1 Timothy 1 – Distractions

Read 1 Timothy 1

As Paul opens his letter, he implores Timothy to keep his focus on the main thing.  Apparently, there had been issues with people getting distracted from the main message of the Gospel through by the teaching of false doctrines.  Paul is also concerned about long discussions about “myths” and “endless genealogies.”

The reason that he focuses so much on those things is because they were part of the false teaching of Gnosticism that had cropped up in the early church.  These genealogies were a part of tracing things back to the very beginning of the world, or to attempted to discern or know some secret knowledge or spiritual being that others don’t know.  What these ended up being, for one reason or another, is just a mess of endless conversations about nothing that went nowhere.

Isn’t that fairly typical of the enemy?  Rather than a direct assault on the ministry of the church or a challenge to the power of the Gospel, he takes a round-about approach, distracting believers in endless discussions and arguments about things that are neither true nor matter at all, and Paul calls them out for it.

Paul’s letter, however, is not necessarily directed toward the church in Ephesus, where Timothy was leading, but rather to Timothy himself.  Paul left Timothy in charge at the church in Ephesus, and as such, is responsible for leading the people in this time.

People’s ability to talk around subjects is particularly amazing to me.  Far too often we spend time talking about issues and subjects that are not the true issue or problem in our lives.  Sometimes, we argue about subjects that don’t even matter simply to avoid the real issues that are taking place in our lives or in the life of our faith community.  Paul charges Timothy, as the leader of the church there, to see through this, cut through this, and get back on track to the Gospel message of God’s love for all people and the love he calls us to as His people in Christ.



Introduction to Colossians

The book of Colossians is another one of Paul’s letters written to a church while imprisoned in Rome.  While the city of Colossae was not a very major city at the during the 1st century A.D., it was unique in that the church itself was started by Epaphras, a convert from the city of Ephesus.  This may make the church in Colossae one of the first church plants recorded in the Bible.

Because the church itself was young and its leadership rather inexperienced, it fell prey to the inroads of heresies, false teachings both from outside and within the Christian community.  While these are never directly described, it is possible to understand them based on what Paul is talking about.  The NIV study Bible lays them out in this way:

  1. Ceremonialism / Traditionalism – strict rules about eating, drinking, and religious festivals
  2. Asceticism – avoiding earthly forms of pleasure for religious reasons
  3. Worship of Angels – Belief that there were certain spirits from God through whom we approach Him.
  4. Devaluing the person and work of Christ – placing other things (like all of these other heresies) as being more important that the life and work of Jesus Christ.
  5. Secret Knowledge (pre-gnostic thinking) – a heresy that developed into a full-blown sect of Christianity, that somehow the way to God was through “secret knowledge” and “hidden secrets”
  6. Reliance on human wisdom and tradition – a topic Paul often addresses in his writing, certainly not unique to the church in Colossae.

Paul begins his writing specifically addressing the preeminence of Christ.  Placing Him above all things, in the rightful position in the world and in our lives and Lord and Savior solves a good portion of the heretical problems that the church in Colossae was facing.  When we understand this and our lives are oriented around it, we recognize the adequacy of Christ in all things and also realize our own empty weakness.



Day 358: 1 John 1-5; That You May Know

As we come to the final epistles of the New Testament, we take a look at the letters that are attributed to the Apostle John.  Once again, it is not entirely known as to whether or not it was indeed the Apostle John, the writer of the Gospel of John, that wrote these letters, or if it was someone within the Johannine community, probably one of John’s disciples, that was writing to those that were in the “Johannine ” churches.  In similar fashion to our denominations today, the churches of the first century had some distinctive features that made them different from each other.  Churches that were started by John may have looked a little different than those that were started by Paul.  It wasn’t as if anything was wrong with one or the other, but it was likely that their worship styles were different and perhaps even some of the teaching emphasis was different as well.  John even makes mention of some of these differences in his first letter here, saying that some of the teachings of Paul were difficult to understand.  It could be that that Johannine churches were composed more of poor and uneducated people rather than of more educated, potentially upper class people that might have made up some of the more Pauline churches.  This would make sense, in some ways, as John himself was a fisherman by trade, where Paul was a religious leader and a Roman citizen.  Fishermen tended to be poorer, where the religious leaders often came from families that were religious leaders and were fairly well off.  In this sense, Paul talks in more of a “high church theology” where John is relating to “less educated” community.

Remember, when we were in the Gospel of John, that His writing was quite simple in nature, not using a lot of difficult grammar, large words, or grand theological concepts.  He does, however write in a way that can be understood easily on the surface but also can be deep and theologically rich.  John is a master of words.

