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‘Come, Follow Me’ for Oct. 23-29: What Church leaders and scholars say about 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus; and Philemon

This week’s study guide includes the apostle Paul’s writings on bishops, endurance and overcoming fear through faith

This week’s “Come, Follow Me” study guide covers 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus; and Philemon, which includes the apostle Paul’s writings on bishops, endurance and overcoming fear through faith.

Church News recently dug through archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to learn what leaders and scholars have said about these chapters.

The pastoral epistles and gnosticism

“Paul probably meant bishops when he referred to ‘pastors’ (Ephesians 4:11). The ‘pastoral epistles,’ Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, name the qualities to look for in bishops: A bishop must be respected by both Christians and non-Christians, a successful family man with good judgment in social situations, a leader of absolute integrity and personal self-control, and one happily involved with people who also reads and has the capacity to teach (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:7-9).”

— Richard Lloyd Anderson, former professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, in the August 1976 Ensign article, “Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp: Three Bishops Between the Apostles and Apostasy”

“The pastoral epistles give additional evidence that apostate doctrines were widespread in Christianity even while Paul was still alive. A major source of heretical teaching was gnosticism.

The term ‘gnosticism’ comes from the Greek noun ‘gnôsis,’ which means ‘knowledge.’ Gnostics believed that they had secret ‘knowledge’ that had been passed on to them by Jesus or the Apostles. They held that it was through this gnôsis that one was saved, for it enabled him to rise above the evil physical world. Paul may have been warning Timothy to beware of such false ‘knowledge’ when he wrote: ‘O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and disputations of what is falsely called knowledge [gnôsis]’ (1 Timothy 6:20).

“In 1 Timothy 1:3-4, Paul counseled Timothy to teach others to avoid ‘fables and endless genealogies.’ Similarly, he admonished Titus to ‘avoid foolish questions, and genealogies’ (Titus 3:9). We know that genealogy for worthy purposes was known among early Christians. … What Paul was referring to here was quite different, since he denounced it in the context of speculative doctrinal contention that was ‘unprofitable and vain’ (Titus 3:9).

“Gnosticism’s dualism of pure spirit on one extreme and evil matter on the other gave rise to an extensive genealogy of subordinate deities, each descending from one more holy than himself. In some second-century gnostic systems, there were as many as 365 levels in this chain of divine beings. Many commentators believe that Paul’s prohibition against ‘endless genealogies’ refers to this type of structure. Such diverting speculations do not edify in faith, Paul said, but ‘minister questions’ (1 Timothy 1:4).

“The pastoral epistles show other signs of the popularity of false doctrine in the Church. Paul warned Timothy of those who teach ideas other than the word of Jesus Christ. Those who do so are obsessed with ‘questions and strifes of words,’ out of which come ‘perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds’ (1 Timothy 6:3-5; see also 2 Timothy 2:23). He told Titus: ‘For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:

“‘Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not. …

“‘Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,

“‘Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth’ (Titus 1:10-11, 13-14).”

— Kent P. Jackson, former professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, in the December 1984 Ensign article, “Early Signs of the Apostasy”

1 Timothy 4

“After our declaration of our beliefs, we must follow the counsel given to us in 1 Timothy 4:12: ‘But be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.’ …

“Our lives should be examples of goodness and virtue as we try to emulate His example to the world. Good works by each of us can do credit both to the Savior and His Church. As you are engaged in doing good, being honorable and upright men and women, the light of Christ will be reflected by your lives.”

— Elder L. Tom Perry, October 2011 general conference, “Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear”

1 Timothy 6

“We might ask ourselves, living as many of us do in societies that worship possessions and pleasures, whether we are remaining aloof from covetousness and the lust to acquire more and more of this world’s goods. Materialism is just one more manifestation of the idolatry and pride that characterize Babylon. Perhaps we can learn to be content with what is sufficient for our needs.

“The Apostle Paul warned Timothy against people who suppose ‘that gain is godliness’ (1 Timothy 6:5).

“Said he, ‘We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

“‘And having food and raiment let us be therewith content’ (1 Timothy 6:7–8).”

