Paul wrote 1 Timothy in order to encourage his young protégé in guarding good doctrine. In 1:3, he tell Timothy that he left him in Ephesus “so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” The aim of this charge, this charge to guard right doctrine, is love (1:5). Paul, as an older man coming to the end of his life and ministry, tells Timothy that he has entrusted him with this charge (1:18). This “charge” to guard and teach correct doctrine permeates the first chapter of 1 Timothy, and is the theme of the entire book.
Beginning in chapter 2, Paul tells Timothy “first of all, then…” (1 Timothy 2:1). Paul is about to tell Timothy what comes first in this charge to guard right doctrine. Of all the elements that we might think are important in guarding right doctrine, what does Paul commend? “First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…” Paul begins with prayer. “If you want to get your doctrine right, Timothy, then pray. Intercede. Give thanks.”
This is a challenge to me. On any given day, I get asked about a dozen questions on some point of theology or on some verse of Scripture, and a good few of those turn into longer discussions. I want to be the kind of man, the kind of teacher, the kind of Christian who asks God to bless and guide me as I enter into these conversations.
Imagine with me what would happen if you and your conversation partner stopped to pray each time your talk turned to the Bible or theology. Wouldn’t you be less prone to argue? Wouldn’t you endeavor more closely to understand an opposing point of view? Wouldn’t you want to build your brother or sister up more than you want to be right?
I think the reason that Paul exhorts Timothy in this way is that prayer, unless it is offered insincerely, is a necessarily humbling task. When we pray, we admit that we don’t have what we need. When we pray, we admit that we aren’t the solution to all our problems. A person cannot rightly pray to God and remain proud. This humility, then, infects our theological discussion.
At the School of Discipleship, we take seriously our charge to guard right doctrine. By the mercy of God, our students will leave at the end of this summer equipped not only to defend their faith, but to model it with humility and grace.