How do you teach new disciples who do not own a copy of Scriptures or, for that matter, cannot even read? In New Testament times they evidently used memorable ‘slogans’ that easily rolled off the tongue, gems of vital truths conveniently summarised. Paul quotes five of these ‘faithful sayings’ in his three pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus. Let’s look at them in theological order.
- Supreme champion to the rescue! (1 Timothy 1:15)
‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’
This clearly marks out an event that had occurred prior to the writing of this letter – it is an established historic fact, as true as Julius Caesar’s slogan ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’. Like Caesar, Jesus did not remain after his conquest. Then, eventually the Roman Empire passed away. But Jesus, on returning to glory, founded an eternal kingdom.
Paul added comments to each of the five true sayings. Here he remarks, to the astonishment of devout Jews, that of all sinners who had let God down badly, this pious Jewish rabbi was God’s foremost disappointment who himself needed saving!
(2) Mercifully rescued recruits enlist (Titus 3:5)
‘He saved us according to his mercy,
by the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit.’
These two catchphrases trigger flashbacks to John 20:0, when the risen Jesus breathed his Easter life into his astonished disciples, and Acts 2:0, when the ascended Christ anointed them with the Holy Spirit. They encapsulate ‘baptism into Christ’ in water and ‘baptism into the body [community of Christ]’ in the Holy Spirit.
(3) Endure the challenges to share in his victory (2 Timothy 2:11-12a)
‘If we died with him, also we will live with him;
if we endure [hardship], also we will reign with him.’
‘Live out the baptised life: If we stick it out with him, we will rule with him’ (Message).
- Train yourself for spiritual fitness (1 Timothy 4:7b, 9)
‘Train yourself to be godly.’
Baptism was our initiation into the Lord’s army, when we enlisted and were equipped. Then our ‘square bashing’ started, not ‘bodily training’ (verse 1 Timothy 4:8) in a Roman gymnasium but – the onus is on us – ‘spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness’ (New Living Translation).
- Stretch yourself to shoulder responsibility (1 Timothy 3:1)
‘Anyone who aspires to overseeing desires a noble task.’
Paul had trained Timothy in Christian leadership; he now urges him to pass on to faithful followers what had been imparted to him (2 Timothy 2:2). He seems to say: ‘Don’t settle for being a mere private, a squaddie, a foot soldier of lowest rank, but aspire to be a soldier who can inspire others to train themselves for spiritual fitness to gain promotion to officer rank and responsibilities.’ Again the onus is on us to ‘stretch yourself’ (Greek).