There endeth the lesson!
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Pastoral Reflections on the Pastoral Epistles
For the last week I've been reading through the Pastoral Epistles (PE) in my nightly reading routine. Several things continue to stand out for me:
1. About two years after I became a Christian I was being posted to Townsville in northern Australia (a divine punishment for making jokes about how fat pregnant women were). I was in a young church with a young pastor, but I was well discipled and the young pastor instilled in me a love for Christian learning . He introduced me to apologetics which lead in turn to theology and then of course to biblical studies (in other words, blame this guy for all my heinous crimes). I shall never forget that just before I was about to leave, I was given as a farewell gift a copy of Millard Erickson's Christian Theology. And on the inside was inscribed the words of 1 Tim. 4.16: "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers". Those words have stuck with me ever since and it is wise counsel to give any young person heading off from the watching eye of their parents, family, and church.
2. The PE are often regarded as about being about doctrine, doctrine, and doctrine. Now that is true to some degree, but love, faith, and godliness are all interrelated to the "right" belief as well. Illustrative of this is 2 Tim. 1.13 where Timothy is exhorted: "What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sounding teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus". Doctrine without love or faith is a cerebral cult of the mind.
3. The PE emphasizes salvation by grace. We all know Tit. 3.5 as the sola gratia proof text. But consider the wider context: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good". The trinitarian framework here is most striking as is the link with "washing" which could denote regeneration or baptism (or both). We should note that doing what is good is one of the immediate goals of salvation by grace. I would also add 2 Tim. 1.8-9: "But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace." Again this is clearly teaching salvation by grace alone, but the call to salvation is also a call to a holy life. In my mind, all of this underscores the transformative power of grace, not just as something believed in, but something that is relied upon in our lives.
4. The PE have somethings to say about gender roles (e.g. 1 Tim. 2.11-15) and the inspiration of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3.16), but the hinge upon which the theological and pastoral exhortation of the PE turn is the gospel (1 Tim. 1.11; 2 Tim. 1.8; 2.8). What was "entrusted" to Paul and is now given to Timothy and Titus is the gospel (1 Tim. 1.11; 6.20; 2 Tim. 1.14; Tit. 1.3). In my mind, the centre of pastoral ministry, Christian discipleship, and even evangelicalism is not a specific view of Scriptural authority (i.e. infallibility or inerrancy) or a specific view of gender (e.g. patriarchy or egalitarianism) but the gospel. The mark of the true Pastor is how he (or she) articulates, proclaims, guards, lives, and passes on the gospel of God.
5. My favourite verses in the PE has to be 1 Tim. 5.23: "Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses". At the end of a long week in the labour of the Lord I look most forward to a nice glass of Aussie Merlot on a Friday night.
There endeth the lesson!