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In Our Ward: Lesson 41: “I Have Finished My Course”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 13, 2011

Lesson 41: “I Have Finished My Course”

1 and II Timothy, Titus

Purpose: To encourage class members to learn and teach true doctrine and be righteous examples for others.

Scripture Discussion and Application

1. Learn and teach true doctrine.
2. “Be … an example of the believers.”
3. “Follow after righteousness” and deny ungodliness.
4. “God hath not given us the spirit of fear.”
5. Being good employees.

Introduction

The two letters to Timothy and one to Titus are commonly referred to as the “pastoral letters” because they offer advice on how to pastor or minister to a congregation in the church. They are apparently written by Paul (although, as with most of the other New Testament books, there are scholars who question that authorship). Both Timothy and Titus are mentioned often enough in the New Testament that we can put together a rough biography of each of them:

Timothy: A Biographical Sketch

Timothy, the son of a Gentile man and a Jewish woman, lived in the town of Lystra in southeastern Asia Minor; his mother was a believer, but his father was not (Acts 16:1-3). Timothy embraced the Christian faith, and Paul recruited him as a companion for his second missionary journey, circumcising him so as not to offend the Jews (Acts 16:1-3). Toward the end of that journey, Paul sent him back to Macedonia to strengthen the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 3:2). Timothy then rejoined Paul in Corinth, bringing him good news about the Thessalonian church (Acts 18:5; 1 Thess. 3:6) and helping him to evangelize the Corinthians (2 Cor. 1:19). Later, he accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey and thus was with Paul during his lengthy stay in Ephesus (Acts 19). Paul sent him once again to Macedonia (Acts 19:22) and repeatedly to Corinth (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10). Timothy later spent a winter with Paul in Corinth (from which Romans was written [see. Rom. 16:21]) and then went on to Troas, where Paul spent a week with him on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4-5).

After this, we lose track of Timothy. He may have continued ministering in Troas, where Paul’s own work had been c ut short due to crises in Corinth (2 Cor. 2:12-13). Later on, he may have gone to Rome to be of service to Paul during his imprisonment there (see Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 4:10; Philem. 1 [but were these letters written from Rome?]). He may have been imprisoned himself at some time (see Heb. 13:23), but we have no information as to when or where this would have been.

The two letters addressed to Timothy add only minor details to this portrait: his mother’s name was “Eunice,” and his grandmother, also a believer, was named “Lois” (2 Tim. 1:5); he was young in comparison to Paul (1 Tim. 4:12, 5:1); he suffered from frequent illnesses (1 Tim. 5:23); and he had received a spiritual gift through prophecy and the lay8ing on of hands (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).

Titus: A Biographical Sketch

Titus was a Gentile Christian, possibly from Antioch, who was brought to Jerusalem by Paul and Barnabas as a sort of test case for the church in deciding whether Gentile converts to Christianity needed to be circumcised (Ga. 2:1-3). The extent of his involvement with Paul’s subsequent missionary work is unknown, but Paul did come to regard him as a “partner and co-worker” (2 Cor. 8:23), and he appears to have been with Paul during portions of what is called the third missionary journey. In the mid-50s, Paul sent him from Ephesus to Corinth, carrying a painful letter that Paul had written to that church. He was successful in mediating a reconciliation between Paul and the congregation, and he brought Paul news of this in Macedonia (see 2 Cor. 2:4, 13; 7:608, 13-15_. Later, Titus returned to the Corinthian church as one of the agents responsible for administering the offering that Paul was collecting for Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:6, 16-18, 23; 9:5; cf. 12:18). We know nothing else for certain, though there are references in the Pastoral Letters to Titus conducting ministry in Dalmatia (2 Tim. 4:10) and in Crete (Titus 1:4-5).

[Mark Allen Powell, Introducing the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009), 400-404.]

This reminds me in so many ways of the early days of our own dispensation: Converts came into the church, sometimes with family members but often the only converts in their families; there were many public, visible signs of spiritual gifts; converts were soon called on missions, and often spent years of their lives traveling far from home; they were well received and treated with special consideration by the members of the branches where they served. We even have a parallel in the kinds of organizational and doctrinal questions they faced: In the days of Timothy and Titus, the question was whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised – needed to become Jews – before they could become Christians. In our dispensation the question had to be settled as to whether converts who had previously been baptized as members of some other church needed to be baptized again when they became Latter-day Saints.

Try putting yourselves for a moment into the place of these early missionaries, either of the early Christian era or the early days of our dispensation. You have a message of the gospel to preach; your message is received, and converts are brought into the fold. Now what? You have a body of believers living in the same neighborhood. You can’t just keep telling them to convert – they’ve done that. What do you do with them now?

