1 & 2 Timothy Part Two Deep Dive
THE IMPORTANCE OF SOUND DOCTRINE
The notion of sound doctrine or correct teaching, as this week’s Deep Dive endeavours to convey; is an issue that is dear to Paul’s heart and lies at the centre of the Christian life. The book of Timothy and all its socio-historical context feeds into this one idea; that whatever the Church believes, it lives. Within Timothy’s commission in the opening chapter, the word “didaskalos” appears. This word carries the implication of instruction or teaching, with the intent to bring about its function. In other words, what is taught, is taught in order for it to be practised. As 21st Century believers, it is often confusing as to where exactly the teachings or instructions for Christian living should come from, and even less strong is the discipline to implement them. For Paul, this is as simple, as one reading the scriptures, interpreting them faithfully within the scope of reason, tradition, and experience.
From this, I want to briefly introduce two words, jammed packed with meaning and implications for faithful Christian living, and that help us understand what Paul is getting at when writing this immensely personal letter to Timothy.
Those words are:
ortho – Right/true/Correct
doxa – Opinion/Belief
ortho – Right/true/Correct
praxis - practice/deed/action
As far as these two concepts go, the bottom line is this: let your convictions emulate your actions. If you claim to believe in the Gospel of Jesus, yet you behave in a contrary fashion, it’s likely you haven’t understood the Gospel. Likewise, if you do good and behave as you think a Christian 'should' behave, yet you have no personal conviction or notion of faith, this too is a dangerous place to occupy. Paul here is encouraging Timothy to stay at Ephesus as well as urging him to keep sound doctrine. To keep a sincere faith. Notice that the relationship that Paul had with Timothy, would have given him the right to command him to stay at Ephesus, yet Paul modelled love and simply made an appeal to Timothy. That appeal could be summarised as, ‘stay at Ephesus; lead the church in correct belief and behaviour’. This is not to suggest that every single leader within the church was blatantly teaching false doctrine, though there were some cases of this, rather Paul is encouraging Timothy to bring correction, and clarity to the teachings of Jesus.
Let’s unpack some of these examples below:
Strange Teachings: This may be a reference to the pagan philosophies present during this society, and the subsequent attempt by Christians to either fit Christianity into one of these existing philosophical frameworks or even potentially to reinterpret the Law through Hellenistic lenses. This led to many theological debates, arguments, and most of all, the production of a lot of hot air. The art of rhetoric was more important than the discovery of any truth, let alone becoming intentionally pragmatic about that truth. Thus, when Paul writes to Timothy he reminds them what the Law is for; to expose the sin of humanity and to point to the redeeming work of the Christ.
Wealthy Women & Public Worship: Another issue Timothy faced in Ephesus was the reputation of Christianity. The faith, still in its infancy, could not afford to fall into disrepute, for fear of insurrection, persecution, or worse, disunity. So with regard to public worship, there waged a culture war; on one side, the Jewish communities allowed women to adorn themselves for their husbands, the other, the Greco-Roman culture saw this as a display of temptation. However, both cultures (constituting a significant portion of Ephesus) saw adornment for the purpose of turning other men’s heads as a mockery. In this case, it was the wealthier women of Ephesus doing so in excess, which led not only to inappropriateness within the church service but also caused social issues amongst believers.
It was to these kinds of situations that Paul was encouraging Timothy to speak, to correct, in love, inward issues to bring about lifestyle changes that mirrored those taught by Christ and by Paul. This was the only way Paul could see the survival and propagation of this growing sect. This idea flew in the face of the moralists of the day, most of whom were obsessed with orthodoxy, at the cost of orthopraxy; infatuated by speculations and rhetoric devoid of any practicality. This is not the call of a believer. Every believer is charged with the Great Commission, entrusted with the light of God, equipped with the Word, and empowered by the Spirit for every good work.