Posted by: watchman | June 26, 2009

First Timothy 1: Courageous in Conflict

Leadership is not for the light of heart. It never has been. Inherent in the calling of the minister is the necessity of conflicting well. One of the harsh realities of the human story is that strife always interrupts peace.

After Paul gives brief words of greeting, he reminds Timothy of the difficult task to which he had been assigned. As overseer of the church at Ephesus, Timothy had to deal with some of the teachers who were promulgating the usual legalism that plagued the early church.

Now, wait a minute. Teachers? If Timothy was the pastor, then who are all these “Teachers”? There are a few possibilities. They could have been wandering Judaizers, know it all church members, or competing theologians (e.g. gnostics). However, what best fits here is that these Teachers were elders and leaders in the church at Ephesus.

In all likelihood, the Church was composed of various groups of believers that met in eachothers’ homes throughout the city. I think it is safe to infer from  Acts 20:20 that teaching and disciplship occured in these homes. Of course, Timothy could not be in every single home, especially if they met daily.  Knowing that their were multiple elders in Ephesus (Acts 20:17), I think these home groups were overseen by elders. Aquila and Priscila were a famous couple who had a home church (I Cor. 16:18). More on home groups can be found here or somewhere in that vicinity.

So, Paul was instructing Timothy on what to do about elders (house church leaders) who were teaching things that were counterproductive to the mission of the church. What were they teaching?

False Doctrine. AHA! They must have been teaching emergent church heresy, or some flavor of soteriology that I don’t like, or that eschatology I don’t like. Actually…

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.

Instead, these dangerous teachers were engaging in “meaningless talk.” Paul does not say that it was necessarily destructive. He says it was meaningless, distracting, and controversial.

Ever have that guy in church that meets you after a sermon and wants to talk about Calvinism EVERY Sunday? Yeah, that is the guy Paul is talking about.

Paul desired that the church at Ephesus would be focusing more on their mission of love than theological debates. Based on this passage, this may have ended being a losing battle.

Not only were there people teaching distracting and meaningless talk, there were teachers that were teaching blatant legalism (v. 8-11). Paul wants Timothy to remind them sternly why the church exists. The Law exists to bring justice to the lawbreakers. The gospel exists to bring mercy and grace to those who desire righteousness.

It is laid on the shoulders of young Timothy to deal with all this. There is no easy way to do such a thing. He has to face some church elders who are knowledgeable and probably older than him. They bring experience, and he has to trust in the authority of his calling.

All of us who have had such conversations, know the difficulty of having them. It is a rigorous experience to confront someone and push them to change or to conform for the good of the Body. Many leaders do not survive even their first confrontation of this sort.

Ministry seems to be one difficult conversation after another. Like Timothy, we need to depend on the authority of our calling, and on God’s leadership to help us through those situations. Sometimes, they require us to go against the grain, especially when confronting some of the most popular leaders of our churches. But, in the end, we should be courageous and bold in our God-ordained confrontations. For, the Church is the Lord’s and whether it thrives or fails is ultimately God’s responsibility. We, as leaders,  do what we are called to do, even if it hurts.

This is not for the faint of heart.

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