Vol. 5, No. 1
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Consider the command given Timothy by Paul in 1 Timothy 1:18-20. Paul had nurtured Timothy for quite a time (cf. Acts 16), and now left him to care for the church at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). Recalling Paul's deep concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28), this was quite a compliment to the young (1 Timothy 4:12) servant. Paul still cares, and writes to encourage and teach Timothy. He wants Timothy to know how to teach others to behave themselves in the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15).
The book begins with a charge: "...charge some that they teach no other doctrine..." (1:3). After a profitable digression, in which Paul reflects a bit on his tainted but forgiven past (1:12-17), he returns to the charge, with more explanation. Someone -- whether an apostle or one on whom an apostle had bestowed the gift of prophecy (cf. 1 Corinthians 12-14; Acts 11:27-28) -- uttered prophecies about Timothy and his fulfillment of this charge. The first-century charge has application to twenty-first century servants, although particular circumstances differ.
For example, the charge (mandate, command) included waging a good warfare with faith and good conscience, living up to the expectations that had been prophesied about Timothy. The Christian life is a battle against the forces of evil using spiritual -- not carnal -- weapons (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:4). More than once did Paul use the analogy of soldiering to describe the lifestyle of Christ's enlisted (2 Timothy 2:3-4; Philippians 2:25; Philemon 1). Miraculous manifestations of the devil no longer occur, but his charms deceive the multitudes: "...the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19). It stands to reason that withstanding such an insurgent tide is so serious a matter it warrants the analogy of war.
In waging this war, Timothy was to rely on his faith and good conscience. Conscience can be a safe guide when trained according to the Scriptures -- as Timothy's was (2 Timothy 3:14-15). Those same Scriptures -- being the revealed Word of God -- produce stabilizing faith (Romans 10:17). The faith and good conscience go so closely together and are so crucial to the soldier of the cross. What soldier is any good when he does not believe in his cause? What soldier benefits any army when he fights only for the pay? In Christ, with faith, we know the cause is just, and therefore stand in good conscience in waging the good warfare. And, unique in its own right, it is an entirely good warfare. For Christ never authorized any participants in this battle to hurt anyone, physically or mentally. The battle consists of aiming to help people -- to bring them out of misery and to glorious living. Christ's soldiers fight with the Gospel of peace to bring salvation -- not destruction -- to men everywhere.
Another element of this charge is fulfilling one's potential. Paul didn't use the word potential, but a stronger one. He essentially told Timothy to live up to the prophecies concerning him. Although it was done for Timothy, no one will make inspired predictions about any lives today, and the fulfillment of any supernaturally endowed charge; that miraculous age has passed. Still, though, modern disciples can ascertain their abilities and work diligently to use them in God's service. We each have talents, abilities and gifts of which we can make appropriate use. It would be a shame to think that someone who is a Christian didn't use his utmost, all he had for the glory of God. Indeed, when Jesus was teaching about preparing for judgment, he included the famous Parable of the Talents to illustrate this point (Matthew 25:14-30). Living up to full potential in God's service is critical. Once a Christian school administrator commented of his faculty's commitment: "Since we are Christians, we aim to do our best at all we do." How true. There is no room for laxity or "just getting by."
It is reasonable to conclude that those who try to do so would fall into the same fate as Hymenaeus and Alexander, who "concerning the faith ... suffered shipwreck" (1 Timothy 1:19-20). When we reject the fulfillment of potential, when we reject the faith that emboldens us for the spiritual battle, when we fail to achieve a level of service that satisfies a scripturally trained conscience, then we too flirt with such shipwreck. None of us has been given the specific charge Timothy had. But, we stand under the commandments of the Great Commission, the Parable of the Talents, and, indeed, all of the New Testament. May we ever pray for help and long to do better in our service to God.