1 Timothy 2

Chapter two begins the actual instructions or clarifications that Timothy needed to finish his task. “First of all,” he needed to make sure that the local assemblies prayed for “all people, even for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-8). These prayers had two goals. First, praying for the authorities would affect how the believers lived, leading to a more “peaceful and quiet life.” Secondly, praying for all people would result in people coming to believe in Jesus and “a knowledge of the truth,” namely, that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. Because of this Paul wanted the men of the various assemblies to pray for their nation and their community regularly.

It is important to note at this point that Paul spent much of this letter giving instructions to various distinct groups of people within the local churches, starting with the “men.” The fact that he specified that men were to pray did not mean that women were not allowed to, as 1 Corinthians 11:5 shows (written about a decade earlier). However, it is a duty of men, in their God-given roles as leaders in their families, congregations, communities, and even politics, that they should intentionally pray for these areas when they are gathered together. The comment that this should be done “without anger or dispute” could show that Paul was addressing a specific issue with a timeless principle.

The second group that Paul addressed was the “women” (1 Timothy 2:9-15). This paragraph is often maligned by those who mistakenly think that Paul was misogynistic and chauvinistic. In reality, he offered great latitude toward believing women and had several of them serve alongside him in his ministry. Even so, he strongly believed in the God-designed order for men and women, and his Holy Spirit-inspired letters kept that balance.

Godly women, he wrote, should “dress…with modesty and self-control.” Again, “self-control” may indicate that some of the women in Ephesus were disrupting the meetings, like the men. In response, Paul gave principles for all believing women. They are to be identified and defined by their good deeds rather than outward adornment. Paul’s command that he did “not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” has been widely debated and often dismissed. While some see this to be a cultural issue in Ephesus that has no bearing on our modern culture, this does not fit the entire context, especially since he referred back to creation for his support. Women are not to take teaching or leadership positions over men in the congregation. Constable notes, “The verbs ‘teach’ and ‘exercise authority’ are in the present tense in the Greek text, which implies a continuing ministry rather than a single instance of ministry.” 1 Because of the inherent roles in creation and because of Eve’s being deceived, Paul supernaturally concluded that this was the natural order in the assembly.

Verse 15 is also often misunderstood, as many believe it limits women to be nothing more than “baby-making machines.” This is considered a difficult verse, unfortunately, because of our English translations. The key is found in the two verbs, “be delivered” and “continue.” Some translations make the both singular – “she will be delivered…if she continues” (NET, HCSB) – while others make both verbs plural – “they will be delivered…if they continue” (NASB, NLT, NIV). Of the major translation, only the KJV and ESV reflect the Greek text – “she will be delivered [singular]…if they continue [plural].”

In the context, “she” goes back to Eve from verse 14, while “they” refers to the Christian women Paul was writing about in verse 9. Even though Eve was deceived, bringing God’s curse of a natural struggle against male leadership upon her and all women, she (and her gender) can be delivered from this curse. Rather than spending her life being deceived, like Eve, and usurping roles that she was never designed to fulfill, the godly woman “will be delivered” from this spiritual struggle by focusing on how God did design her – a nurturer and giver of life. Even for those women who cannot or are past the age of childbearing, the nurture and life they give to others around them – whether men, women, or children – can be done out of “faith and love and holiness with self-control.” This is far from saying that women have no role in the church. On the contrary, this gives them great responsibility and freedom to serve within their God-given design.

Notes:

  1. Thomas Constable, Notes on 1 Timothy, 2016 edition, 33.

1 Thessalonians 4

Chapters four and five each divide into two sections. As Paul began to wrap up his letter, he shifted from reminiscing and loving to instruction and commands. He addressed four areas in these final two chapters: practical Christian living, the Rapture of the Church, the Day of the Lord, and congregational living.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Paul focused on some very practical, in-your-face teaching about how to live a Christian life. He said he had told them that certain things were necessary to live in a way pleasing to God, urging them to follow through with what he had taught them even more than they were already doing. The first area was their sanctification 1, especially in reference to sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). He gave them both a negative and positive command to help them live properly: stay away from it and get control of their bodies. The second area was their brotherly love (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). He had already praised them for how well they were doing it, so he simply praised them again followed by an encouragement to keep it up and do even more.

