Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus, Hendrik Terbrugghen,
1625, Centraal Museum (Utrecht)
(About this Image)
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Tim 6:11–16
September 25, 2022
We have been reading from the first letter of Paul to Timothy for the past two weeks. We will conclude our examination this week with Paul’s final remarks and encouragement to his disciple and protégé. Again, we are unsure if Paul wrote the letter himself or if it was written by the leadership of the Pauline community. This is an interesting question but not the essential one and indeed can obscure the reality of the situation. The first generation of Christians was dying off and they had to examine not only who will replace them but also what kind of structure will be needed and most importantly what skills and virtues will be required.
Paul has seen and taught clearly that doctrine and living go together. If a Christian is taught a gospel that is not true, which meant for Paul getting who Jesus is wrong, it will be seen in his or her actions. We have seen this many times before in Paul writings and indeed in 1 Timothy. As he is concluding, he reviews this again in the passage immediately before today’s reading”
Paul has warned Timothy of false teachers throughout the letter. He believes that from these ideas come
envy, rivalry, insults,
evil suspicions, and mutual friction
among people with corrupted minds,
who are deprived of the truth,
supposing religion to be a means of gain
(1 Ti 6:4–5)
Paul observes that once the following of Jesus is detached from bearing the cross it becomes a way to obtain power over others rather than service and almost inevitably a way to make money. (Please note that this does not mean that those who work for the church especially ministers with families should not be fairly recompensed. Just be suspicious of ministers of the gospel with private jets.)
Paul want Timothy to be especially aware of this. The last section before our reading today is:
For the love of money is the root of all evils,
and some people in their desire for it have strayed
from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.
(1 Ti 6:10)
He now speaks directly to Timothy:
But you, man of God, avoid all this.
Instead, pursue righteousness,
devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.
(1 Ti 6:11)
Man of God is used in the Old Testament and by the rabbis to mean divinely anointed prophet most especially Moses. “Avoid” would be better translated as “flee from.” The Christian, and most particularly a leader, must run away from the temptations of money and position.
He must seek out, pursue is a good translation, true virtues. Most important is righteousness; being in a good relationship with God. This can occur, as he showed last week’ only by true worship. Devotion here means not only having personal piety but as a leader to arrange for God-centered worship especially public liturgy.
He next mentions faith and love but when we expect hope, we find patience instead. The Greek word translated as patience hypomonē has the sense of endurance. For Greco-Roman philosophers (mostly Stoics), endurance was a sign of hope. Paul is telling Timothy that as a leader he will be expected to endure much for his faith and that this shows that his hope is based on his relationship which Jesus.
He must always, however, be aware that he must not take advantage of the community in any way. This includes being angry, aloof or unpleasant. Paul has expressed this previously in his famous exhortation to love:
Love is patient; love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Co 13:4–7)
Compete well for the faith.
Lay hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
when you made the noble confession
in the presence of many witnesses.
(1 Ti 6:12)
People in Paul’s world responded positively to athletic images. Athletes, as today, were much admired. Also, in 1 Corinthians he wrote:
Athletes exercise self-control in all things;
they do it to receive a perishable wreath,
but we an imperishable one
(1 Co 9:25)
Paul is respectful of the accomplishments and virtues of athletes, but he has already told Timothy that they are limited and must give precedence to the gospel:
Train yourself in godliness,
for, while physical training is of some value,
godliness is valuable in every way
(1 Ti 4:7–8)
The greatest goal, indeed, the one for which we human beings are created to attain is eternal life: the life of God himself. The noble confession of which Paul speaks is his “ordination” Paul will write in 2nd Timothy
For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God
that is within you through the laying on of my hands;
for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
(2 Ti 1:6–7)
Paul speaks of the laying on of his hands which would precede baptism and also note again the gift of courage.
I charge you before God, who gives life to all things,
and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate
for the noble confession
(1 Ti 6:13)
Paul then commissions Timothy for his role of “servant leader.” Jews required two witnesses for a contract to be valid. Paul’s witnesses are the Father and Son. Paul notes that Jesus himself gave testimony and confessed that he was a king. Timothy would, of course, understand that this proclamation was immediately before Jesus’ martyrdom.
Keep the commandment without stain or reproach
until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Ti 6:14)
The commandment he must keep is the entire Christian gospel without succumbing to false teachings or the pursuit of worldly gain.
We need to remember that Paul and his community believed that the Lord would soon return. In his very earliest writing, the first letter to the Thessalonians (esp. 2:19) he referred to this as the parousea. This is the triumphant entrance of an Emperor to a city. The Lord’s appearance to fulfill the kingdom would be such a coming and explains why there are so many kingly references in this letter. Paul wants Timothy to honor and respect the emperor and other civil authorities but to only worship God.
Our section concludes with a hymn:
That the blessed and only ruler will make manifest
at the proper time, the King of kings and Lord of lords,
who alone has immortality,
who dwells in unapproachable light,
and whom no human being has seen or can see.
To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.
(1 Ti 6:15–16)
Jesus will return when he deems it best and a Christian leader must be primarily dedicated to seeing that the lives of the community are focused on Jesus who alone can give eternal life.
This is the end of our selection and perhaps originally the end of the letter but the version that we have now continues for five more verses. In them the author returns to the two main points he wished to leave with Timothy:
Speaking about the rich he will be meeting:
Tell them to do good,
to be rich in good works,
to be generous,
ready to share,
(1 Ti 6:18)
And then a solemn warning to Timothy
O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.
Avoid profane babbling and the absurdities of so-called knowledge
By professing it, some people have deviated from the faith.
(1 Ti 6:20–21)
Christianity has a strong missionary aspect. It is part of our DNA. The Gospels and most especially the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s own biography show the importance of the apostolic virtues: boldness and ingenuity to name just two. Paul has told Timothy that he will need other virtues. He will need gentleness and true patience just to name two. But whether a wandering apostle or a resident pastor, all Christian leaders will need courage, a fierce dedication to the truth, a lack of concern about earthly honors, and a willingness to lay down one’s life for others.
The world is changing around us, and we must seek to develop how we shall develop. We will need apostles and pastors, ordained and not ordained. But whatever the station of the call, we need people who show though how they live each day that they know Jesus.