No greater instructions on discipleship could have come from one who was personally called and sent forth (apostle) “by the commandment of God our Savior and Lord Christ Jesus,” than these admonitions of the apostle Paul. Timothy was a true “son in the faith” in that he was the result of Paul’s preaching the gospel to a young man and his mother and grandmother in Lystra.
To such a longtime friend and fellow servant, the aged apostle directed the instructions of this letter as to a faithful disciple. “Grace, mercy and peace from God” are the introductory clues that we have that these instructions were coming from One who is more than the man Paul who wrote the letter. The Holy Spirit is guiding the hand of Paul to inscribe these jewels of instruction that lead all of us into being better disciples for Jesus. Grace, mercy and peace define our relationship with God who made all such things possible through the cross of His beloved Son.
A. Legal teachers of law (1:3-11):
Our first indication of a true disciple is that he or she is one on the move in reference to fulfilling the great commission to preach the gospel to the world (See Mk 16:15). As the traveling companion of Paul, Timothy was left in Asia because there was a great need for continued teaching among the new disciples. He was left with the special responsibility to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine.”
We assume correctly that there were some among the early disciples who were behaving as those about whom the apostle John wrote many years later: “Whoever goes ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God” (2 Jn 9). In fact, John was direct in reference to those who were not willing to abide within the confines of the truth of the gospel: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [that Jesus is come in the flesh – vs 7], do not receive him into your house and do not give him greeting” (2 Jn 10).
The reason for the admonition is obvious: “For he who gives him greeting participates in his evil deeds” (2 Jn 11). John, and those to whom he wrote, were facing several false teachers who denied the very foundation upon which the gospel of the crucifixion was based. They denied the
incarnation of the Son of God (2 Jn 7). It seems that Timothy may have been facing the opposition of those who were either denying or questioning the truth of the gospel.
Paul’s instructions to the young teacher Timothy was that he teach that which would result in one remaining in the fellowship of the body of Christ. Therefore, there is “truth” that one must believe in order to remain in fellowship with gospel-obedient disciples. In reference to John’s admonitions, this was the truth of the gospel. John explained:
“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:3).
This is not simply something that one believes in reference to a code of doctrine. When speaking of the truth of the gospel, the disciples’ common fellowship with one another is totally based on the gospel of Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, coronation and consummation of all things when He comes again. There is no fellowship in Christ unless those in fellowship agree upon these truths of the gospel.
In the historical context of the problems that Timothy faced, some were giving “heed to fables and endless genealogies that cause disputes.” When disputes over matters of opinion exist between disciples, then they are distracted from “God’s work that is in faith.” Disputes disrupt the organic function of the body of Christ. In the religious culture of Ephesus, we are sure that there were endless fables among the idolatrous Ephesians about which speculation could be generated. At least in Crete where Paul left Titus a few years later there were those Jewish converts who were “giving heed to Jewish fables” (Ti 1:14).
We live in such a world today where speculators are willing to prognosticate with end-of-time fables and “blood moons” that supposedly signal the end of times. All such fables result in endless debates, and thus are to be avoided by those who would be disciples of Jesus. Meaningless discussions about such things reveal that one is more of a disciple of those promoting such fantasies than they are of Jesus.
Though we are not cursed today so much with the “endless genealogies” that seem to have been a favorite topic for Jewish discussions, the apostle’s point is clear. Any discussions, and particularly debates, that arise over matters of opinion should be shunned. What was to be corrected was not the settlement of a particular issue through debate, but that the participants in such discussions should be admonished not to participate in the debates in the first place. Those who are disciples of Jesus must know their Bibles well enough to separate matters of healthy teaching from matters of opinion. In our healthy study of Bible truths we discover in the religious world those fables and fantasies that are not worth discussion. These are matters that each disciple must avoid.