The third area had to do with their relation to the unbelieving world around them, and it had three parts to it (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). First, they were “to aspire to lead a quiet life.” Christians should not be the ones causing trouble, starting arguments, or making a public spectacle (Romans 12:18). Second, Paul told them to “attend to your own business.” The opposite of this would be a busybody. While leading a quiet life, we are to keep busy in Christian service. Third, Paul commanded them to “work with your hands.” Second Thessalonians 3:10-12 explains this further. Apparently, some had quit their jobs and were relying on personal charity and the congregation to support them, as they waited for Jesus’ soon return. Paul said, “Get a job and stop mooching!” Paul’s reason for these specific commands was that unbelievers are watching. Immoral, busybodies, moochers, and troublemakers hurt our cause. Unbelievers do not like them any more than other Christians do, and they especially do not like it when they are doing these things while talking about Jesus.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul addressed a serious concern from his friends. He had apparently taught them that Jesus would return before the day of the Lord (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). However, some of the congregation had died in the intervening months, and the survivors were genuinely concerned their loved ones would miss Jesus’ coming. Since the details about the Rapture were new to them, it is conceivable that they were the first ones to ever hear this revelation (1 Thessalonians 4:15). 2

Paul told them that they had no reason to grieve as if there were no hope, because Jesus’ return is the substance of our confident hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3; cf. Titus 2:13). In fact, rather than missing out on the event, Paul insisted that “those who are asleep through Jesus” (literally) will come back with him. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death itself has changed (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

The Rapture event actually includes five parts, only one of which is the actual “rapture.” 3 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 reveal that there will be an announcement, Jesus’ arrival into the clouds, the resurrection of dead saints, the rapture of living saints, and the eternal presence of the Savior. The last part was Paul’s emphasis. Rather than just “going to heaven,” whenever he thought of eternity, he could think of only one thing: being with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23). This is why he commanded his readers to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). 4

Notes:

  1. The key word of verses 3-8 is “holy.” It appears in some form four times in these six verses. In Paul’s letters, “sanctification” means “to set apart as holy.”
  2. Paul continued to receive new revelation from God throughout the course of his ministry. Some of this was probably for specific ministry but much of it was recorded in the Scriptures for our instruction and benefit as well as the original readers’.
  3. The word “rapture” means “to catch or seize” and comes from the Latin word behind “will be caught up” in verse seventeen. (The Greek word that Paul used, ἁρπάζω, harpazo, means the same as the Latin word.)
  4. The Rapture of the Church is such an important truth that some believe it should form the foundation for all Christian counseling.

1 Thessalonians 2

Chapter two is Paul’s summary explanation of what solid practical Christian ministry looks like. He did this by reminding the Thessalonians how he ministered there, specifically by using various forms of the key phrases, “you know” or “you recall” or “you are witnesses” (1 Thessalonians 2:1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 11) and repeatedly pointing to well-known examples in his own life and in theirs. In this chapter we find at least three keys for effective Christian ministry.

First, he was not afraid to show his agony or struggle when ministering to people (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2). In fact, hiding our doubts and pain can actually hurt the gospel message, because it makes us look better than we really are. People need to know that the gospel is necessary because we are not perfect, not because we have it all together. Second, he approached plain people with the plain truth, rather than relying on flattery (1 Thessalonians 2:3-8, 10-12). He also made sure that the truth was evident in his life. Third, he chose not to impose himself on others (1 Thessalonians 2:9). In fact, he went out of his way to make sure that he would not be offensive to his listeners, even if the gospel itself was. This is a principle he practiced in Corinth as well (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

He ended with a strong word of encouragement, noting again how well they were living out their faith, especially considering the serious persecution that they had already undergone (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). He reminded them that those who persecute Christians are actually against the entire world, because they try to stop the gospel message that the world needs to hear. These people are displeasing to God and are placing themselves under his wrath.

