Last week I looked at the Epistle text, and this week I would like to do the same thing. The Epistle text for this week is 1 Timothy 1:12-17, with the option of adding verses 5-11.
There are two things to note when dealing with such an epistle. The first is that this letter was meant for more people than just Timothy. The fact that we are reading it today is a good indication of that. (And with the blessing at the very end of each epistle, with the use of the word ‘you’, that word ‘you’ is in the plural in the most reliable manuscripts.) The second thing to note is that the letter is about more than just being a pastor. This epistle is the first of what some call ‘The Pastoral Epistles’—and they usually mean 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. (This title, ‘The Pastoral Epistles’, is actually relatively new and only about three hundred years old.) They may have been written TO AND ABOUT one person, but they were actually written FOR AND ABOUT many.
A better term for this group of writings, although certainly not a positive one, might be ‘The Problem Epistles’. There are significant problems described in each of these letters. Each letter tries to deal with the issue at hand and move toward a solution that would be helpful within such a sinful world. Often the leaders are involved when there is a significant problem to tackle, and so that is the reason for the letters being addressed to Timothy and Titus. The nice thing about this title, with this broader description, the Epistle to Philemon could also be included, since one of the main problems was that Onesimus, the Christian and runaway slave, really should go back to Philemon, his ‘master’ (and fellow Christian).
This epistle text of 1 Timothy 1 happens to be in the Hebrew literary style of being negative, then having a significant turning point, and then being positive. I usually do not do this, but I would like to lay out the entire text below, emphasizing all the negative words (the words like ‘no’ or ‘not’—since sometimes these words are not so clear within the translation), and then to point out that there is the turning point which is near that special word of—surprise, surprise—the ‘gospel’. And, then, there are positive points after that. Hopefully this layout is helpful for you. I will even add verses 3 and 4, since that only adds a small amount, and that starts us at the actual beginning of the main part of the letter.
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons NOT to teach any different doctrine, NOR to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, WITHOUT understanding either what they are saying OR the things about which they make confident assertions.
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is NOT laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious GOSPEL of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (The Lutheran Study Bible, pages 2068-9).
Last week I also gave the example of a ‘gospel’ midpoint being important, and this week, there is not only that same midpoint, but a negative emphasis on one side of that section.
Another good example of this the Lord’s Prayer. The nice thing about the Lord’s Prayer is that the first and the last words of that prayer may also be connected to the structure (I also pointed this out last week).
The first word in that prayer, in the original language of the New Testament, in the Gospel according to Matthew, is the word ‘Father’. That is certainly a significant word for God. And the last word is ‘evil’. Now the middle word is a word that, honestly, we are not sure what it means. From the evidence we have, it looks like Jesus made it up. It is a description of the bread for which we are asking. (Usually we say it is ‘daily’.)
What kind of bread do you want? What kind of bread do you NEED? Perhaps it is better to let God, our Father in heaven, decide those issues. And, after the mention of that special bread, there are negative things mentioned, things like people trespassing (sinning!) and needing forgiveness, being led into temptation (the Roman Catholic Church is trying to get away from this translation), and being delivered from evil.
The author of this prayer knew what it was like in this world. He knew what it was like to eat bread. He also knew the trespasses, the temptation, and the evil. And he turned things completely around for us on the cross. Now that is the gospel.