Friday, January 20, 2006

Paul and Timothy's Opponents at Ephesus, No. 2

I mentioned previously that I am preaching through 1 Timothy at Covenant Presbyterian Church here in St. Louis. My main commentary is William Mounce's wonderful commentary on the Pastoral Epistles for the Word Biblical Commentary series. In his explanation section on 1 Timothy 1:3-7, he writes:

Certain people were teaching a gospel that was essentially different from Paul's. Leaders in the church were teaching myths they had created based on OT genealogies. Not only were they in error theologically, but their lifestyle was also wrong. Rather than exercising their responsibilities in the church as good stewards of God through faith, they were producing nothing except mere speculation. The goal of Timothy's command--that the false teachers stop teaching--was love. Not only was love absent in the opponent's lives, but Timothy needed to maintain love as the goal of his teaching and behavior as well. Paul's opponents had made a moral choice to set aside cleansed hearts, clear consciences, and a sincere faith. Their problem was not intellectual, but moral, and their behavior was a direct result and a clear indicator of their immorality. But Paul's emphasis on their behavior did not mean that their theology was acceptable. Along with being immoral, they were charged with being ignorant of what they were dogmatically teaching (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, p.
This is so striking in so many ways. It reminds me of a number of genuine believers whom I have known who get off track by searching for some "new" approach to the Bible, especially the OT. They latch on to a way of interpreting Scripture (usually emphasizing allegory) and they elevate certain portions (especially the moral and civil portions of OT law) out of portion.

But at the same time these brothers and sisters are elevating the law, they demonstrate an amazing loss of moral centeredness--they cheat and connive, they lie and dissemble, they refuse to deal with sins in their own families, they slander, they are angry and use angry, sarcastic, biting words. In short, as Mounce notes, these Christians failed to realize that the center of Christianity is not law, but love--for God who has come to us by Christ through the Spirit and has redeemed us so that we might love one another (cf. Gal. 5:13-15).

I've always wondered how this was possible--that those who claim to love God's law can fail so utterly to love God's people. But Mounce, I think, gets it right--these people that I had known "had made a moral choice to set aside cleansed hearts, clear consciences, and a sincere faith." It was far easier to elevate the OT law and to speculate about biblical texts in an abstract fashion than to love brothers and sisters who are so different, who fail so often, and who must be viewed through God's grace.

And yet, by making this choice, either their own faith ends up shipwrecked or the faith of others is. And this can only do incredible harm to the Gospel and its cause in the world (1 Tim. 3:15).

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