1 Timothy 6

Chapter six addresses three more specific groups within the church and Timothy himself again. First, Paul gave instructions for slaves (1 Timothy 6:1-2). Similar to the instructions in Ephesians 6:5-7 (just a couple of years earlier), Paul wrote that slaves should respect their masters and work well because this glorifies God and keeps a good reputation in the community. For those who have “believing masters,” this is true “all the more.” Apparently, it was common then as now for Christians to treat unbelievers better than their fellow believers in the business world.

Second, Paul addressed those who would spread “false teachings and…not agree with sound words…and with the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3-10). It seems that then, like now, “health and wealth” theology (the “Prosperity Gospel”) was prevalent. Paul warned Timothy not to get involved with and to warn the believers to stay away from it as well. It is nothing more than idolatry, loving money more than God, and it results in the destruction of one’s faith.

Third, Paul returned to his original encouragement to Timothy, that he should not give up (1 Timothy 6:11-16). It would be a struggle, one that Paul was familiar with, but he – and we – could do it when we place our full trust in Christ and rest in him.

Finally, Paul closed with a few words to those “who are rich in this world’s goods” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). His comments about the “Prosperity Gospel” was not intended to be a condemnation on wealth itself or those who have it. Money is a tool, and Paul made sure to tell wealthy believers to use it to build God’s Church and enjoy what God has allowed them to have. What we do in this life is the foundation for relationship and reward in the next.

1 Corinthians 13

Chapter thirteen is the famous “love chapter,” a part of which is often used in weddings and such to demonstrate the greatness of selfless love. What is often overlooked is that this is right in the middle of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, and love was the comparison Paul used to show which gifts were greater than others.

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul used a series of hyperboles to demonstrate love’s greatness compared to even the most extraordinary things. There are some who take Paul’s mention of “the tongues of men and angels” to prove that speaking in tongues means speaking in some kind of literal heavenly language that is different from human language. However, this is not supported by the text. The metaphor about faith moving mountains is a hyperbole, as was Paul’s comment about allowing his body to be burned 1 or giving everything away. There is no justifiable reason to read “tongues of angels” as a specific supernatural language when the others are clearly illustrative.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 contains a list of fifteen ways that love is the greatest action in which we can engage. It is a wonderful list often cited and should be read at engagement parties and weddings. Speakers at Christian funerals should be able to point to the person in the casket as someone who embodied these principles. Yet, in context, this list also describes how spiritual gifts are to be used within the Church.

1 Corinthians 13:8 begins with “love never fails,” which is often misread as the sixteenth item in the previous list. In reality, it begins the following sentence, showing again that love is greater than the gifts themselves, because they will end while love remains. Paul noted that three gifts specifically would end – prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 is highly debated in reference to when these gifts will/did end, mainly centered on the meaning of “the perfect” in verse ten. Much has been written on this over the centuries, but there are three primary interpretations.

First, if “the perfect” refers to Jesus, then these gifts will remain until Jesus returns. This interpretation is based on the fact that only Jesus could be called “perfect.” Second, if “the perfect” refers to the final maturation of the Church (Ephesians 4:13), then these gifts will remain until the Rapture, when “we will be like him” (1 John 3:2). This interpretation takes “perfect” to mean “mature” in light of the immediate analogy of child/adult. Third, if “the perfect” refers to the Scriptures, then these gifts remained only until the completion of the New Testament. This interpretation takes “perfect” to mean “complete” as opposed to “partial” in verses ten and twelve. 2 This last interpretation seems to make the most sense in the immediate context, in the context of the whole New Testament, and in the experience of church history.

Regardless of one’s interpretation of the ending of these gifts, the fact is that they would not outlast “faith, hope, and love,” and that love is “the greatest of these,” including the gifts.

Notes:

  1. The NET translates verse 3 with “if I give over my body in order to boast” (also NIV) rather than “to be burned” (NASB, ESV, KJV) due to a textual variant, which Metzger notes was given a “C” rating by the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament because of the strong evidence for both readings (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary On The Greek New Testament, Second Edition, 1994). In other words, it is difficult to determine which was Paul’s original thought.
  2. The Greek word τέλειος (teleios) can legitimately be translated as perfect, mature, or complete, so none of these interpretations can be dismissed based solely on the translation of this word. The context and analogies must be used to determine Paul’s meaning.

Isaiah 28

Chapter twenty-eight contains a new judgment prophecy against Ephraim, representing all of northern Israel. In the first section, Ephraim is compared to drunks and babies (Isaiah 28:1-13). Although Ephraim may have seen themselves as the “splendid crown” of the nation, God saw them stumbling around like drunks, slipping and falling in their own vomit. He saw them as babies, babbling “meaningless gibberish” instead of coherent words. Both drunks and babies have difficulty walking straight without falling over. The point is that God himself is the “beautiful crown” of Israel, but they did not understand anything he said. Because of this, God declared that they would have to learn by foreign languages, rather than their own. Paul quoted this to explain the purpose of speaking in tongues in the New Testament. He said that “tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers,” especially Jews (1 Corinthians 14:21-22).

In the section half of the chapter it seems that the Jews had somehow “made a treaty with death,” so that they were not afraid of being destroyed (vs. 15). Constable thinks that this refers to a pact with another nation (possibly Egypt) that they thought would protect them against an invasion from Assyria. As opposed to the Jews’ contrived methods to protect themselves, God said that he would give them one source of protection – a “stone” (Isaiah 28:16). This “cornerstone” is explained by Paul (Ephesians 2:20; Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 1:23) and Peter (1 Peter 2:6) to be Christ, himself and his gospel. Thus, God himself would be their judge, nullifying any contract they thought they had for protection (Isaiah 28:16-18). They thought they had security (like a bed and blanket), but they would discover it to come up short (Isaiah 28:19-21). Instead, he called them to return to him (Isaiah 28:22-29). A farmer does not keep plowing when it is time to plant, does he? And he does not harvest fragile crops with a sledgehammer, does he? Then why would Israel continue to do the wrong things, in the wrong ways, at the wrong times, when they have the wisdom of Jehovah himself at their disposal? It is a good question for believers today as well.