Monday, April 24, 2023

Ep. 55 - Some Thoughts About Right, Wrong, Doctrine, Law, and Handing People over to Satan

This post will also serve as Episode 55 of my Podcast. You can listen to it here: 

I'm going to warn you in advance. This is going to be a long post.  It is going to be long, not because I have a lot to say, but because the little I have to say will require a thick scriptural delivery system. It will also require a few additional words, because the world we live in has no mercy for succinct statements, unless they are in agreement with the world. I will then pepper in some additional words, in an attempt of honesty and transparency, to show that my motivation is love -- love for people, love for God, love for his word, and a love for the Church. I will attempt all of these words while offering a semi-exposition of 1 Timothy 1:3–20, with a practical emphasis on an event that happened at a church in my community. 

I will begin the first leg of this wordy journey by introducing (or reintroducing) you to young Timothy. Paul the Apostle at some point took a young Timothy under his wing and has trained, taught, and mentored him to assist in the pastoral work (the shepherding) of the churches that Paul has planted. We have recorded for us in the New Testament, two of the letters that Paul wrote specifically to Timothy. The information there, since it pertains to the practical workings of leading a church, are loaded with wisdom, truth, guidance, warnings, and directions that men of God have been digging into, mining for those incalculably valuable nuggets of divine teaching for the last 2,000 years. 

As I begin with 1 Timothy 1:3, listen as Paul offers both practical guidance and divine direction to young Timothy: 

[3] As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, [4] nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. (I Timothy 1:3-4 ESV)

So Paul is telling Timothy to remain at Ephesus. He must have told him this on a previous occasion, but he is reiterating it now, via this letter. The purpose of the urge to stay in Ephesus is that Timothy would charge (instruct, direct, order, or command) specific people not to teach a different (deviant, other, or strange) doctrine. More directly, different from what Paul has taught to the Ephesians and to Timothy. He then gives a few other pointless deviations, which are not beneficial, specifically "myths" and "endless genealogies."  The focus then, as Paul states, ought to be the responsibilities (stewardship) that God has laid out for pastors and teachers.

I could delve into the myths and endless genealogies, but if you would permit me, I would like to focus on the deviant doctrine that some are teaching and that Timothy is to command them to cease.  Before Paul gets into any specifics with Timothy, he is going to lay out a foundation of this charge to Timothy, but also of Timothy's charge to these teachers who are deviating from the doctrine that Paul has laid out for them when the church was planted. He says,

[5] The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (I Timothy 1:5 ESV)

So the aim (the end, the final destination) is love. Let us not forget that. Paul did not want Timothy to forget that. The Love that proceeds from the Father, is fleshed out by the Son, and is revealed to us by the Power of the Spirit, is our beginning, our path, and our destination. As the Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:10–11, "[10] In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."  Let us therefore, in the love of God, set our destination for ourselves and for others to be the Love of God as displayed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

But don't miss that this final destination of love is only to be found streaming from the founts of "a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith."  These three things are essential to understanding the claim of love. There are many today that are touting the claim of love, but (as I am about to argue in this post) are doing so from an impure heart, a faulty conscience, and a selfish faith. This foundation of love that Timothy sets as his aim by the direction of Paul, is also the point where some (in Paul's day and in our day) have swerved and are now headed in the wrong direction. 

[6] Certain persons, by swerving from these (the pure heart, the good conscience, and the sincere faith), have wandered away into vain discussion, [7] desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (I Timothy 1:6-7 ESV)

They say that if you were to hop in a rocket and aim at the moon, but were off by , you would end up missing the moon by 4,169 miles. This isn't taking into consideration the orbital movement of the moon, so there is a real potential to miss the final destination by an even larger distance, just by having the aim off at the beginning. These "certain persons" that Paul is referring to, have swerved from the three founts that issue our understanding of the Love of God. This swerving has resulted in a wandering away into vain or empty discussion. This is all missing the mark of the teaching of Paul, but it started with a swerve at the beginning. 

Paul then elaborates on these persons, telling us that they had the desire to be Teachers of the Law (νομοδιδάσκαλος or nomodidáskalos). This is possibly an official or semi-official title that they were using: explaining to people what God required, taught, expected, and commanded. Unfortunately, these people did not know what they were saying, at least according to Paul. Their confident assertions were ultimately leading people away from God and his glorious gospel. But whether it was an official title or not, is irrelevant. In Paul's day to a degree, but more clearly in our current cultural climate, everyone is a teacher of their own law and an expositor of their own truth. And unless someone is in agreement with the world, the very idea that someone else (like Paul the Apostle in this case) could then tell someone (like Young Timothy) to "command" or "charge" a third party (like these "certain persons") to stop teaching their truth is audacious to the modern sensitivities. 