Remember too, in the Gospel of John, that John the Apostle does a great deal of playing with themes, especially with the theme of light and darkness.  It is this theme, in fact, that makes the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, which will happen tomorrow (at the time of this writing), when the light entered into the world, a light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overcome.  It is one of the first themes that John brings up here in his letter as well.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Again, remember that John’s Gospel, as well as the letters attributed to John, deal with some specific heresies that had arisen in the church.  Like Peter and Paul, John is encouraging the members of his community, and of the churches throughout the world to keep the faith, to hold fast to the Word of God and not listen to these false teachers.  One of the main heresies that he is teaching against is that of Gnosticism, a group of people that had very different beliefs about the work of Jesus, the nature of the psychical and the spiritual, and the notion that there was some sort of “special knowledge” that people needed to be saved, something that was found in places other that Scripture.  John is writing so that his readers, the believers in his communities and in the church would know Jesus is truly the savior and that there isn’t anything special that they have to do.  John 20 gives an end to the Gospel that gives an explanation to this effect.  All we need is Christ, to believe in His name, and in that we will have life, true life in Him.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John concludes this letter in much the same manner:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.



Day 344: Colossians 1-4; The Preeminence of Christ

Interestingly, this letter, which holds its main point as being the sovereignty of God and the preeminence of Christ as its main theme, is one of the letters of which the author is thought the be pseudonymous (written anonymously).  Over the course of the last couple centuries, people have become a lot more interested in textual criticism of the Scriptures and the authorship of the books as well.  This has led scholars and historians to comb through the original text to look for differences in writing styles, grammatical usages, and the like to show that the writers of these books are not necessarily who they say that are.  The book of Colossians is considered by a majority of historians to be not written by the apostle Paul.  The real question in this argument though is whether or not that actually matters.  Most Theologians would say no and here’s why.  In these times, and to a lesser extent in our contemporary context, writing a letter under a pseudonymous name was quite common.  Likely the person that wrote this letter was a student or contemporary of Paul that wrote after Paul’s death or imprisonment.  Writing in Paul’s name would have given the letter a great deal more clout and impact on the community that likely needed to hear what was in this letter.  Moreover, as the process of canonization took place, that process in which certain books and writings were deemed to be part of the Scriptures while others weren’t, we believe that the Holy Spirit was intimately involved in that process and in the process of writing these letters, books, etc.  Therefore, even though the person that is said to be writing this is likely not actually Paul, the nature of the truth that the letter communicates is not at all in question, harmonizing with the whole of the Biblical Scriptures and therefore authoritative and true for us today.

It is a bit ironic that this letter, of all the letters, would be the one that garners a discussion like this as the writer himself is pointing first and foremost to the preeminence of Christ and the truth that comes through Him above all else.  While discussions about historical things are important, the pseudonymous Pauline writer is pointing beyond that discussion to show us that really where we should be looking to is Christ, not grammatical issues or textual criticism.

One of the main purposes of the letter to the Colossian church was to combat and issue that was cropping up in the church.  A couple of days ago I mentioned the word Gnosticism, which was something that the Apostle John expressly writes against in all of his writing.  He, however, wasn’t the only person to encounter that issue as the writer of Colossians is making clear.  There were (and are) people that had taken the Christian teaching and intermixed it with some of their own teaching.  This led to what we could call “Gnostic Christianity” (which really is a misnomer because it is impossible).  These people taught that, while Christ came into the world, we really need a special knowledge to know God and it was this knowledge that saved us.

Right at the beginning, this position is challenged by the simple truth of Jesus Christ:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

The Pauline writer is laying out very simply the story of Jesus Christ and the truth of both His deity and the Gospel that we find in Him.  There is no special knowledge here; the writer is not somehow uniquely enlightened apart from the work of the Holy Spirit which is also at work within us.  Indeed this idea of Gnosticism is just another way that Satan is trying to twist the Good News of Jesus Christ so that we turn from it rather than cling to it.

Now, you may be thinking that this is something not worth talking about because of the fact that it is history and the Gnostic Teachings do not exist anymore.  Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Agnosticism is a “religious” affiliation that has become a major player in the last 50-100 years or so.  Agnostics believe that there is a God out there but that He is ultimately unknowable.  This leads to a sad resignation that there is no way to save one’s self accept through trying to be the best we can be and hoping that somehow God sees that.  Sadly, I think that a lot of agnostics are actually people that are leaving the Church today.  Too often they are leaving because we aren’t preaching the truth of the Gospel and we certainly aren’t living it out.  The ideas of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, that God is out there somewhere but is not intimately involved in our lives so we just need to be good and try harder and God will help us from time to time, are running rampant in the Church and they are leading believers astray.  It is simply NOT TRUE.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.  In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.