Archive for the ‘Pastoral Epistles’ Category

Gospel-Centered Ministry: Right Doctrine, Persevering Faith, Godly Conduct

December 12, 2007

This post completes the four-part series I began last August on Paul’s Threefold Gospel Ministry. Without question, the semester assignments have taken their toll on the daily calendar, and thus on my own blogging regularity. However, classes are now finished. I pray that these conclusions will provide you with a synthesis of the previous three posts, and at least reveal how doctrine, faith, and godliness are so closely interrelated.

In the opening post for this series I stated that Paul mentions these three items (Doctrine, Faith, and Conduct) as separate items within the letter, and yet he never allows any one of them to stand alone. These three are never to be separated from one another theologically or practically. In a word, God reveals in these three topics what he demands always be held tightly together in the Christian’s, especially the pastor’s, life. Thus, Paul means for revelation and demand to coinhere for the church.

One of the verses Paul mentions at the beginning of his letter provides a clear example of the fact that he expects doctrine, faith, and conduct to be intertwined throughout the remaining exhortations in 1 Timothy. Verse 1:5 states, “…the goal of our instruction [doctrine] is love from a pure heart and a good conscience [conduct] and a sincere faith [faith].” Here and in only two other places Paul uses the word paraggelias, translated “instruction” or “charge”, to reference the unique exhortation known and recognized by the apostles (1 Thess 4:2; 1 Tim 1:18). In all three cases, he follows his employment of this word with many councils concerning matters of faith, or the faith (1 Tim 1:6-14, 18b-20), and godliness (e.g. 1 Thess 4:3-8). There is in this apostolic instruction, therefore, something distinct; namely, it always shows how the truth of the Gospel manifests itself in the faith and practice of the individual as well as the broader Christian community. Indeed, the very aim and goal of their instruction is, as it says, love from a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith. (For other texts in 1 Timothy that include these three items closely together see 3:15-16, 4:12-16, and 6:11-12.)

What flows from this understanding of Gospel-praxis, then, is a letter filled with instruction that is based on theological truth. A few examples will suffice. Christians should pray for kings and authorities to be saved, because there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:1-6). Women should not exercise authority over a man, for it was Adam who was created first (2:12-13). The aim of Christian discipline should be godliness, for it holds promise for the present life and the life to come (4:7-8). The labor and struggle in ministry is not in vain, because our hope is in the living God, the Savior of all men (4:9-10). Children should provide support for their widowed parents, because this is pleasing to God (5:4). Those pursuing godliness should also be content with what they have, not lovers of money, for we brought nothing into the world and cannot take anything out of it either (6:3-10). Without question, these examples show that Paul considers all Christian action to be based on theological conclusions gathered from the whole of Scripture. The structure of genuine faith and godliness only stands when the beams of its foundation are held together by the steel of biblical truth.

At the same time genuine faith and godly conduct rely on right doctrine, right doctrine also informs genuine faith and demands godly conduct. Right doctrine informs genuine faith on several different levels: (1) it defines the faith, especially in relation to Jesus Christ (1:2; 3:9, 13; 4:1; 5:8; 6:12, 21); (2) it specifies the kind of faith characteristic of the Christian, one that endures temptation and perseveres in truth (1:18-19; 4:12; 6:11, 12); and (3) it encourages faith by supplying promises to trust and warnings to heed (). Right doctrine demands godliness in that it calls the Christian to obey the very affirmations it proclaims. 1 Timothy 3:15 states, “…[I write] so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” Paul makes a connection here: being the pillar and support of the truth demands we act a certain way. Gospel-truth is always to be accompanied by Gospel-conduct, otherwise, our confession only pays lip service to what the Scriptures testify the Gospel really accomplishes: deliverance from bondage to sin and bestowal of freedom in the Spirit.

In sum, at least three things ought to stand out for us in this attempt to explain Paul’s threefold Gospel ministry. First, right doctrine must inform and ground the Christian in the Gospel. Second, persevering faith must be placed in and encouraged by the Gospel explained by right doctrine. Third, godly conduct must flow from a persevering faith as demanded by right Gospel-doctrine so as to reflect the truth of the God’s triumph for sinners in Christ.

