“These Things” – God’s Pattern for Assembly Teaching in 1&2 Timothy7 min read
These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly… If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained… These things command and teach… Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all… And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless… I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality… And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort… Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
The Importance of Assembly Teaching
God in His Word elevates the subject of teaching in the assembly to a very high level, as can be seen from an honest reading of the above selection of verses. In reality, the New Testament is saturated with verses that emphasize this; however, the only way to prove that would be to read it all for ourselves. But in 1&2 Timothy we see representative examples of how the rest of Scripture speaks on the subject, and with it we see three main reasons as to the importance of teaching in the assembly.
The first one has to do with spiritual food. God’s people are repeatedly pictured as a flock, and with that we often find the implication of feeding. Living unto God does not come naturally; it requires nurturing and specific effort to see it mature. It is really just as straightforward as physical life: without food one withers and fails to be useful. The assembly is a place of growth that we cannot do without, and the reason it has that identity is because it has teaching in such a prominent place. That is why Paul could say by the teaching of Scripture Timothy could be “nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine.” So then, two sure ways to wither as a Christian are (1) to stay away from the assembly or (2) to be part of a so-called assembly that makes little of teaching.
Where there is nourishment, there must also be growth and strength; thus, teaching in the assembly would be expected to act as a preservative and a purifier. It is no wonder this is what we find: “these things give in charge, that they may be blameless.” In our communities, we need to exist as assemblies that cannot have any reason for accusation, except that we care about spiritual things. This is blamelessness. But if we have no encouragement, challenge, or basis for such practical living (which comes with teaching), how can there be any effectiveness in testimony?
Thirdly, assembly teaching is vital, because it is our unquestioned responsibility. Doctrine is our deposit of truth that God entrusts to us that we might pass it down to another generation. We can’t do that with charismatic pep-talks or with light cliches. We do this by knowing the truth in all its depth and presenting that to the assembly in a way that they understand it. An example of this is in 1 Timothy 3:16 – “Great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifested in the flesh, declared righteous in the spirit, seen… preached… believed on… glorified!” This comes directly after the assembly is called “pillar and ground of the truth.” Obviously such depths of doctrine as the incarnation and Christ’s pathway and Person are to be preached in the assembly. In light of these things, an assembly that doesn’t uphold teaching can only promote spiritual weakness, lack of testimony, and ignorance of Christ. Solemn consequences!
The Character of an Assembly Teacher
Timothy as a man of God was the best example we have of an assembly teacher, at least in what he was commanded to do as one. God has established that in His assembly there are going to be young men raised up who will one day have a main responsibility in teaching the assembly. But how can one be that man if he doesn’t teach himself first? Paul says to Timothy “Meditate upon these things; give yourself wholly to them.” Basically, then, the first characteristic of a real teacher in the assembly is one who proverbially eats, sleeps, and breaths Scripture. With the availability of sermon outlines online and the assumed necessity of seminary education in the evangelical world, this virtue has been obscured. No longer does one have to study Scripture on his own: he can have it spoon fed to him and to his audience. How convenient! But as we all know, it is childlike to be spoon fed; it shows incompetency and lack of strength. God never commends this. He is looking for believers who are ready for the true “meat” of His Word, people willing to tackle the tough questions and interpret Bible passages correctly. A man well versed in Scripture is a thousand times more fit to minister the Word than a man with mere oratory skills who can transform an outline into speech. Speaking skills are valuable; but the first thing is “give yourself wholly to” Scripture.
Of course, it doesn’t end there; this has to be practically applied to real life. Thus, in addition to this, a teacher is one who will take his audience seriously and treat them sincerely: “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.” If there is no character behind one’s teaching, that teaching becomes mere empty phrases. Anyone can teach, but not everyone will live what he teaches or show a care for those under the sound of his voice. Secondly, a teacher is one who will take seriously his call to teach. Paul speaks very strongly regarding this in 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. There he presents it as both a solemn thing and a dignified thing. He brings Scripture to Timothy as his sole source of growth. He brings the great danger of false teachers that will always arise somewhere. He brings him to the danger of simply giving an audience what tickles their ears. He says sobriety is essential in such a ministry. These are things each member in the assembly should be concerned about, because if the teachers should fail to remain Biblical they will surely lead the assembly to similar habits.
The Character of Assembly Teaching and Its Reception
The Biblical character of assembly teaching is that which each believer should look for in the spiritual food he receives. Three characteristics can be seen in this verse: “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” The first characteristic is seen in the word “remembrance.” In other words, teaching is not necessarily to be new. Peter could say “I will remind you of these things, even though you already know them.” Why repeat what we already know? Because the key to familiarity with a subject is repetition in it. If teaching is not frequently repeated, we will forget it; and when we forget the true doctrine, it is very easy to let false doctrine creep in. Secondly, assembly teaching shouldn’t only be solemn in the eyes of the teacher, but also in the eyes of the audience. They are required to know and hold to the truth just as well as the teacher. That is why Timothy was to “charge” his audience “before the Lord.” The Lord is watching how we receive what we are being taught! Thirdly, it is the responsibility of the assembly in light of its teaching to reject false doctrine and pointless debates. Pointless debates might make us look better in our own eyes; but they only ruin God’s people. Until we have mastered Biblical doctrine (which we will never do), we have no business turning to words that don’t really matter.
In conclusion, there is a great deal more that could be said; but this can serve as a summary at least to the vital topic of assembly teaching. If we want a challenge for ourselves, perhaps it should be that every believer must be a Bible student; for each one will have responsibility in his assembly to know and uphold the Word. If we miss teaching we miss everything, and if we neglect personal study we miss teaching and thus are doing little good where God has put us. What is our relationship to our Bibles, both collectively and personally?