Read the rest of the series here.
As I grew up in the church I often heard about the importance of reading a verse in context. I came to understand this to mean that we need to read the verses immediately before and after the verse we’re studying to get a bigger picture, but that was about as far as we went. Maybe we sometimes considered the paragraph as a whole, or the section between the headings.
I’ve now appreciate that often we need to step back even further to truly see the big picture and the context of a particular verse.
In the case of 1 Timothy, Paul begins the letter by stating his purpose in writing. He writes to refute false teaching and to promote faith (vs3-4) because,
The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim 1:5)
Somehow, the church has managed to make 1 Timothy one of the most divisive books, rather than one that produces love. We accomplish this by focusing on individual issues and verses rather than considering the message of the book as a whole.
The false teaching at Ephesus clearly concerns Paul and he warns against it regularly. The letter also bursts with spontaneous praise to God. Consider,
In these verses Paul’s not content just to say “God” he has to keep going and describe the “God who…”. He encourages faith and love by continually reminding us of the hope and forgiveness that God has given us through the sacrifice of Christ. It’s the antidote for false teaching.
In their NT Introduction, Carson, Moo & Morris note that the letter is a protest against needless controversies and the emphasis is on character and conduct. (1992, 376)
How ironic then that chapters 2 and 3 have been some of the mostly debated and divisive passages in the whole Bible. In our quest to get every detail “right” we’ve missed the central message of the letter. We define “love” in some quirky way that allows us to treat our brothers and sisters badly. We focus on the verse and lose the context.
I’m not suggesting that 1:5 etc. presents a reason to simply ignore chapters 2 and 3 because they’re controversial. We have to continue to work at understanding and applying them in our cultural context. But when chapters 2 & 3 are used to oppress people, accumulate power, or are the basis of bitter arguments, perhaps there are some higher priorities we should study and discuss before returning to study these chapters.
- How important do you think it is for Christians to have a grasp of the overall message of Bible books? (of course we could extend that to the overall message of the whole Bible, which I guess is the ultimate context.)
- What have you found helpful as ways to teach, learn or remember the themes of particular books?
- How does the theme of 1 Timothy influence your understanding of 2:11-15?