Bridging the Gap

Therefore, a great rebuke it ought to be for each of us and the broader community of believers if we assume that, indeed if we live as if, (1) knowing right doctrine by itself makes us Christian, or (2) faith in false doctrine is acceptable for being Christian, or (3) godliness neither accompanies our faith nor testifies of sound Gospel-doctrine. As brothers and sisters in the faith, therefore, let us be diligent to help each other maintain all three in ministry and life. For those strong in doctrine, let what you know not only be manifested in good deeds, but also used to encourage those not so knowledgable of biblical truth, biblical truth which Grace taught you in the first place. For those strong in faith, let your zeal for Christ and confidence in God’s promises be uplifting to the entire body, especially to the doctrine-pusher-have-no-joy-because-I-like-books-and-not-people types. Furthermore, accept the rebuke if you are wrong about Christian truth. Lastly, let the knowledge of the Gospel and faith in the Christ of the Gospel result in godly conduct reflecting the worth of the Gospel. 


Conduct: Godliness Demanded & Effected by the Gospel

August 22, 2007

With doctrine defined and faith in place, Paul weaves one more thread into the fabric of his three-fold Gospel ministry: godly conduct. Indeed, the very reason Paul writes Timothy is so that he would know “how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Tim 3:15). For the Apostle, membership in the believing community means much more than mere association with a group of people down the street; it means joining a people whose God demands a conduct in absolute submission to the Gospel of Christ. As the Father, God sets the rules of the faith, establishes the law of Christ, defines the way of godliness, and provides clear testimony to the manner in which the members of his household should behave. Thus, in several large portions Paul includes instructions concerning the conduct of various kinds of people within the church: for example civilians (2:2), women (2:9-15), overseers (3:2-7), deacons (3:8-13), youth (5:1-2), widows (5:3-16), elders (5:17-22), slaves (6:1-2), and the rich (6:9-10, 17-19).

Due to God’s gracious adoption of Timothy into his household, Paul exhorts his dear son in the faith to walk persistently in a manner that reflect his Father’s will. He is to train himself in a manner that always moves him toward godliness (4:7). Being fancied with silly myths and bigger muscles grant him no gain in regard to God’s purposes for godliness (4:6-8). Timothy is also to be an example to those who believe in his speech, conduct, and purity, even devoting himself to these things so that the church and the world observe a proper, living testimony of a Gospel-changed life (4:12-15). What is more, Paul commands him to pay close attention not only to his doctrine (Listen up fellow seminarians!), but also to himself, that is, his conduct (4:16). Then, as if such a command from the Apostle needed any more weight(!), Paul notes that persisting in this “will save both [himself] and [his] hearers.” Thus, Timothy’s conduct is instrumental to his own and the saints’ perseverance. In a word, one’s conduct has eternal consequences on both individual and corporate levels. Doubtless, this reality compells Paul to urge Timothy all the more to keep himself free from sin (5:22) and to pursue diligently righteousness and godliness (6:11). Such a hunger for holiness characterizes the man of God.

Considering the evil age in which we live and the abiding sin against which we fight, such demands and responsibilities of a Gospel-centered life seem rather daunting, indeed impossible. How, then, shall any of us do this kind of Gospel ministry? 1 Timothy also gives us the answer to this question: grace. Paul brackets the entire letter with grace. He begins with, Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,” and closes with, Grace be with you!” (1:2; 6:21). Furthermore, he explains that even he himself, who was once a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent, “received mercy…and the grace of our Lord overflowed for [him] with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1:13-14). Thus, God’s grace shall be our help in this ministry he has entrusted to us. Yes, feel the weight of godliness the Gospel demands. At the same time, know that what the Gospel demands, it will also effect within us by God’s grace.   

Bridging the Gap

Paul’s words have great bearing on our own devotion to the Gospel. Just think of the implications for the covenant community. A church is a community of people who, having been reconciled to God and to each other through the person and work of Jesus Christ, repeatedly assemble for edification in the service and work of the ministry (Heb 10:24-25; cf. Eph 4:12). This assembly consists of baptized believers who have been set apart for God by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that the manifestation of His grace, love, righteousness, and strength might be displayed to the world in the Gospel, both in word and deed (Jas 1:22). Since these truths describe a church, there is a great demand for obedience to Christ and His word, resulting in the purification of Christ’s own possession that they might be set apart from the world. The church is to hunger for righteousness (Matt 5:6), purify their hearts (Jas 4:8), pursue sanctification (Heb 12:14), abide in holiness (1 Thess 4:4), and maintain unity (Eph 4:3). She is not to be conformed to this world (Rom 12:2), nor to have fellowship with the darkness (1 John 1:6), and is to abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:22). If she is not carrying out these disciplines, she is not putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14), and thus testifying falsely about the holiness of her Father (1 Pet 1:15-16), the freedom from sin bought by His Son (Rom 6:22; Gal 5:13), the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (2 Thess 2:13), and the Gospel that rescues her from this present evil age (Gal 1:4). May we all be diligent to obey his words, longing for and encouraging pure devotion to Christ.