** What are some of the questions and problems you might face if you were an early missionary who now had a flock of converts looking to you for guidance?

Brief as they are, these pastoral letters offer advice on exactly those kinds of questions: Who should lead the congregation? What are the qualifications for such leadership? What should we teach the people? What role do women play in the church? How should members behave in their daily life? How should members act in the face of opposition?

Discussion

Paul acknowledges the difficulty of bringing the new members of the church, with all their varied backgrounds and the teachings they grew up with, into the fold of Christ. Let’s read I Timothy 4:1-5

1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:

5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

In our day, we sometimes use this passage – “in the latter times some shall depart from the faith” – as a prophecy of the impending Apostasy that would require the Restoration. It may have that meaning, but in context this seems to be a warning by Paul to Timothy that after joining the church, some members in his day – not in some future years away – would have trouble distinguishing truth from error.

Paul mentions some specific ideas that were problems in his day: Forbidding to marry, and abstaining from meat – which, in the language of the King James Bible, doesn’t necessarily mean the flesh of animals; “meat” is a generic term for any food that is chewed and eaten, rather than drunk. In the days of the early Christian church, the Greek and Roman philosophy of asceticism – the denial of pleasures of the body – was a popular influence. Living a celibate life, and abstaining for certain foods – either because of their richness, or perhaps because Jewish dietary laws forbid them – would have been typical of the “philosophies of men” that were out of harmony with the gospel.

** What examples can you think of that could be problems for church members of our day – ideas that are widely accepted in the society around us, that some members may have a tendency to confuse with principles of the gospel?

Paul gives Timothy some advice on what he can do to be sure the doctrine he teaches is pure and is not being adulterated by these outside influences:

I Timothy 4:13-16

13 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.

14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.

15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.

16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

** What specific suggestions does Paul make to Timothy, as actions he can take?

Paul counsels Timothy in those verses to “give attendance to reading.” We have a tendency to interpret that as the kind of reading we do – our private studies, or reading scriptures within our families. Note, though, that in Timothy’s day, people didn’t have private copies of the scriptures, and also that virtually no one – Christian or pagan – read silently to himself for private edification. Reading was almost exclusively a vocal exercise, one man reading aloud to others; such readings – whether from the Jewish scripture or the classical texts in Greek and Roman settings – were generally followed by a commentary and explanation of what had just been read. Let’s read those verses – 13-16 – again, this time reading them as advice to a man who was the leader of a congregation, and see if they convey a different sense to us than in our first reading.

** Was Paul advising Timothy to read (aloud) to himself? if not, to whom?

** How about verse 15: “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all” – how is that applicable to a leader or teacher of the church, rather than to private study?

** In this context, what might have been “the gift that is in thee,” the gift conveyed to Timothy by the laying on of hands?

Paul, then, advises Timothy that it is important for him to be a teacher in his congregation, and especially to teach sound doctrine, not worldly wisdom. How much of a concern is that within the church today?

His advice to Titus in this respect is even more pointed than his advice to Timothy. Let’s read Titus 1:10-11:

10 For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:

11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.

Paul is “specially” interested in those whom he calls “of the circumcision.” Who were those people?

Note that Paul was probably not talking about Jews in general, but those “Judaizers” that we have run into again and again in the New Testament, the people who insisted that in order to be good Christians, converts must first become good Jews, by being circumcised, and following the dietary laws, and so on. Paul was “specially” concerned not about what other people were doing in other places and organizations, but about what was happening in the church, and what church members were teaching and believing.

We can’t afford to be totally oblivious to what other people and other organizations are doing – in our day, we are influenced by movies and music, by political debates, and by all kinds of other voices outside of our immediate concern. But given Paul’s focus and special concern, which should we perhaps pay more attention to – what Hollywood puts on the screen for our entertainment, or what we teach each other as the doctrine of the church?

In his letters to both Timothy and Titus, Paul teaches principles: Church members must learn true doctrine. People who teach the gospel – which is all of us – have responsibilities to teach true doctrine, to our families, in our callings, and in the example we set in the world. But Paul also gives specific examples of the kinds of false teachings that he is struggling to keep out of the church: We mentioned a couple of them – forbidding to marry, and non-doctrinal teachings about food – and there are many other such specific examples in these letters. As modern readers we tend to focus on the principles of these epistles and ignore the specific examples, because the specific examples are alien to our way of life – we don’t really face those specific problems in the church today.

