I recently was challenged to read a book of the bible 50 times, reading it through in one sitting each time. Never one to shy from a challenge, I decided to do it. (And no, Gen Z’s, I won’t fall for the cinnamon challenge… again.)
Well, I just passed my twelfth read of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. It’s a book I chose because it’s a book I believe every pastor should internalize. A book that should become part of the fabric of our being. But as I have walked through this amazing prison epistle, it has reminded me of its importance to every Christian – not just those in leadership.
Well for many reasons. But the central one that jumps out to a missions and outreach pastor is how the letter speaks to matters that affect our witness. Or rather, I should say, undermine our witness. Paul is quite concerned with speech and conduct, because when either of these are compromised, the advance of the gospel suffers. So, setting aside EF Hutton (and the fact that I just horribly dated myself), when Paul talks, we should listen! With that in mind, for next several weeks we are going to explore 1 Timothy and how it informs our Christian walk.
As you likely know, Timothy was Paul’s dear friend, mentee, and the pastor of the church in Ephesus. At the time of Paul’s writing, the church was being undermined by heresy in the form of Gnosticism, aberrant forms of Judaism and asceticism. In other words, it was being swayed by the currents of the culture it was in, and led astray by those seeking personal power and influence for themselves. But worst of all, the problems arose from the inside – the troublemakers were in the church.
So the church in Ephesus clearly had problems. And those problems were undermining its effectiveness as the purveyor of the word and hope of God. Thus my conclusion that this an important letter to study when the church seems to be growing ineffective in its mission.
Ok, so that church had problems. But again, why are we studying this letter?
Well, consider this. According to Pew Research, the number of Americans identifying as Christian fell 15% from 2007 to 2021, dropping from 78% of the populace to 63%. The number of people claiming no religion, meanwhile, increased 13%, growing from 16% to 29%. (You can find the study here.)
And it’s not just Pew that’s reporting problems for the church. Last year, Gallup reported that the number of people belonging to either a church, synagogue or mosque fell below 50 percent for the first time in the 80 years the organization has been tracking the statistic. In fact, it’s probably the first time ever. You can check that out here.
Those are just two indicators among many that the church is losing influence. I could reference more, but I will spare you. The bottom line is that we – the collective body – are not reaching people like we once did. And I for one think we need to seriously and honestly ask ourselves why.
Now to be certain, there are a great many factors that affect the church’s influence. And some of those things may seem out of our control. But there are things that are very much in our control. There are things that, as members of the body of Christ, we do or allow that weaken the body. Things that undermine our witness and diminish our message.
A little introspection can be an amazing opportunity for growth and renewal.
For me, Paul’s first letter to Timothy is a wonderful gift to lead us through a period of self-reflection. And I don’t mean necessarily just as a church, whether writ large or as individual congregation. In fact, I mean all the more as individual parts of the body. I truly believe this letter can lead to transformation, and I hope you will explore that possibility with me. In the next post, we are going to look at how knowledge can undermine our witness.
Father in heaven, we thank You for the gift of revelation You gave to our brother and Your servant Paul. We thank You that, by Your divine will, He put in writing matters He could have simply told Timothy in person, and as a result of that we have the blessing of Your wisdom to draw upon. Father, as we consider this letter, may it do more than inform us; may it transform us. And may Your name and Your truth be revered by our witness. We pray these things in Your Son’s name. Amen.