— Elder D. Todd Christofferson, October 2008 general conference, “Come to Zion”

An undated aerial view of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.
An undated aerial view of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. “Come, Follow Me” for Oct. 23-29 covers 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus; and Philemon, which were each written from Rome. | AP Photo

2 Timothy

“Paul’s final letter, written to his beloved associate Timothy, was penned while the aged Apostle awaited his execution in Rome. In this pathetic setting, Paul spoke of the apostasy as having already begun. He warned Timothy against ‘profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker’ (2 Timothy 2:16-17). He mentioned two men guilty of spreading false doctrine who had ruined the faith of some by teaching that the Final Resurrection had already taken place.

“Perhaps Paul’s most sorrow-filled words are those found in 2 Timothy 1:15: ‘This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me.’ His choice of words is grim evidence of apostasy among the churches in Asia. Paul had taught the gospel there 13 years earlier, and the people had accepted it in tremendous numbers (Acts 19:8-22). But now they were turning from him, and from his message as well (see 2 Timothy 2:16-18, 23-26). He saw the time when the churches would become corrupted, ‘having a form of godliness; but denying the power thereof’ (2 Timothy 3:5).”

— Kent P. Jackson, former professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, in the December 1984 Ensign article, “Early Signs of the Apostasy”

2 Timothy 3

“After the death of Christ, Paul was converted and became a great missionary. He had a junior companion, whom he loved as a father loves his own son. When we pick up their story in 2 Timothy, they are separated in their service. Timothy is lonely and afraid — being a missionary can be a fearful business. Paul is in prison in Rome. He writes Timothy a letter: ‘To Timothy, my dearly beloved son. …

“‘I thank God … that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;

“‘Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears’ (2 Timothy 1:2-4).

“Isn’t that a tender letter? Pretend it is coming to you from one who is mindful of your tears.

“Paul then goes on to remind Timothy of his strengths: ‘I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee’ (2 Timothy 1:5). He reminds Timothy that both his grandmother and his mother were women of faith.

“Think of some of the strengths that your grandmothers and mother have passed on to you.

“Then Paul asks Timothy to remember to use the gift of the Holy Ghost: ‘I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands’ (2 Timothy 1:6).

“Are you remembering that you have had hands laid on your head — that you have been given a gift? Use that gift to conquer your fears!

“And then my favorite part of the letter: ‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind’ (2 Timothy 1:7).

“Are those just the things you want when you are fearful — power, love, the ability to think clearly?

“Paul ends one of his letters: ‘All that are with me salute thee. Greet them that love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen’ (Titus 3:15).

“All that are with me salute you. We love you and are aware of your fears and your faith. I bear you my witness that Jesus Christ is our Savior, that he loves me, that he loves each of you and that he will help us to replace our fears with faith.”

— Sister Virginia H. Pearce, October 1992 general conference, “Fear”

“The scriptures teach us how to avoid false teachings. For example, in Paul’s letter to Timothy we read:

“‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

“‘That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

“This doctrine is to the Church like a battery is to a cell phone. When you remove the battery from your cell phone, it becomes useless. A church in which true doctrine is no longer taught is similarly useless. It cannot guide us back to our Heavenly Father and our eternal home.”

— Elder L. Tom Perry, October 2013 general conference, “The Doctrines and Principles Contained in the Articles of Faith”

“Surely we want to avoid priestcraft. But the Apostle Paul warned us of another danger. He warned that in our day there will be those ‘having a form of godliness; but denying the power thereof’ (2 Timothy 3:5).

“How can we as priesthood holders have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof? Could it be that we hold the priesthood but do not exercise it? Visit our families rather than home teach them? Pray for someone in an ordinance or ordination instead of blessing them? Do the Lord’s work the best way we know how without first pleading to know and do His will in His way? …

“Thankfully, the Lord teaches us how to be fruitful, how to make a difference. ‘He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit’ (John 15:5). If we exercise His priesthood in His way, following the direction that we receive from His servants and His Spirit, we will be good and faithful servants!”

— Elder Stanley G. Ellis, October 2006 general conference, “He Trusts Us!”