Faith: Genuine, Persevering Trust in the Gospel

August 12, 2007

Paul frequently exhorts Timothy concerning matters of faith, a term he often uses to describe a persevering trust and an enduring confidence in the promises of God for salvation through Jesus Christ (1 Tim 1:4, 14). Since this faith unites believers to Christ in the Gospel, it is by no means insignificant, but carries with it eternal consequences. Thus, knowing this precious gift and function of faith, Paul urges young Timothy twice to “fight the good fight” of faith, that he might lay hold of eternal life (1:18-19; 6:12). Without fighting, he will be like Hymenaeus and Alexander, who suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith, two men whom Paul himself handed over to Satan, so that they would be taught not to blaspheme (1:19-20).

Paul’s portrayal of faith in 1 Timothy is also far from the faith so often preached in some contemporary circles, a mere mental assent to some facts or even a kind of one-time decision. Instead, he pictures genuine faith as that act by which one persistently casts themselves upon Jesus and continuously lays hold of him in the Gospel. This sincere faith cultivates love (1:5). This enduring faith sets a good example for other believers (4:12) and characterizes the man of God, who is not diverted by the love of money (6:11).

In addition, Paul uses the term “faith” in another sense in 1 Timothy, namely, when he sums up the whole of Christianity in the phrase, “the faith.” The expression is seen primarily in the Pastoral Epistles, most likely because of the rise of false teaching (e.g. 1 Tim 4:1; 6:21; 2 Tim 4:3-4; Tit 3:9). Thus, “the faith” drew the implications of being something unique and set apart from what others believed (1 Tim 3:9; cf. 2 Cor 13:5; 2 Thess 3:2). Thus, Timothy is Paul’s true child in “the faith” (1 Tim 1:2). Furthermore, it is always directly identified with those who are in Christ, for he is what makes the faith “the faith” (1 Tim 3:13). Prior to his conversion, Paul made it his aim to destroy “the faith” (Gal 1:23); however, he who once tried to destroy it now exhorts the brethren to protect and guard it (1 Tim 5:8; cf. Tit 1:13). Knowing firsthand the sufferings and opposition one might encounter because of “the faith,” Paul encourages Timothy to stand firm in its “sound words” (1 Tim 6:12).

Since through faith people become united to Christ, and by it they persevere in the Gospel of his grace, it is no wonder Paul takes up his pen to address Timothy’s and the church’s. His earnest plea is for their faith to be genuine and persevering in the Gospel that they might not walk away from “the faith” (cf. 6:10). Overall, therefore, Paul’s Gospel-centered ministry demands of Timothy that he earnestly concern himself not only with the doctrine that defines and explains the Gospel (as seen in the previous post), but also the faith that embraces and treasures the Gospel in all of its content.

Bridging the Gap

In light of Paul’s emphasis on faith, I recalled a statement a close brother shared with me while at work. In a word, he said that he found it strange that Christians would be so diligent to concern themselves with the initial faith of unbelievers by urgently preaching the Gospel to them, but often times could care less about restoring the waning faith of a Christian brother/sister with that same Gospel. In other words, many Christians would rather save the lost than keep a true brother from forsaking the faith. Surely, according to Paul’s words here (and elsewhere), we ought concern ourselves with both winning the lost and preserving the church. For the sake of “the faith,” therefore, let us be diligent to encourage each other’s faith.

Doctrine: Clear Understanding and Exposition of the Gospel

August 11, 2007

Repeatedly, Paul exhorts Timothy to pay attention to the doctrine of the Christian faith (1 Tim 1:3-7; 4:1-6; 6:3-5, 20-21). This includes paying attention to his own doctrine, that it might always be in accord with the God-inspired, apostolic word (cf. 2 Tim 3:15-17). What is more, he must always be aware that such teaching has eternal consequences not only for himself, but also for those who listen to him (1 Tim 4:16). Those who teach the church do so, not merely to fill the people with information and facts from the Bible (important as that is), but to serve the people’s eternal salvation. Eternal life and eternal damnation, therefore, always remain in the balance for teachers, always.