Also, please take note that the Law is relevant to the discussion. This Law is referring to the Old Testament Mosaic Law. And as we will see here, and as another Apostle states elsewhere, "... no prophecy of scripture comes from someone's own interpretation." (2 Peter 1:19–21 ESV)

[8] Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, (I Timothy 1:8 ESV)

So, there is a lawful way to use the law. Listen carefully how Paul instructs on the proper use of the Law. This will also give us insight into where the swerve of these false teachers has taken them... and where it can take anyone who adopts love that is not from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith...

[9] understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, [10] the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, [11] in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (I Timothy 1:9-11 ESV)

Imagine I'm in a classroom. Now imagine I have placed 5 cookies on a tray. If I now let 5 imaginary children into this imaginary classroom with the 5 imaginary cookies and each one grabs one cookie and has a seat... everything is fine. I don't need to lay down laws for these imaginary students because they have used the Law of God that is written on their imaginary hearts to love their neighbor as themselves. If on the other hand, my imaginary students enter the classroom and the first one that sees the imaginary cookies grabs a handful of them, then Law becomes important. It is for the lawless and disobedient. This is what Paul is telling us. One of the most proper uses of the Law is for telling us what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. 

And because I am not obtuse, I also know that there are a couple of examples that Paul has listed that were most likely an affront to the people of Ephesus just as much as they are an affront to the people of America. A love that is not emanating from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith... a love that is understanding the proper use of the law that is laid down... a love that is centered in and rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ... God's love does not lead one to approve of homosexuality or any other sexual immorality. And a love that does lead one in that direction will eventually lead one to other deviations from the law. It can and will lead to murder... as I can imagine that there are some who claim to be teachers of the law in my own community who would like to kill me right now. (Let me get out my red and white paint and put a target in my back... 

Paul continues: 

[12] I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, [13] though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, [14] and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (I Timothy 1:12-14 ESV)

Paul has commanded Timothy to charge these certain people to cease their deviations from the proper use of the Law which has led to a teaching that is not in accordance with sound doctrine. But Paul's motive, as well as mine is still love. Paul has now demonstrated his love by pointing out that his faithfulness to Christ did not spring from himself. He was rooted in a sinful lifestyle, and though he would have professed a keeping of the Law, he was missing it entirely. It was the Grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that turned him from an insolent opponent to a faithful minister with that confrontation on the road to Damascus. Paul does not see people as beyond hope. But the hope that Paul clings to is a hope that might be administered to someone via Timothy and a command to "stop teaching that." 

[15] The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. [16] But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. [17] To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (I Timothy 1:15-17 ESV)

And Amen. 

I have also been on the opposite side of sound doctrine. My confrontation came to me in the form of a girl (who I ended up marrying) saying to me, "What are you doing?"  In that simple statement, I recognized my own sin and I could hear the charge of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ commanding me to stop. I was my own teacher of my own law, but it was the Law of God used lawfully that revealed my sinfulness, and thereby the keeper of the Law (Jesus Christ, who did so perfectly) imputed his own righteousness to me (see 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 4:4-5). This amazing moment of divine justification was accompanied by a supernatural regeneration as the Spirit of God gave me a new living heart instead of my heart of stone (see Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26; Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10). This change demonstrated itself by impacting my behavior... In other words, I repented of my sin and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved on the final day. Praise God that someone said to me... stop it!  What dreadful state would I be in today if someone would have embraced my sinfulness and told me that they were going to (as if on the behalf of God Himself) accept me just as I was, without that repentance. (This is precisely what I've seen from a couple of other churches in our community and specifically from a church in our community on Easter Sunday.)

I will end my wordy post and my brief exposition of 1 Timothy 1:3-20 by sharing the final three verses with a few thoughts to accompany them. At the end of this piece of Paul's letter to Timothy, he reiterates the charge (command) that he has given him. Whether or not Timothy knows it, he is in a battle. It is a battle for the truth of God's glory as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.

[18] This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, [19] holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, [20] among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (I Timothy 1:18-20 ESV)

 As sad as it may seem, there really are others who are waging war for the opposite side. Paul takes the time to mention a couple of these individuals by name. I know that it may seem like a bold, outlandish statement for someone to make today, but don't miss Paul's heart behind the handing over to Satan: He is hoping that they learn not to blaspheme. The particular blasphemy isn't laid out distinctly, but from the context, to speak unlawfully about the Law is to speak insulting words about the God who wrote that Law. 

Might we be the sort of people who will take up Paul's charge to Timothy? Even if we are not really all that young anymore, will we pick up the banner of a lawfully used Law of God for the sake of the gospel? Do we dare to confront those who have swerved from the faith and are teaching a doctrine that does not flow from the Love of God as demonstrated in a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith? Will we, in the hope that they learn not to blaspheme, hand individuals over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh? 

I pray that we will and that we do. 

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