I’d like to use most of the rest of our time today by getting your ideas of problems we are faced with today, when individual members — like the Judaizers of the New Testament church — push their own personal philosophies as if they were doctrines of the church. I realize this could be a little risky – we could offend and be offended, and it’s possible that by asking for examples I’m going to give someone in our class a platform to expound his own wacky ideas of child discipline or economic theory! I hope we’ll all be sensitive to each others’ feelings, though, and that we’ll stay well within the bounds of the gospel. The purpose is not only to recognize such things when others bring them up, but to examine our own ideas and pet philosophies, to understand whether we may be at risk or at fault for distorting the pure doctrine of the gospel.

Let me give an example of the kind of example I’m looking for:

I have had occasional contact with a woman who is a member of a certain political organization, and vehemently opposes a conflicting political organization. She has read the Book of Mormon many times, and repeatedly cites the verses about the Gadianton Robbers, and secret combinations, and king-men and free-men, as evidence that no good Mormon can be a member of the despised organization. Everything she says about Gadianton Robbers and secret combinations and king-men and free-men is absolutely true and comes straight out of the Book of Mormon, and believing members of the church would, without doubt, be wise to be familiar with the cautionary lessons of those chapters of scripture. What this woman has failed to do, though, is provide any evidence that the despised political organization is in fact a secret combination bent on the overthrow of freedom. Awareness that secret combination do exist is no guarantee that she has accurately identified one of them. I suggest that one of the dangers faced by members of the modern church is the tendency to pervert scripture and the teachings of modern prophets, using them in a way they were never intended, and acting as though other church members have fallen into apostasy when they disagree.

Whatever the question is, we need to be careful to read and understand scriptures by the Spirit, and not read into them something that isn’t there.

You’ll notice that I have avoided naming any political organizations or philosophies — the principle is true regardless of the particular political organization —  and have instead concentrated on the misuse of scripture to falsely bolster personal opinion. Using that as a model, what other examples can you suggest of tendencies we might have to bring impurities into our teaching of the gospel?

[Class discussion]

[Scriptures that may come in handy during the discussion:]

2 Timothy 2:16

16 But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.

2 Timothy 2:23

23 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.

2 Timothy 3:14

14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;

2 Timothy 4:2

2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

Titus 1:9

9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

Conclusion

[Summarize discussion; state commitment to teach pure doctrine as a Sunday School teacher; testimony]



6 Comments »

  1. Wow. That’s daring! How did that go?

    (And I enjoy reading your lessons. I rarely get to go to Sunday School so it’s good to get a lesson anyway.)

    Comment by Researcher — November 13, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  2. It went surprisingly well, perhaps because there was little time left for it. But people suggested several political and social examples. Some got a little too specific for my taste, but the rest of the class handled it well and didn’t argue any points.

    The class wrapped up with a great summary by one member who noted that we are too quick to be judgmental — if someone disagrees with me, then he doesn’t just have a different opinion. He is, rather, wicked and evil because *my* opinion is based on gospel principles. He called for us to recognize that differences of opinion are seldom matters of wickedness and righteousness, and to be more tolerant of each others’ differences. He was a lot more eloquent than this summary, and it was a very good way to close.

    I knew it was risky, but I also don’t think it does any good for us to talk about problems as if they only occur out in “the world” among people who are not like us. If we can’t liken the scriptures to ourselves by identifying where our own weaknesses lie, then what’s the point of Sunday School.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 13, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

  3. This was a choice lesson. I, too don’t get into the Gospel Doctrine class, so I appreciate these well-thought out and written lessons by Ardis. I really like how you have brought the teachings in these epistles into our lives and wards. Thanks.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — November 13, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

  4. I appreciate reading your lessons because you are an excellent and well-prepared teacher. This reminds me of one of my favorite lessons when I taught Gospel Doctrine: What is Doctrine and how can we be sure that what is taught in the Gospel Doctrine class is really Doctrine?

    Comment by charlene — November 14, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  5. Thanks, Maurine and charlene. Lessons seldom go exactly as I plan them, but it does help me to have a definite end in mind to keep discussion from looping too wildly from one subject to another, and to have worked out a possible way to word explanation and questions so that I don’t stumble too badly reaching to express a vague idea.

    I admire another teacher in our ward who taught yesterday, a Relief Society teacher who can ask a general question and whatever the response is, whatever direction the discussion goes, she can keep relating it back to the main topic of the lesson and keep us moving toward a definite goal. I need to keep things focused a little more tightly than that. But either of our styles works better, I think, than the more freewheeling style typical of most teachers I’ve known as an adult, where a class just talks *about* a topic without any direction or any end purpose in mind.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 14, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  6. Nice work Ardis.

    Comment by WVS — November 14, 2011 @ 11:01 am

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