Timothy is also to pay close attention to what others teach. Regarding this matter, Paul’s instruction often comes with urgent warning and with full awareness that those infatuated with fruitless discussion shall arise from within (1:3-7; 4:1-4; 6:3-10, 20-21). Timothy is to remain in Ephesus for the very purpose of “instructing certain men not to teach strange doctrines” (1:3). This also agrees with his responsibility mentioned in 6:3, that he might instruct the church concerning certain teachings that do not agree with “sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ.” By pointing out these things to the brethren, Timothy will become a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of sound doctrine which he follows (4:6).

Without doubt, Paul’s words to Timothy have in mind the spiritual well-being of the church. She bears the name, “household of God,” and shoulders the responsibility as “the pillar and support of the truth” (3:15). Timothy’s awareness of his own doctrine and that of others is not for pride of place in the academy or selfish gain within the church. No, his doctrinal evaluation is for the church, that her members might know the Gospel, believe the Gospel, live by the Gospel, and so uphold the truth of the Gospel. It is not surprising, then, that Paul wants attention given to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching (4:13).

What else is so incredible about these exhortations is that interwoven within them are numerous statements which spell out large portions of the doctrine Timothy and the church must understand and heed. In 1:8-11, Paul teaches Timothy about the usefulness of the Law in pointing sinners to the Gospel of the blessed God. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners according to 1:15. Paul finds it fitting to insert two doxologies filled with great truths of the Christian faith: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisibile, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1:17); and “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen” (6:15-16). Furthermore, Paul mentions that God, who is our Savior, desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Why do they need to come to this knowledge? Because, he says, “there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all” (2:3-6). Salvation comes with a proper understanding of the content of the Gospel. Moreover, by a common doctrinal confession, the church upholds the mystery of godliness: “He who as revealed in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (3:16). More examples are included in 1 Timothy, but these are enough to show the emphasis Paul places on doctrine, that is, on the teachings that clearly reveal the Gospel of God in Christ.

From these brief observations, we should conclude that the Apostle finds right doctrine essential for the church of Jesus Christ. For Paul, there is one God in Christ who has revealed one Gospel by which men and women must be saved. This Gospel God has also entrusted to his church, and even gifted the church with people to preserve it well. Timothy’s task, therefore, is not small. Gospel-centered ministry demands of his life devotion to the word of life, diligence in teaching the truth, and assiduousness in the preservation of pure doctrine, that the church might not only have a saving Gospel to preach to the lost, but also by that same Gospel be saved herself. 

Bridging the Gap 

In light of these words, consider just three observations from our contemporary situation. (1) One of the largest “churches” in the world rejects justification by faith alone. (2) One of the key leaders in a movement now sweeping many “evangelical” circles in the United Kingdom and America teaches that the Virgin birth and substitutionary atonement are not essential to Christianity. (3) One of the largest and fastest growing churches in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex rejects the Trinity.

Brothers and sisters, be aware. These people preach no Gospel. Shall we not be all the more diligent to forsake the television and labor for the truth of the Gospel of Christ; to understand and explain it well and with precision? Pay attention.

Threefold Gospel Ministry: Doctrine, Faith, Godliness

August 11, 2007

After reading through 1 Timothy several times over the past week, the Lord graciously helped me see something amazing in his word. Through the exhortations Paul writes to Timothy a threefold Gospel ministry appears consisting of right doctrine, persevering faith, and godly conduct. He mentions these three as separate items within the letter, however, he never allows any one of them to stand alone; that is, they are never to be seperated from one another theologically or practically. Together, these three concerns of the Apostle form a kind of triple-braided chord that cannot (and should not) be broken. In the following posts, you will find my attempt to explain these three individually, and then how they come together as a theological/practical unit to comprehend a Gospel-centered ministry.

In case there are any interruptions, look for these posts:

  1. Doctrine: Clear Understanding and Exposition of the Gospel
  2. Faith: Genuine, Persevering Trust in the Gospel
  3. Conduct: Godliness Demanded & Effected by the Gospel
  4. Gospel-Centered Ministry: Right Doctrine, Persevering Faith, Godly Conduct