Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 21)

If there was a sustained reflection on the afterlife, and given the remote possibility that the soul lived on (with no concern for the body), it was determined that the gods would pay little attention to deceased humanity, as they lived in a separate sphere of existence that did not touch the sphere of human existence, and were unconcerned with human affairs.  The gods, to the epicurean way of thinking, were completely absorbed with their own pursuit of pleasure, which could be looked upon as an example of fashioning gods in one’s own likeness.  Conversely, and more positively as it relates to what should be the Christian response to what is believed about the entity to whom Christians look as God, this could serve as a sterling inducement to living one’s life in imitation of what one believes to be the case concerning the gods. 

It was routinely believed that the gods would only bring ruination to their blessed condition if they took it upon themselves to interfere, at any level, with human affairs.  So for the most part, the gods stood as examples of how to go about living a happy life.  This way of thinking, with its obvious self-imposed limitations, can be quite useful for the Christian.  Subtracting the lack of interaction with humanity from this point of view, the foundational belief that the Creator God of the universe manifested Himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, revealing Himself and His character through His ministry and His cross, and erecting those things as the lens through which He must be subsequently viewed and understood and revealed by His worshipers to the world, is an example that, if followed, most assuredly leads to what will ultimately be defined as a happy and virtuous life.     

Without commanding assent, and certainly eschewing dogmatism at this point, as one attempts to discover the multi-level counter-cultural sensibilities on offer in this first letter to Timothy, this information about both Stoicism and Epicureanism becomes useful background noise when listening to what comes next in the fourth chapter.  Building on the statement that “every creation of God is good,” which led to the examination of this component of the religious and philosophical culture of the day, one reads “By pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, having nourished yourself on the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed” (1 Timothy 4:6). 

This now leads to tuning in to the underlying tension between the physical and the spiritual---between the creation-affirming Christian worldview and its opposites, and hearing “But reject those myths fit only for godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness.  For ‘physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way.  It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.’” (4:7-8)  Notice the talk of value and the dual emphasis on this life and the life to come.  Paul continues: “This saying is trustworthy an deserves full acceptance.  In fact this is why we work hard and struggle” (4:10a).  Why?  Why work hard and struggle?  Many in that time would affirm that such is pointless.  Paul says it is “because we have set our hope on the living God” (4:10b), that being the God that represented the overt over-lapping of heaven and earth, and who was physically resurrected into this world, “who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers” (4:10c). 

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