1 Corinthians 16

Chapter sixteen concludes Paul’s letter with a reminder, a schedule plan, and a final greeting. First, Paul reminded them that he had been collecting funds to take with him to Jerusalem for the impoverished saints there. Second Corinthians will come back to this topic, but for now, Paul simply asked them to set a little bit aside every week so that no special collection would be necessary when he arrived (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). We should note that his comment about “the first day of the week” does not necessarily refer to an established Sunday church gathering, because the command is for “each of you” to set aside funds personally, not corporately. (Although, it does not contradict a weekly gathering either.) Additionally, this was not a “tithe” for the church but a special gift for the Jewish saints. To use this passage to teach a necessary weekly tithe is not correct.

Second, Paul informed them of his traveling plans (1 Corinthians 16:5-12). Writing from Ephesus, he intended to finish visiting his churches in Macedonia before going to Corinth, where he might have stayed the winter, because he did not want to see them only in passing. (These types of statements help us, who are so far removed from the immediate situation, remember the real humanity of the people involved. Paul did not want to travel in the winter either.) Instead, he might send Timothy or Apollos in the meantime.

Finally, Paul ended with his common greeting of personal names and encouragements, including a note that he signed it with his own hand, a type of authentication in a time when he was being misrepresented.

1 Corinthians 15

Chapter fifteen concludes the teaching portion of Paul’s letter. The final topic he needed to address was the resurrection. His opening statement, that he wanted “to make clear…the gospel,” reminds us that some of these believers were still “infants in Christ” (3:1) and that they were uncertain on the basic doctrines of the faith. It was also a good time to remind them of the gospel that they needed to preach in their meetings, so unbelievers could be convicted and believe (1 Corinthians 14:23-25). The basic message of the gospel is simple: Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day. Both of these events were prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures, and they were confirmed by his public burial and post-resurrection eyewitnesses, respectively (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). Not only did he appear to individual apostles and small groups, including Paul himself, Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time.” For anyone who thought that could not possibly be true, Paul challenged them to visit these eyewitnesses, “most of whom [were] still alive” at the time of his writing, twenty years after the fact. Circling back to his theme from chapter one, this is the only message Paul had, and this is what the Corinthians had originally believed.

This simple, verifiable message did not stop people from trying to lead the believers astray, though. Even though Paul said they could talk to eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, those people were almost 1,000 miles away, and some of the Corinthians were beginning to believe that the concept of a resurrection was a hoax (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Paul countered that, if that were true, three other truths would be certain as well. First, no resurrection at all means that Christ was not raised. Second, a dead Christ means that our faith is empty, we are false witnesses, and we are still in our sins. Third, no resurrection means no hope for those who have already died.

Against this false teaching, Paul pointed them back to the Old Testament Scriptures, noting that death has been common since Adam and that their belief in Christ was a belief that he undid what Adam did; thus, a resurrection from the dead is both theologically and logically sound and necessary (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). He also pointed to the prophecies of what Christ is supposed to do: rule in his kingdom until all his enemies are eliminated, including death itself. None of this is possible if Christ is still dead.

Paul’s comment about people being “baptized for the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:29-34) has found its way into Mormon theology, where living people can be baptized in the place of their dead relatives to create a retroactive salvation for them. This has caused a great debate in Christianity as well. It is possible that these Corinthians had been including the pagan practice of baptism for the dead because they had begun to disbelieve the basic gospel (which does not include baptism at all) and the truth of the resurrection. This view fits the context of Paul’s comments about their human thinking, bad company, and command to stop sinning. 1

