1 Timothy 4:11-16
Way back in 2012, long before Covid and all, I published a fictional novel based on the idea that as it is stated in the bible in Revelation 14:6 and on that before Jesus comes again, God would send three angels to earth to prepare everyone for the salvation of humankind. I pondered who these three angels might be. Would we know them even as angels? Perhaps they would appear just as normal people? Then, we could be in the presence of angels unawares.
I am not trying to sell my books by the way! It is just when I see the first word of our scripture today, my old fascination with these three angels comes back because the first word in the Greek here is παραγγελώ (para-angelo) that obviously has the word “angel” in it! So, really, the word “angel” means one who carries a message from a higher up. A heavenly angel is one who carries a message from God. The first word of our text in the Greek, therefore, tells us that we are carrying a heavenly message to be commanded on earth. That is absolutely the idea that Paul wants to convey here, and yet our translation into English is very poor indeed—not mentioning this angelic message or command. It simply says “These are the things that you must insist on and teach.”
Up unto this point in our reading from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy we have received many instructions on how to behave in our daily lives. We have read about the qualifications for being pastors and deacons. Here Saint Paul hints at the idea that we must actually be somewhat like angels sent to earth with a message to command for the salvation of humankind. You have surely heard the word “paramilitary.” We are the “para-angelary.” “Paraangele” is the imperative action being called for by Paul.
The next line in this context has to be understood a little differently: “Let no one despise your youth.” When I think about all the paintings or representations of angels I have ever seen, not one was elderly! They were all youthful. Saint Valentines Day is next week, so we think probably of little cupid angels. Timothy is a young man. Paul is saying that even if you look youthful you should be respected by all—angels come in all shapes and sizes! People should respect that you are transmitting the heavenly message of salvation from God. That is all that matters.
Honestly, I do not mind having wrinkly skin and gray hair as a pastor! When we think of angels we think of younger forms; but when we think of pastors, we like to think of older distinguished kinds, right? Pastors are supposed to have an air of salty antiquity about them.
I want to mention this one fellow who appears in the Bible. He was not an angel in fact—nor was He ordained clergy serving a local congregation. His name was Jesus, and He was and is the Son of God. Jesus died on the Cross at a relatively young age. He was probably 32 or 33 years old. He did not have gray hair and wrinkles. Timothy at this point in his ministry is probably very close in age. If the example he is supposed to be following is Christ, then Timothy is right in there!
Following along on that same verse, we read about three ideas to be set out in angelic command as an example in speech and conduct: “love, faith, and purity.” Before we touch on those, I did want to point another really interesting Greek word here that is being translating as “conduct.” The word is αναςτροφή—anastophe. It is the opposite of catastrophe. Catastrophe means a “turning downwards.” Anastrophe means “a turning upwards.” This is then an angelic command in speech and for the sake of building up. Again this is a little bit different than just good conduct.
“Love, faith, and purity.” Which one of these is the most important? Which did Jesus say? Matthew 22:35-40 “You shall love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” I Corinthians 13, “and the greatest of these is love.” So, I am thinking that the order that these are written is significant. You cannot have true faith without love. And, you cannot have true purity without faith. It is not just randomly written here but rather cumulative.
What would happen if we put the word “purity” first as the most important part of our conduct? That actually happened in the 16th and 17th Centuries in what is known today as the Puritan Movement. These were the separatists from the Church of England in the day who wanted to live in a plain and simple “pure” Christian religion. They abolished all that they deemed to be idolatry, for instance, because they did not want to transgress the Ten Commandments or any part of the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible does it say to have a Cross in the church. The Puritans believed that if it were not in the Bible, that it should not be done. So, their churches were built without crosses. And, that is why our church here today has no Cross on the steeple. Yes, we are the descendants of the Puritans who came to New England in 1620 on the Mayflower.
The celebration of Christmas was not mentioned in the Bible, so they did not celebrate Christmas. It was not that too, too long ago that Christmas really was not celebrated in this country at all. It really started just in the last century to be the holiday we know it as today.
The ideals of the Puritans were to be “plain.” The bible states that all should be humble, so they all dressed in drab sameness. They all worked diligently, but kept the day of rest, being Sunday, as extremely holy. Anybody who worked on Sunday was in for it! This is because the Puritans were very strict in the application of purity. So much so that today we have the adjective “puritanical” that means—well, we all know what it means, don’t we? But, that is what happens when you switch out love and faith with purity.
All this to say, we must love first and foremost as Jesus has commanded to do just that. When we do that, for sure faith and purity in abundance should follow.
The next admonition we hear in this scripture is that scripture itself must be read publicly. “Pay attention to the public reading of scripture.” Make sure the teachings of Jesus are being heard by the general public. So that is one of the Puritans’ teachings that we still maintain in our church worship here. We start with the Word of God in Scripture. WE are people of the book. Even in our strange outdoor worship style for Covid distancing, we set the Word of God on the table with the pages open. We start the worship time with the public reading of the Word. We assign the task especially not just to the pastor, but to the public to read the Word publicly. That is why we have someone from the church, and not the pastor, read the Bible in our worship. It is to be read and heard by the General public.
This is really an amazingly important idea. What would happen if church clergy were to hide all the Bibles away, saying that the general public is not able to read or understand the scripture? Oh yes, that did happen in the church! It was called the “Dark Ages.” To some extent, we are still struggling to come out of the Dark Ages. I have visited many churches where there are no bibles in the sanctuary.
In verse 15 Paul writes to Timothy to use his gifts, his God-given gifts, that were recognized by the elders of the church, so that people can see “progress.” Let us think what this means for ourselves. When we come to church, when we read the Bible, when we live out our faith, we are supposed to be progressing. We are not supposed to be stagnant. Certainly not going backwards.
Then we have these beautiful words at the end of this passage that states that we are “to pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching, for in doing this you will save yourself, and those who hear you.” The Greek here reads more like “Hold onto yourself.” Keep it together. Don’t let yourself go. I almost want to say: “Constrain yourself.”
If you do this, you will save both yourself and those who hear you. Note: Paul does not say those who will listen to you rather those who hear. People might not even be listening to Timothy, yet they may hear him. You might share your faith with others who are not listening in the least, but that might not mean that they still hear the Word of God in what you are saying. Just make sure that the Word of God is in people’s hearing! Whether they really listen or not is their choice! Still, in this way they might still be saved.