they hear the faithful voice of the Holy Spirit in Paul's dear im letter, them have asked that they be played again and again.
The overarching series title is “Maturity and Ministry in Paul’s letters to leaders” we are looking at these writings to give us insight in what they have to say to us about Christian leadership. Leadership is one of the eight significant areas the parish council has identified in our strategic plan, that we need to focus on developing and growing.
As I’ve said before you may be tempted to switch off and say, well this is not for me because I’m not a leader… But as an answer to that in my devotions on Thursday Nicky Gumbel (click for Quote to come up on screen) had this to say… “you may not think of yourself as a leader, but leadership is about influence. You do have influence, therefore, in a sense, all of us are leaders.” We lead where we are… The person you are, how you express and live out your faith and the part you play has impact and is significant, it is part of God’s calling on your life.
So today we are starting to look at the first of two letters Paul wrote to Timothy. The passage we are focusing on today, is the introduction to that letter. It has the formal elements you’d expect from the start of a letter. It identifys the sender and the recipient, there is a greeting, and then Paul sets out the reason for his writing. We are going to have a look at those four elements and see what they have to say and what they have to say to us.
Firstly, Paul introduces himself and In this introduction, Paul is very careful to convey the fact that he has authority to speak to Timothy and the situation in Ephesus because he is an apostle of Christ Jesus. The false teachers in Ephesus as we’ve seen elsewhere may have questioned Paul’s validity. They could claim that apostleship meant someone who had been with Jesus during his earthly ministry, had heard Jesus words first hand and who had physically met the risen Lord Jesus. Paul did not fit that criteria, in 1 Corinthians 15 in his list of those who witnessed Jesus risen from the dead he does include himself but as one untimely born. It was on the road to Damascus that he encountered Jesus and was called to be an apostle to the gentiles. So here Paul reinforces that call to be an apostle by adding that he is so because of the command of ‘God our savior and of Christ Jesus our hope’.
Paul’s authority comes from God’s call on his life, God’s chosing… Christian leadership is not about status or position and power but about calling. God’s calling us to ministry. The false teachers may also have felt a call, Paul says in verse 11 they want to be ‘teachers of the law’, and we are all called as believers to be people who would share our faith, but in Paul’s case this sense of call had been tested and attested to by the Church. That is what made it different…In Acts 13 the elders of the church in Antioch which is the first church amongst gentiles, set aside Paul and Barnabas or the work God has called them to. Later in Acts 15 Paul receives the blessing of the council in Jerusalem and so his mission and ministry is acknowledged.
In our own denomination people who have a sense of call to ordained ministry have that call rigorously tested by the church. In fact I jokingly used the picture of a world champion hoop dancer behind me when I was at knox (our churches Seminary) to suggest what that process feels like saying he must have been a candidate for ministry in the PCANZ, with all the hoops he was haing to jump through.
Paul’s calling of God as Savior and Jesus Christ as our hope is also unique to the letters he writes to Timothy. While we don’t know the exact nature of the false teaching that was plaguing Ephesus, the fact that they saw themselves as teachers of the law means they would have had a more Jewish focus and so Paul uses an Old Testament term for God as savior. Theologically he is saying that God the father is the architect of our salvation and that how it has been bought about made our hope is through Jesus Christ. Hope is not just wishful thinking it’s not just another myth or story, it is as real as nails through the hand and an empty tomb.
The letter is addressed to Timothy who Paul calls his true or loyal son in the faith. We meet Timothy in Acts 16, as Paul had embarked on his second missionary trip. Timothy is a believer whose mother was also a Christian. He is half Jewish and half gentile and Paul has him circumcised so that he is able to work with Paul amongst the Jews as well as gentiles. From there we know that he is Paul’s companion, he is the co-author of some of Paul’s letters to the churches, from the way Paul addresses him here we see that Paul is very fond of Timothy and sees him as a son. It also shows that Paul as a Christian leader was very aware of the need to pass on his ministry to the next generation and train up people to take on leadership in the Church.
One of the key tasks of Christian leadership is being able and willing to pass on the ministry God has called us to others… In some churches you see the unwillingness of one generation to allow a younger generation to take on leadership decisions and ministry and it often results in that church having a limited shelf life and not being able to change and meet the challenges of the successive years. Paul shows here a willingness to pass on ministry to Timothy and instead of doing it all himself trusting with his guidance and encouragement for them to do the task. It’s a big issue in all organisations and the idea of succession planning has become more and more a issue in businesses and organisations, particularly in rapidly changing times. The key to successful leadership is people who are trained and able to take our place.
