Thursday, November 10, 2005

Personal Prophecies: A means by which we can fight the good fight?

This post comes as a kind of follow up of the post called Hearing God and Moving in the Prophetic: A critique. It seems that the issue of cessationism vs. non-cessationism is a hot topic these days in blogdom. Discussions on this issue can be found at PyroManiac, The (In)Scrutable Observer and at Biblical Christianity.
Text: "18 This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, 19 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. 20 Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme." 1 Tim 1:18-20 (NASB)
The statement was made in a sermon a short while ago that prophecy is a weapon of spiritual warfare, using 1 Tim 1:18-20. Adding 1 Tim 6:12, "12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (NASB)," it was said that "we are enforcing the victory of the cross." Further, based on Rom 10:17, "17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (NASB)," we were told that the "prophetic word brings about faith." What a misinterpretation of the verse!
Are we to get prophecies or words from God and fight our fight of faith by relying on them? Are we in trouble if we do not "fight the good fight" through the "prophecies" we have been given? Do we keep our faith and conscience by depending on these "prophecies?" If we do not, will we also suffer shipwreck with regard to our faith? Is this really what Paul meant when he wrote these words to Timothy?
No doubt, 1 Tim 4:14, "Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you (NIV)," refers to the same event as 1 Tim 1:18. Wuest quotes Vincent, "The sense of the whole passage is: 'I commit this charge unto thee in accordance with prophetic intimations which I formerly received concerning thee.' According to I Timothy 4:14, prophecy has previously designated Timothy as the recipient of a special spiritual gift; and the prophecies in our passage are the single expressions or detailed contents of the prophecy mentioned here." [1]
These "prophecies," when seen in the light of 1 Tim 4:14, "must be understood in the sense of predictions in some way granted to Paul concerning Timothy before his call to the ministry. It may be parallel to those given to the Antiochene church regarding the missionary vocation of Paul and Barnabas." [2] These prophecies "seem to have been prophetic utterances that pointed Timothy's way into the ministry." [3]
If we want to know what the prophecies concerning Timothy were (1 Tim 1:18; 1 Tim 4:14) and what the gift was that was given to him (1 Tim 4:14), then we need to understand who Timothy was and how he fit in the church where Paul left him.
Timothy, a native of Lystra, had a Greek father and a Jewish Christian mother (Ac 16:1). Paul invited Timothy to join him on his second missionary journey. Timothy also  participated in the evangelisation of Macedonia and Achaia (Ac 17:14-15; 18:5) and was with Paul during his long stay in Ephesus (Ac 19:22). From there he travelled with Paul through Macedonia to Corinth and back to Macedonia and then to Asia Minor (Ac 20:1-6). He may even have gone as far as Jerusalem and was with Paul during his first imprisonment (Phil 1:1; Col 1:1; Philem 1). After Paul's release (Ac 28), Timothy travelled with Paul but finally stayed at Ephesus to deal with problems there. Paul had a high regard for Timothy since he mentioned Timothy as co-correspondent of six of his letters (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philemon).
It was during his fourth missionary journey that Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy while Timothy was at Ephesus. It was in this letter (1:3) that Paul instructed Timothy to stay on at Ephesus to take care of the church at Ephesus. Timothy was not an apostle, and neither was he an overseer ("elder" or "pastor") since he was given instructions concerning overseers (3:1-7) and how to choose them. It may be safe to say that Timothy was an apostolic representative--in this case Paul's--entrusted to carry out distinctive work. Timothy basically had to perform two major tasks: refute false teaching (1:3, 10; 4:6; 6:3, 20-21) and organise the church in Ephesus (church worship--2:1-15; appointing qualified leaders in the church--3:1-13; 5:17-25; prohibitions on women in ministry--2:9-15).
Now, returning to "the prophecies previously made concerning" Timothy (1 Tim 1:18), in the context of who Timothy was and his place in the church we can conclude that these "prophecies" very likely concerned his ministry in the church, especially in Ephesus. Also, considering 1 Tim 4:14, writing of "the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery (NASB)," it would seem that these "prophecies" and the subsequent gift bestowed on Timothy were related specifically to his ministry. The fact that the presbytery laid hands on him seems to point towards his ordination into the ministry. We see this same type of ordination when Paul and Barnabas were sent off by the church onto their missionary journeys in Ac 13:3, "3Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (NASB)"
Why would Paul remind Timothy of the prophecies concerning him and that he must remain mindful of them to strengthen him in his ministry? Timothy was not the confident person many of us today would claim to be! Paul had to remind and encourage Timothy not to let anyone look down on his youthfulness (1 Tim 4:12). Further, in 1 Cor 16:10-11 Paul writes to the Corinthians that if "Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should refuse to accept him. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. (NIV)" Paul also characterised Timothy as timid (2 Tim 1:7). Paul furthermore had to encourage Timothy not to neglect the spiritual gift he had received (1 Tim 4:14), and not to be ashamed of the gospel but to speak out for the sake of the gospel (2 Tim 1:8). Timothy was specially ordained by Paul and the presbytery for the ministry described in 1 and 2 Timothy, and for the reason of his timidity, Paul had to encourage Timothy by reminding him of his ordination by the laying on of hands and the prophecies spoken concerning his ministry.
The question now remains, do we in the church today need to hear prophecies and to fight the good fight by using these prophecies? If we are prophesied over and do not fight the good fight by them, will we suffer shipwreck? We have to remember, that just because Paul told Timothy to do so, especially in light of the special circumstances, does not mean that we need prophecies to fight the good fight! The only other times that Paul used the language of fighting the good fight (admittedly, in 1 Tim 1:18 it literally means "war the good warfare"), Paul expressly meant for Timothy to fight the good fight of the gospel (1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). In both cases when Paul used this language, he meant that he remained true to the gospel.
These were special circumstances, in that Paul was an apostle and most likely was the one that prophesied over Timothy. This makes our own situation different from that of Timothy. The main differentiating point is that there are no apostles that can prophesy over us today. This makes Timothy's situation unique and points to the fact that we cannot claim like Timothy that we have similar prophecies to fight the good fight.
Thus, prophecy is not a weapon in spiritual warfare. Neither is prophecy some "skip start and collect $200" type of fast track in our spiritual walk with God. The only trusted weapon in spiritual warfare is the Word of God, the Bible, and the faithful preaching of the gospel.
End Notes
[1] Wuest, Kenneth S., Wuest’s Word Studies From the Greek New Testament for the English Reader, Volume Two, The Pastoral Epistles, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted, January 1979, p37.
[2] Guthrie, Donald, The Pastoral Epistles, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, Reprinted 1979, p67.
[3] Gaebelein, Frank E., General Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1 Timothy by Ralph Earle, Regency Reference Library, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1978, p356.
Just thinking...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

outstanding exegesis on Timothy's personage. thanks


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