Monday, February 12, 2007

1 Timothy 1:1-17

With today’s reading we embark on the first of two letters from Paul to Timothy. In the New Testament, the two letters to Timothy precede Paul’s letter to Titus. Many have grouped and characterized these three as the “pastoral epistles.” They deal less with theological issues and more with practical matters of Christian existence, especially the organizational life of a Christian community.

Paul sent this letter to Timothy to strengthen him in his faith and the exercise of his spiritual gifts. Those gifts included service to the church through preaching and teaching. The church or Christian community in Ephesus needed Timothy’s gifts. Some members had begun to meander in fruitless speculations, false doctrines, and wayward practices, even to the point of diverging from the true good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Paul wrote to help Timothy bolster the faith and lifestyle of the Ephesian Christians, especially their corporate life, so they would honor Jesus and manifest him to the non-believers around them.

We can gain much practical, godly instruction from this letter and the other pastoral letters. Additionally, we can perceive how easily we can go awry from the good news and from new and holy life in Jesus. The problems that believers in Ephesus faced too often also plague us: sin in our relationships; hearts and minds straying from Jesus; tempting, speculative ideas and philosophies; and more. I am reminded of a poignant confession in the old hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”: “…prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”

Yet more, we can and must take to heart God’s abundant, overflowing grace. Paul reminded Timothy of his (Paul’s) former fervent opposition to Jesus and the good news. Worst of sinners! Nevertheless, God loved Paul to death (his old self apart from Jesus) and loved him to life (his new self in Jesus). God, who gave himself to us unreservedly in Jesus, knows no shortage of grace, love, and power to change.

Prone to wander? Prone to leave? Surely, sad to say. So we must come to God in utter clarity and honesty about ourselves. But come to God we must. There we find illimitable and glorious mercy, at the foot of the cross, at the rolling away of the stone of our sin in the dawn of an empty tomb and new life.

Gregory Strong

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