Scripture Reflections @ CEC by Cindy Graff (7/23/20)
“The Word of God I think of as a straight edge, which shows up our own crookedness. We can’t really tell how crooked our thinking is until we line it up with the straight edge of Scripture.” Elisabeth Elliot
Join us as explore two of Paul's letters - 1 Timothy and Ephesians.
Scripture & Devotion: Scriptural focus: 1 Timothy 1:1-3
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Jesus Christ our hope,To Timothy, my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. As I urged you when you went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
Keeping the focus on faith
It seems to me that people have a lot more time on their hands these days to listen to (and be influenced by) the ideas of others. Since the ongoing COVID crisis has so drastically altered the employment climate in our country and curtailed much of our usual recreational and social activity outside our homes, many have turned to television, the Internet, and various other forms of media as a way to occupy their time. Talk is endless and everywhere, especially in this election year made bizarre by daily updates about the pandemic and news of widespread civil unrest. It is easy to get caught up in political arguments and speculation about the future. In this passage, Paul reminds Timothy (and us) about the importance of keeping our focus where it should be: on God’s command to love others, which comes from “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
One of Paul’s main points in this passage is to be careful not to fall victim to false doctrines. The fledgling church was apparently undergoing some disagreements about what specific attitudes and behaviors were necessary for living a godly life. We know that churches in other areas such as Colosse were embroiled in heretical debates, such as whether there was a hierarchy of privilege related to the degree to which it was possible to know God, or whether angels, since they were heavenly beings, were worthy of worship. A footnote in my Life Application Bible calls these conjectures “irrelevant questions and controversies… discussions, disputes… religious speculation and pointless theological arguments.” How do these apply to our current situation? Oddly enough, I had an experience just last week that I believe dovetails with what Paul is saying about religion-based conversation that can become “meaningless talk” if it lacks foundation in spiritual truth.
I belong to a small group of writers which meets online once a week. During each session, the participants (who are quite diverse in terms of background, life experience, and where they stand regarding spiritual matters) pose writing prompts on a variety of subjects. This week, as the COVID death toll continues to rise, one of the prompts was a piece by a well-known poet about what it would be like if it turned out that everyone were right about the afterlife, i.e., if whatever each person believed would happen to him after he died came true. The poem considered scenarios from different religious traditions: reincarnation, being drawn toward a brilliant light, facing judgment, etc. After some interesting theological (and anti-theological) debate, it became clear to me that people are genuinely curious with regard to the concept of an afterlife; however, there is a powerful attraction in answers that are pleasant or convenient or based in logic as opposed to faith. In other words, people seem generally more comfortable believing what they want to imagine rather than what the Bible says.
How, then, do we recognize and identify false doctrine? The first and most important way is to know what the scriptures say so that we can steer clear of teachings that contradict them. Secondly, we can be alert to the possibility of discussion morphing into controversy for controversy’s sake. (As an intellectual or academic exercise, this can be stimulating, but it can pose some subtle dangers if ideas take hold that are incongruent with what the Bible teaches.) Third, as Paul indicates to Timothy, we should be wary of teachers who seem to be trying to make a name for themselves rather than focusing on leading others to the truth of God’s love and grace. Although such false teachers may seem sincere, the appearance of sincerity is not always a test of righteousness, as we know from the stories of various televangelists, spiritual teachers, and cult leaders who have proven to lead ungodly lives and caused many to stray from following God’s truth.
Paul’s letters to Timothy contain much advice from an older, wiser mentor to a young person starting out on a career in ministry. As such, they have much to teach us about our day-to-day life in the Christian faith. I am excited to begin this journey of exploration and am confident that God will bless this time spent in his Word.
Thank You that we can know You because of Your word and Your Spirit within us.