2 Timothy 4

“Enduring to the end requires faithfulness to the end, as in the case of Paul, who told Timothy, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith’ (2 Timothy 4:7). Obviously, this is not an easy task. It is intended to be difficult, challenging, and, ultimately, refining as we prepare to return to live with our Father in Heaven and receive eternal blessings.

“Enduring to the end is definitely not a do-it-yourself project. ... We must always maintain faith and hope in Christ to endure to the end, and among the many ways we do this are praying, fasting and reading the scriptures. These practices will fortify us against the subtle schemes and fiery darts of the adversary.”

— Elder L. Tom Perry, April 2008 general conference, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ”

“Paul’s final prophecy of the abandonment of true religion is found in the last chapter of 2 Timothy, where he talks about men replacing ‘sound doctrine’ with ‘fables.’ Again, Paul saw a willful rejection of true doctrine and its replacement by doctrines that were untrue but more to the liking of the hearers. Notice that the people involved, although unwilling to put up with correct teachings, desired teachings nonetheless. Having ‘itching ears’ — a desire to hear religion — they would acquire teachers whose doctrines were acceptable to them.”

— Kent P. Jackson, former professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, in the December 1984 Ensign article, “Early Signs of the Apostasy”

Titus

“Apparently, both Timothy and Titus were presiding officers over certain local units of the church — links between the apostles and local church officers. ...

“1 Timothy and Titus were written possibly between the time of Paul’s first and second imprisonments in Rome, between A.D. 62 and 66; whereas 2 Timothy was written when his death was imminent, about A.D. 67 or 68. ...

“The predominant theme of Titus is the admonition to strive for godliness and to ‘maintain good works’ (Titus 2:12Titus 3:8). As a leader, Titus himself was to show ‘a pattern of good works’ (Titus 2:7) and to boldly teach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1, 15), encouraging the saints to ‘live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world’ (Titus 2:12, 15).”

— J. Lewis Taylor in the April 1976 Ensign article, “New Testament Backgrounds: Thessalonians through Hebrews”

Titus 3

“Continuing after the Savior’s ministry, the Apostles urged the Saints to be orderly and law-abiding. Writing to Titus, Paul declared, ‘Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work’ (Titus 3:1).

“As Church members, we live under the banner of many different flags. How important it is that we understand our place and our position in the lands in which we live! We should be familiar with the history, heritage and laws of the lands that govern us. In those countries that allow us the right to participate in the affairs of government, we should use our free agency and be actively engaged in supporting and defending the principles of truth, right and freedom.”

— Elder L. Tom Perry, October 1987 general conference, “A Meaningful Celebration”

The Pantheon in Rome, Italy.
The Pantheon in Rome, Italy. “Come, Follow Me” for Oct. 23-29 covers 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus; and Philemon, which were each written from Rome. | Chris A Hale

Philemon 1

“I have always been uplifted by reading the short epistle of Paul to Philemon; it teaches us a principle and a spirit concerning gospel brotherhood. Philemon’s servant, Onesimus, had run away from his master and joined Paul in Rome. Paul converted Onesimus to the gospel and in sending him, a changed man, back to Philemon, Paul took the occasion to teach both men some important truths. Paul wanted to teach Onesimus, the servant, the necessity of being obedient to law, and he wanted to teach Philemon the need for greater love, a love sufficient to make his servant free, even his equal: ‘I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:

“‘Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:

“‘Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him. …

“‘For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;

“‘Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?

“‘If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.

“‘If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account. …

“‘Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord. …

“‘Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say’ (Philemon 1:10-12, 15-18, 20-21).

“What a spirit of brotherhood is taught by this great missionary, this apostle of Jesus who also spoke elsewhere to the Corinthians that he would even change his eating habits if that would mean the difference between keeping someone with the Lord or turning him away through misunderstanding! (See 1 Corinthians 8.)

“It is an inspiration and joy to see this same spirit at work throughout the Church, to see the Saints embrace and help and assist and pray for those who daily enter the kingdom of our Lord. Continue to reach out to each other — and the many more who will enter the Church. Welcome them and love and fellowship them.”

— President Spencer W. Kimball in the September 1975 Ensign article, “Always a Convert Church: Some Lessons to Learn and Apply This Year”

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