Friday, January 06, 2006

Paul and Timothy's Opponents in Ephesus

I am preparing to preach on 1 Timothy this spring at Covenant Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, Mo. Reading William Mounce's excellent commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, he has a thought-provoking paragraph:
Spicq gives an excellent summary of [Paul and Timothy's] opponents. He describes the opponents as dialecticians, Jewish converts who still baseed their teaching on the OT but did so in a way that did not respect the facts or the truth. They played mind games and became lost in endless and inextricable subtleties (1 Tim. 1:4). The same apostle who told the Corinthians "not to go beyond what is written" (1 Cor. 4:6) here blasts the opponents whose argumentation was more important than facts, reality, and good taste. The opponents were more rhetoricians than they were theologians (Mounce, Pastoral Epstiles,WBC, lxxiii).

This is really quite excellent. Any pastor who has dealt with difficult church people--those who moved away from the centrality of the Gospel to "new insights" or "subtle interpretations"--can recognize them in this comment. And yet, it is striking as well that Paul tells Timothy to deal with these wayward souls gently: "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his oppoents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare fo the devil, after being caputred by him to do his will" (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

In my experience, that is so hard--it is hard to deal gently with those who engage in ridiculous theological arguments and who lead others off on tangents that appear to be sectarian at best and spiritually dangerous at worst. The only way we can deal gently and pastorally with them is to recognize that we are united to Jesus; that the reaction of others cannot define who we are; and that the sole aim of our ministry "is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5). In other words, to pastor others in this winsome and loving way can only happen by the grace of God.

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