Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Pastoral Letters (5): I Timothy 4

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving (I Timothy 4: 4) … early summer blossoms on the ground outside Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

I Timothy 4:

1 Τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα ῥητῶς λέγει ὅτι ἐν ὑστέροις καιροῖς ἀποστήσονταί τινες τῆς πίστεως, προσέχοντες πνεύμασιν πλάνοις καὶ διδασκαλίαις δαιμονίων, 2 ἐν ὑποκρίσει ψευδολόγων, κεκαυστηριασμένων τὴν ἰδίαν συνείδησιν, 3 κωλυόντων γαμεῖν, ἀπέχεσθαι βρωμάτων ἃ ὁ θεὸς ἔκτισεν εἰς μετάλημψιν μετὰ εὐχαριστίας τοῖς πιστοῖς καὶ ἐπεγνωκόσι τὴν ἀλήθειαν. 4 ὅτι πᾶν κτίσμα θεοῦ καλόν, καὶ οὐδὲν ἀπόβλητον μετὰ εὐχαριστίας λαμβανόμενον, 5 ἁγιάζεται γὰρ διὰ λόγου θεοῦ καὶ ἐντεύξεως.

6 Ταῦτα ὑποτιθέμενος τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς καλὸς ἔσῃ διάκονος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, ἐντρεφόμενος τοῖς λόγοις τῆς πίστεως καὶ τῆς καλῆς διδασκαλίας ἧ παρηκολούθηκας: 7 τοὺς δὲ βεβήλους καὶ γραώδεις μύθους παραιτοῦ. γύμναζε δὲ σεαυτὸν πρὸς εὐσέβειαν: 8 ἡ γὰρ σωματικὴ γυμνασία πρὸς ὀλίγον ἐστὶν ὠφέλιμος, ἡ δὲ εὐσέβεια πρὸς πάντα ὠφέλιμός ἐστιν, ἐπαγγελίαν ἔχουσα ζωῆς τῆς νῦν καὶ τῆς μελλούσης. 9 πιστὸς ὁ λόγος καὶ πάσης ἀποδοχῆς ἄξιος: 10 εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ κοπιῶμεν καὶ ἀγωνιζόμεθα, ὅτι ἠλπίκαμεν ἐπὶ θεῷ ζῶντι, ὅς ἐστιν σωτὴρ πάντων ἀνθρώπων, μάλιστα πιστῶν.

11 Παράγγελλε ταῦτα καὶ δίδασκε. 12 μηδείς σου τῆς νεότητος καταφρονείτω, ἀλλὰ τύπος γίνου τῶν πιστῶν ἐν λόγῳ, ἐν ἀναστροφῇ, ἐν ἀγάπῃ, ἐν πίστει, ἐν ἁγνείᾳ. 13 ἕως ἔρχομαι πρόσεχε τῇ ἀναγνώσει, τῇ παρακλήσει, τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ. 14 μὴ ἀμέλει τοῦ ἐν σοὶ χαρίσματος, ὃ ἐδόθη σοι διὰ προφητείας μετὰ ἐπιθέσεως τῶν χειρῶν τοῦ πρεσβυτερίου. 15 ταῦτα μελέτα, ἐν τούτοις ἴσθι, ἵνα σου ἡ προκοπὴ φανερὰ ᾖ πᾶσιν. 16 ἔπεχε σεαυτῷ καὶ τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ: ἐπίμενε αὐτοῖς: τοῦτο γὰρ ποιῶν καὶ σεαυτὸν σώσεις καὶ τοὺς ἀκούοντάς σου.

1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. 3 They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.

6 If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, 8 for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.

11 These are the things you must insist on and teach. 12 Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. 15 Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Introduction:

This morning we continue our study of the Pastoral Letters, looking at I Timothy 4.

In our discussion of Advent Spirituality on Monday morning, I was saying how the second candle on the Advent wreath, which is being lit next Sunday [9 December 2012] recalls the prophets of the Old Testament.

This chapter contrasts the word of the Spirit, which speaks through the prophets, with the word of false prophets and false teachers encountered by the Early Church.

But it may also be appropriate to look at this chapter in the first week of Advent, when we are discussing Advent as a time of preparation for the coming of Christ again, which we are also looking forward to at our Advent Carol Service this evening [5 December 2012].

Verse 1:

“The Spirit” (πνεῦμα) here is the same Holy Spirit who speaks through the prophets.

ὕστερος (husteros),“Later times” or the last times, which may mean either the time after Paul, or the period before the day of the Lord (see Matthew 24: 24; I John 2: 18), the last times. It is a common theme of apocalyptic writing at the time, including Jewish apocalyptic writings, that before the end time there would be a time of suffering and catastrophe accompanied by apostasy among many of God’s people (see Daniel 12: 1 ff; Mark 13: 14-22; Revelation 13: 5-10).

