1 TIMOTHY 1
Discipleship is not the best way to grow the church… it is the only way! Large worship meetings, slick Alpha courses, well-equipped buildings, powerful preaching, miracles, great youth work and a missional emphasis are all highly desirable, but they are not the core of our faith and not the ‘engine’ of our growth. If Tony Blair’s government existed under a mantra of ‘Education, Education, Education’, then the church must take up ‘Discipleship, Discipleship, Discipleship’!
Timothy was Paul’s best and most successful disciple; Paul loved him deeply and spent many years pouring into that young man a love for Christ, an understanding of the gospel, and a passion for seeing the lost found. By discipling Timothy and other men like him, the growth of the church – particularly in the Gentile regions – became almost exponential, culminating in almost half the Roman empire becoming believers at the church’s peak. Timothy had been converted by Paul at his hometown of Lystra, during Paul’s first missionary journey. Paul and Timothy together wrote six New Testament letters, which shows how highly Paul regarded his ‘son in the faith’.
The context of this letter was Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey. You will not read anything about this in the Book of Acts, which ends with Paul’s first house imprisonment in Rome, and from which he was later released. But Paul had already declared his intention to go to Spain (Romans 15:24,28) and some of the later Church ‘Fathers’ implied that he had made another extended journey around the Mediterranean, including Spain. This would have been from around AD 62 up to his martyrdom in AD 67 or 68.
So this letter, 1 Timothy, was written in about 64 AD to Timothy, who had been given prime responsibility for the church at Ephesus; this was eight years after Paul’s long three-year stay at Ephesus. Having left Timothy there, Paul himself went on to Macedonia – perhaps he wrote this letter from Philippi, possibly prompted by the arrival of false teachers from the ‘dark side’ to the Ephesian church. Timothy himself was much later imprisoned, but later released, probably in Rome; see Hebrews 13:23.
Starting at the beginning, we read: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope”. Three times in this letter God the Father is described as ‘our Saviour’, which provides an added dimension to the salvation story (see also 2:3 and 4:10). Jesus is ‘our Hope’ – our anchor in the future as we eagerly await his return and the culmination of our salvation (Hebrews 6:18-19; Titus 2:13). Christ, who lives in us now is also our ‘Hope’ at the present time (Colossians 1:27).
Timothy is called Paul’s “True son in the faith”, which describes their relationship perfectly; in 2 Timothy 1, he calls him “My Dear Son”. For a man like Paul who had no wife and no biological children, Timothy must have been doubly precious to him, and a great source of companionship and comfort. The value of deep friendships amongst Christians cannot be overstated, and we all need to work hard to cultivate them.
How should we Christians view the Law of Moses? Paul clearly states in 1:8 that it is not for us. “We also know that the law is made, not for the righteous, but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practising homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel…”. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us from the inside, to move us compassionately and wisely to make the right decisions in our lives; we do not – or should not – require the law at all. If we find ourselves ‘bumping up against’ the restrictions of the Law, then we are already failing to walk with the Holy Spirit as we should be (Galatians 5:16-18 and 22-25).
JEREMIAH 32, 33 and 34
You are a prisoner of the king’s bodyguard, held captive by an army that is itself being held captive in its own city, by the army of the King of Babylon. What do you do? Well, if your name is Jeremiah, you decide to purchase some farmland as an investment! It all seems rather farcical and futile, until the realisation dawns that this financial transaction is a centre-stage prophecy from the Lord. The date was 587 BC, the year before Jerusalem was totally destroyed by the Babylonian forces after a two-year siege.
The Lord had told Jeremiah about his cousin wanting to sell him the field and, sure enough, even whilst Jeremiah was there in prison, his visitor that day was his cousin, Hanamel. The price was negotiated, and a reasonable value agreed, with a duplicate copy of the deed of sale being created and signed in the presence of witnesses. Jeremiah had the documents put into a clay jar to preserve them for a long time (the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls were preserved for at least 2,000 years in clay jars).
Why did God bother with this? On many occasions, people will be much more convinced by a Christian’s actions than by their words – even though both are prompted by faith. Many sceptics are completely unaffected by the words of the gospel, but their attention is suddenly obtained when they see believers acting consistently with their faith; at last, that faith is seen to be real. Jeremiah was literally ‘putting his money where his mouth was’ in purchasing that field, since he was prophesying that the exiles would be rescued and returned by the Lord after a period of seventy years. The purchased land would not be a worthless waste of money, but would indeed become a great investment, in accordance with God’s word. We should be more ready to act on what we believe, rather than just talking about it, if we wish to convince the sceptic and the atheist.
“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the parents’ sins into the laps of their children after them. Great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to the ways of all mankind; you reward each person according to the conduct and as their deeds deserve” (32:17-19). These are the opening words of the great prayer of Jeremiah. In reply, God says: “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (The correct answer, by the way, is ‘No’!)
The Lord then introduces the Everlasting Covenant in 32:37-41. Not only will he gather them from all the nations, but he will give them ‘singleness of heart and action’ – and integrity of belief and lifestyle at last! He will never stop doing good to them, prospering them and their children after them, and inspire in them a holy fear. Do you want to know more? Then: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (33:3). If we need knowledge, then go straight to the source of knowledge.
God will once more come to shepherd his people. He will send his own Righteous One – from David’s line – to bring salvation; and Jerusalem will be renamed as ‘The Lord Our Righteous Saviour’. This is the bride taking the same name as the bridegroom. God’s covenant with night and day will not end; neither will his covenant with Israel and Judah, whose fortunes He will restore.
Finally, in chapter 34, Jeremiah has a rebuke for those officials who initially freed their Hebrew slaves after six years (in accordance with the Law) and then recaptured them again. God treats these actions as a violation of his covenant and its perpetrators must pay the price! The covenant was originally established by cutting a calf in two and walking between the two pieces; implicitly the message was ‘If I fail to keep my side of the bargain, then let me become like this calf’. This is identical to the scene in Genesis 15, where God, represented by the smoking pot of fire, walks between the cut bodies of animals in making a covenant with Abraham. Indeed, the technical term is to ‘cut a covenant’.