Paul anticipated a further question asking for more detail about the resurrection: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). His response indicates that this was not a line of honest questioning but one of defiance. His answer was simple: the resurrection body will be similar but different than our current bodies. Humans were meant to live in physical bodies, and we will live forever in physical bodies, except that they will be better. Some people believe there is a difference between “flesh and blood” and “flesh and bone” (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). 2 Regardless of the details, Paul was clear that our resurrected bodies will become imperishable and immortal. This will happen in an instant, at the Rapture, both for dead saints and those still alive. At that time, “death [will be] swallowed up in victory.” This truth should cause us all to live in victory, “knowing that [our] labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

Notes:

  1. Another option is that some had come to believe because of Christians who had died, and their baptism was due to the others’ martyrdom. This is more palatable and has a lot of support from conservative scholars, but it does not seem to be the natural reading.
  2. Paul here said that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Some compare this to Adam’s statement that Eve was from his “flesh and bone,” indicating that they did not have blood at that time. Since physical life is connected to blood (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11, 14), their conclusion is that spiritual life does not need blood. For an explanation of this position, see Henry Morris, “Flesh and Bones”, https://www.icr.org/article/5946 (accessed 10/23/2015).

1 Corinthians 14

Chapter fourteen begins with almost a repeat of 1 Corinthians 12:31. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to pursue the love he just explained and still be eager for the spiritual gifts, but now he began to emphasize one gift – prophecy – especially over speaking in tongues. Apparently, the Corinthians were elevating tongues above the other gifts, so Paul listed it last in the hierarchical list in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and minimized it in this chapter, presenting several principles about tongues versus prophecy: 1

  1. Tongues were between a believer and God; prophecy was for everyone.
  2. Tongues built up only the speaker; prophecy built up the whole church.
  3. Tongues were unproductive for the mind; prophecy used the mind.
  4. Focus on tongues revealed immaturity; focus on prophecy revealed maturity.
  5. Tongues were a sign for unbelievers (especially Jews); prophecy was not a sign, and it was for believers.
  6. Tongues were disorganized; prophecy was structured.

Spiritual gifts are meant for the strengthening of the church (1 Corinthians 14:26), something that tongues could not do without interpretation. Paul’s strong encouragement, especially for those who wanted to speak in tongues, was that they should desire something that was actually beneficial to the church rather than just for themselves (1 Corinthians 14:12); “love is not self-serving” (1 Corinthians 13:5).

Paul also gave a few rules for the use of tongues in church gatherings (1 Corinthians 14:26-40): 2

  1. No more than two or three were to speak in tongues at any gathering.
  2. They were always to be interpreted, either by the speaker or someone else.
  3. Those two or three were not to speak at the same time but one after another.
  4. Tongues were not to be forbidden.
  5. The rules for prophecy were a little different, but anyone could prophesy if he or she received a revelation from God, and every prophesy was to be evaluated to see if it was true. This seems to indicate that tongues were not necessarily considered revelatory, since no evaluation was required.

The statement that “women should be silent in the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:34) has been the subject of a great deal of debate and writing. The natural reading seems to indicate that it applied to the topic at hand, e.g., tongues and prophecy. Some say that it has only to do with the evaluation of prophets, because women are to ask their husbands at home, rather than in the meeting (1 Corinthians 14:35). Still others point to 1 Corinthians 11:5 that women could pray and prophesy as long as their heads were covered. If this were only a cultural matter (see notes on chapter 11), then they believe the whole matter should be dropped here as well. Since the context is about orderliness within the meeting (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40), it is important to consider all possible interpretations in that light.

Notes:

  1. The use of the past tense in this chapter reflects my belief that tongues are no longer in effect today. However, even if they were, these would still apply, which is not what we see in many or most occurrences. This should give pause to anyone who thinks what we see today is from the Holy Spirit, who cannot contradict the Scriptures.
  2. Because he spoke specifically about church gatherings, not private homes, some take the mediating position and believe that there are no restrictions on the use of tongues in private (usually private prayer). Whether this is true matters only if tongues are still in effect (see the notes on chapter 13 for a brief explanation of why I believe they are not).

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.