The Holy Spirit in this verse is in sharp contrast to the “deceitful spirits.” Similar thoughts, in very similar words, are expressed in I John 4, which was also written to the Church in Ephesus (see I John 4: 1; see also II John 7).

The spiritual forces of evil and darkness are also a concern for Saint Paul when he writes to the Church in Ephesus (see Ephesians 6: 12; see also James 3: 15; Revelation 16: 13-14).

Verse 2:

Christ and the apostles constantly warn against false teachers (see Mark 13: 21-23; Acts 20: 28-31; II Thessalonians 2: 1-12; II Peter 3: 3-7).

Verses 3-5:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving (I Timothy 4: 4) … sunset on a beach at Kusadasi near Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

It was characteristic of Gnostic teaching to be dismissive of the physical and material world, to see the body as evil and only the soul as good. Many Gnostic teachers of the time refused to accept that the God of creation was good, and they forbade legitimate marriage and certain foods (see Colossians 2; 16), promoting an extreme form of ascetism that made them appear to be self-disciplines and righteous.

This attitude to food is quite different from the Jewish ideas of cleanliness and holiness, in which abstaining from certain foods was motivated by obedience to the Law rather than distorted thinking about ascetic practices.

In contrast, Saint Paul, who has taken a liberal position on food taboos (see I Corinthians 8 and 10), now stresses the goodness of God’s creation (see Mark 7: 14-19; Acts 10: 9-16; Acts 11 5-10; Titus 1: 15).

Verse 5:

“God’s word” or the word of God (λόγος θεοῦ, lógos Theou): the word by which God created the world (see John 1: 1-3).

Saint Paul uses λόγος Θεοῦ or τοῦ Θεοῦ, word of God, eight times, and λόγος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, word of the Christ, once (Colossians 3: 16).

Verse 6:

“Good servant of Christ Jesus” (καλὸς ἔσῃ διάκονος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ): note that the word translated here as servant is διάκονος (diákonos), which we also use as “deacon.”

Verse 7:

“Profane myths and old wives’ tales”: Foolish stories and speculation (see I Timothy 1; 4; Titus 1: 14).

Βέβηλος (Bébelos) is derived from a Greek term that means crossing the threshold, beyond or outside what is sacred or holy. It stands in contrast to εὐσέβεια (efséveia), godliness, reverence or piety towards God.

Verse 8:

Γυμνασία (gymnasía) is the exercise of the body in a gymnasium or palaestra or school of athletics. In the Classical Greek world this form of physical exercise was sometimes associated with ascetic practices, including abstinence from marriage and from certain kinds of food.

Verse 10:

This athletic metaphor continues in verse 10.

Verse 13:

“Until I arrive”: once again, Saint Paul expresses the hope of a return visit to Ephesus (see also I Timothy 3: 14). He had already said farewell at Miletus to the elders of Ephesus (see Acts 20: 17-38). However, the hope he expresses here of returning to Ephesus was never realised

The public reading of scripture, exhortation and the teaching: this pattern of worship in the synagogue also reflects the early patterns of what we might now see as the Liturgy of the Word.

At the time of writing though, Scripture here could only have been understood as the Old Testament.

Verse 14:

The laying on of hands by the council of elders: the word for elders here is πρεσβυτέριον (presbytérion), the elders or priests of the Church acting collectively. However, this is not always done collectively: later, in I Timothy 5: 22, there are instructions for Timothy laying on hands or ordaining individually; and in II Timothy 1: 6, Timothy is reminded that he has been ordained by Saint Paul laying hands on him.

There is no place in the Church for a self-appointed leadership.

This is not yet another formula for prayer, but expresses the giving and receiving of gifts within the Church. The laying on of hands is also associated with Christ’s blessing (Mark 10: 16) and Christ’s healing (Mark 6: 5); with commissioning missionaries and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Baptism (Acts 8: 17; Acts 19: 6); and with setting aside members of the Church for special ministries and tasks (see Acts 6: 6; Acts 13: 3).

Some questions:

How do feel about the strong and direct language used here, including “deceitful spirits,” “teachings of demons,” and the “hypocrisy of liars”?

Do we often emphasise lifestyle choices rather faith in defining who shares our interpretation of Christianity or our set of Christian values?

How do you respond to the apparent universalism in verse 10: “we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe”?

How often do we neglect the Old Testament lectionary readings in our churches, often for the sakes of expediency and brevity?

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with Year I and Year II MTh students on 5 December 2012.

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