On Sunday we started a new series in 1 Timothy.
1 Timothy is a letter that addresses a very particular issue, in a specific church, at an instance in time. But it also has widespread significance for all churches for all time. It is the record of the Apostle Paul instructing Timothy on how the church in Ephesus ought to behave (3:14-15). And since it was inspired by the Holy Spirit, God speaks to us from it today and teaches us too about how we as a church ought to behave.
We said on Sunday night that we have a particular opportunity to think together about church as we make our way through this letter.
As with all of God’s word, we want to hold life up alongside it and be shaped and changed by what we hear God say. And in this new series we, as a church, should consider what Jesus’ Apostle wants for this church and how we compare - which things we have right, and which we need to change.
One of those areas we were introduced to on Sunday was the importance of gospel truth.
Paul is insistent that Timothy refutes false teachers (1:3-4) and upholds sound doctrine (1:10-11). Healthy teaching. It will come as no surprise to us that not all teachings from the bible are necessarily valid. Paul here is warning against people who are devoted to Old Testament scripture, but who are wandering from truth (1:6-7). Instead, Paul insists that Timothy upholds healthy doctrine, teaching which accords with the truth passed down from the Apostles. Doctrine that adheres to the gospel (1:11).
Which means at the outset, we must be asking one another whether our teaching Sunday by Sunday is gospel teaching. When we approach the bible to learn from it, are we hearing gospel truths? Because Paul tells us, there is a way to be thoroughly engaged in discussion and debate regarding the scriptures, but to have entirely missed the gospel. The charge to Timothy is to refute such teaching and to ensure that the Ephesian church is one that teaches true, gospel doctrine.
We get a flavour of this particular battle in the book of Revelation.
The Ephesian church is specifically addressed by the risen Lord Jesus, who tells them:
“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
Here we have that bold contest for truth of 1 Timothy 1:3-4, but it has lost its aim of love (1:5).
So how are you going to make the most of the next few weeks in 1 Timothy?
How are we going to ensure that our church life is the one God desires for us?
I think it will begin by asking - what is our doctrine like? (1:3) Not just where we teach from, but which core truths do we uphold? (3:15) What characterises our discussions about God’s word? (1:6) And are we marked by gospel truth? (1:11) And are we people of love? (1:5)