Shipwrecked faith, heresies and conspiracy theories! Apart from featuring in Dan Brown’s writing, all the above were present in the first century Church as Paul spotlights in his first letter to Timothy. How was Timothy to cope with such critical issues? How are we to cope?
Grace, Mercy & Peace
Firstly, Paul presents a key blessing in the opening of his letter, for Timothy and the rest of us to grab hold of. He relays the gospel blessing – “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (v2). We have a tremendous overflow of divine grace, mercy and peace for our lives. And this floodgate is opened because of the reality that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v15).
As we read this and the writings of Paul and others in the New Testament it’s clear that this ought to be our central and ongoing emphasis in living out our lives before God. It’s this blessing that strengthened Paul and helped him to know and experience the love and faith of Christ Jesus (v12-14).
Sticking to God’s grace, mercy and peace keeps us connected to God and keeps us from falling prey to heresies, conspiracies, myths and endless genealogies. In focusing on these things it appears that some in the church at Ephesus were led into legalism and astray from the faith (v6-v7, v20). However, Christ has freed us from the law, which was powerful to judge and empty to save. Contrary to what some may say, however, “the law is good” (v8). Designed for sinners rather than saints (v9), it works to guide unbelievers to their need of God’s grace through Christ (Galatians 3:23-24).
Love, a Pure Heart, Good Conscience & Sincere Faith
Secondly, Timothy was set in place at Ephesus to preach the true gospel and inform heretics and those involved in speculative conspiracies and myths to quit it! We need the pure gospel and all of its related doctrines to be preached. Knowing and sharing the gospel helps us to sniff out false gospels and prevent others, particularly new believers and seekers, from being caught up in them.
Although this letter is targeted to an elder of the church and has special relevance for elders and leaders, we all have our part to play in handling the gospel right. At times I’ve heard the notion that we need less doctrine and more love. But that in itself is a doctrine (belief). Paul clarifies to Timothy that “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (v5). Stirring and guiding other believers (and non-believers) to biblical truth is a loving thing to do when done “from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (v5). To ignore such a stance would be unloving.
In considering the challenges of our day that can quickly shroud over God’s grace for us, I conclude with Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, for you and I to actively respond to – “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience” (v18-v19).