Pauls greeting here is also unique to his letters to Timothy. Paul’s usual greeting is grace and peace of God and the father and Christ Jesus our Lord, but here he adds the word mercy… Grace is God’s loving kindness and favour shown to his people, most especially through salvation in Jesus Christ. Peace is the tranquillity within and without that comes from the restoration of right relationship with God and with the people and world around us, it is found in knowing Christ. Mercy here is the ongoing experience of God’s favour and sustaining presence and protection, which Paul wished for Timothy. Christian ministry and leadership can only be carried out through that experience of God’s on going presence, care and love for us. I was speaking to Rob Peterson the minister at Iona in Blockhouse bay on Thursday and he said that what was challenging him at the moment was the idea that ministry flowed out of intimacy… It flows out of the continually growing and deepening relationship with God through Jesus Christ. There is a tendency to rely on our own abilities and strength and have confidence that we can do it alone, but the reality is our confidence is in Christ, its not about our ability, that doesn’t mean we don’t work at skills and proficiencies, but that comes from our dependence on God’s grace and mercy and peace.
Then Paul moves on then to why he has written. And it has to so with the fact he has moved on… He had left Timothy in Ephesus as he had travelled on to Macedonia, one of the issues with the letter of 1 Timothy is that it does not fit well into Paul’s travels as they are recorded in Acts. He’s writing to remind and encourage Timothy in the task he had given him to stop certain people from spreading false teaching. To focus them back on the gospel.
Paul gives us some idea about what is happen, that these people are getting caught up in myths and genealogies and it is simply ending up in controversial speculation. It’s like they’ve ended up simply spinning their wheels going nowhere.
Now in our house we have some very interesting discussions and conversations about pop culture. There will be heated debates about things like the difference between the marvel comic universe and marvel filmic universe, and what storyline is cannon in both or only one. There was consternation and outrage when the film of Orson Scott Card’s novel ‘enders game’ came out as a movie as whole swathes of the novel were missed out and it was ruined. Much time and effort can go into those discussions sometimes heated words are said, but in the end it really has no significance to life, it’s a pleasant or sometimes not so pleasant distraction. But here the myths and genealogies that people were getting caught up in and this maybe extra biblical Jewish material or what is called Gnosticism where an elaborate almost pantheistic hierarchy is drawn between God and humanity, but it was distracting them from the central core of the gospel. It may have even been how they were justifying behaviour that didn’t fit with the gospel.
Pauls call to Timothy is to bring them back to advancing the work of God… or training the household of God. Which is by faith and which results in love. Faith is the invisible relationship with God which is made visible in the love we show. Philip Towner expresses it like this Love “stands for the active response to God’s grace, experienced in sacrificial action done on behalf of others.” It is a good test of doctrine and teaching to see if focuses on building up our faith in God, through Jesus Christ and results in a genuine love being shown, not controversy and division.
Paul then says such love is produced by three internal qualities. A pure heart, this is the heart that has been washed clean who has come to faith in Jesus Christ by the gospel. It comes out of the person who has experienced the forgiveness and purification of God.
A good conscience, not its not a clean conscience, but someone whose moral compass, their ability to know and act in a right way has been informed by the teaching of scripture. A compass is a piece of metal that has been magnetised and will point north to allow people to navigate round the world. A GPS is a system where by we know where we are and where to go because it is based on fixed points, or more specifically satellites in geosynchronous orbit. That is that its orbit matches the rotation of the earth and can be relied upon to in the same place relative to the earth at any given time. That is the idea of a good conscience, it knows its truth north in Christ. Ghandi is a good example of that he said “my life, is my message” of course the ultimate example of that is Christ himself.
Sincere faith talks about integrity and authenticity it is a faith shown in lifestyle it is the opposite of hypocrisy which is an outward mask or act. Bill Hybels suggests its that our faith and life are the same in private where we are not seen as it is with our public face.
Philip Towner sums this all up by saying “these three Christian realities bring into Alignment the faith relationship with God and the effects of that relationship in cleansing the inner person for perception of truth and the processing of it into appropriate action”
One of my youth group leaders in Rotorua days used to have a saying which I think Sums up what Paul is saying to timothy and to us. When we were looking at all the interesting things we could with our youth group he would get this look of intense concentration on his face and say ‘we need to keep the main thing the main thing’. He was saying our focus should be on Christ and what he has done for us and allow that be what was the focus of our teaching and life. Paul encourages Timothy to help the church at Ephesus and us to keep the main thing the main thing…a challenge for Christian leaders and Christian life.