If there are those who persist in their endless debates over meaningless subjects, then they have not only given up their right to the fellowship of the disciples, but they have also violated the very bond by which the brotherhood of the disciples is held together. “The purpose of the commandment is love out of a pure heart.” And if this exhortation were not sufficient, the apostle added that we must maintain “a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Jesus’ initial instructions in reference to discipleship could not have been made more clear: “By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). The “commandment” was reinforced by the apostle John’s exhortation: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). When in the heat of debate over fables and endless genealogies, it is easy to determine where there is a lack of love. In fact, if there is “heat” in the discussion, then it is revealed that someone is challenged in the area of love. Love never allows “heat” to develop in the discussions of those who are identified as disciples by their love for one another.
When there are those who “have turned aside to meaningless discussion,” then we know that there are those who have “swerved.” They have gone beyond that which is the foundation of our faith. Those who have swerved are “obsessed with controversy and disputes about words” (1 Tm 6:4). And as Paul will urge all disciples in the last chapter of this epistle, a loving disciple must avoid “profane and vain babblings and opposing arguments of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tm 6:20). Controversies concerning those things that are not salvational are simply “meaningless.” They should be avoided. This subject is so important in reference to the brotherhood of disciples that Paul will pick up the subject again in the final chapter.
Those who are obsessed with their opinions often desire “to be teachers of the law.” Because of their obsession with their opinions, they assert that what they believe should be bound on others. They are thus self-centered, thinking that their opinions are correct, and thus, must be taught as “doctrine” for others to believe. The problem is that they know so little about the word of God that they understand “neither what they say, nor what they affirm.”
Those who promote meaningless fables and genealogies will invariably find themselves in the company of some theological contradictions. The best way to refute a false doctrine is to go immediately to the context of scriptures from which the false doctrine is supposedly proved. If the doctrine is truly false, then the “proof text” will reveal that someone has twisted the Scriptures to their own destruction. They will have done that about which Peter wrote concerning those who do not know their Bibles. They “are untaught and unstable,” and thus “distort [the word of God] to their own destruction, as they do also the other Scriptures” (2 Pt 3:16).
Paul identified the problem. It seems that the “untaught” and “unstable” who do not know the truth will seek to bind where God has not bound. “We know that the law is good,” he wrote, “if a man uses it lawfully.” This would be a very difficult statement to understand if we approach law from a legal point of view. Law is meant to restrict, to control, to guide. But in reference to living the gospel of grace, living by law is a contradiction if law in and of itself is meant to be the only means by which one would seek to save himself through perfect law-keeping. In another context Paul explained, “Do we then make void law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish law” (Rm 3:31).
In the world of social order, law is meant for “the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, of murderers.” But when we apply law to those who restrict their lives through their obedience to the gospel, then law hinders spiritual growth if we use it to grow closer to God. One is hindered from going beyond the requirements of law if he seeks to allow God “to do exceedingly abundantly above all that” He desires to do in our lives (Ep 3:20).
Law establishes limitations, but grace motivates one beyond limitations. “According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God” one obeys law, but does not restrict his or her spiritual growth to a supposed perfection in law-keeping. Law promotes growth in the knowledge of law, but grace promotes spiritual growth in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (See 2 Pt 3:18). When one marks his growth through law, he is measuring his spirituality by his performance of law.
An example is in order at this point. Under the Sinai law tithing regulated, if not restricted, the giving of the individual. The ten percent tithe was the norm by which one would judge himself righteous according to law. If one performed the tithe, then he could consider himself righteous according to law. But the law of tithing passed away when the new covenant displaced the old covenant of which tithing was commanded as law.
Christians, therefore, in their new covenant with God, are no longer under the limitations of the ten percent. They are free from law to give as much as they want. In reference to giving, the principle now is, “Let each one give according as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion [by law], for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Co 9:7). This principle is followed by a statement that explains the result of gospel-giving according to grace: “God is able to make all grace abound toward you so that you, always having all sufficiency in everything, may abound to every good work” (2 Co 9:8).
When we are motivated by our appreciation of the grace of God, then we “abound to every good work.” We are not confined to ten percent in our giving. The more we walk in gratitude of the grace of God, the more we give. The result is cheerful giving, not giving that we are compelled to do according to law. When we are compelled by law, we often give grudgingly. But when we are motivated by grace, we cannot give enough (See 1 Co 15:10).
[Next in series: March 29]