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By Domenic Marbaniang
(delivered at New Life College Chapel, Bangalore – June 17, 2009)

"Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine."

(1 Tim. 4:13)

The three-fold command can be put into the acrostic RED:

R – Reading
E – Exhortation
D – Doctrine

This epistle is addressed to Timothy a pastor, representative, overseer, appointed over the church at
Ephesus. Ephesus, one of the biggest cities of Roman Asia, was the host of the Temple of Artemis of
Diana, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. The city was an economical hub and home to a variety
of cultures, including a large community of Jews. Paul visited this city and ministered in it during his 3rd
missionary journey with the effect that the whole of Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus.

Timothy, here, is a young, and possibly a rather reserved, shy, and timid boy. Paul exhorts him with
many words to be strong in the ministry. It’s very obvious that a young man would be easily despised;
but Paul both encourages and appoints Timothy for an important job.

This exhortation relates to the important ministry of God’s Word. We’ll have to look at RED as one
instead of treating each into compartments.

1. The Knitting of the Narrative and the Propositional Aspects of Preaching.

Reading, Exhortation, Doctrine (propositional truths).

In the past few decades, there has been a growing emphasis on the “narrative” above the
“propositional”. This is especially among the post-liberals, also known as the Emergent Church group,
and is a reaction against what they considered to be the inadequacy of modernism to deal with the
issues of the post-modern culture.

The post-modern “narrative turn” of this movement heralded the idea that Christian theology should
focus on a narrative representation of the faith rather than the development of a metaphysical system
or set of propositions deduced from the data of revelation. It was a move against the systematic
representation of faith in logical form.

The issues raised were: The Bible is not a book of doctrine or propositions. It is simply a compilation of
experiences, narratives of God’s relationship with people. Religious truth is something that is related to
one’s context and not overarching.

But the fact is that the Bible contains both; e.g. much of Psalms, proverbs, Law, Epistles won’t fit into the
narrative framework. Narrative preaching may not just be about telling stories; but mere narrative
preaching can be dangerous when the story is used as either a point or proof for some point. The style is
a popular one among the gurus of India.

The danger of this bifurcation is the attempt to do away with any claims to absoluteness and universality
of truth in theology. This has given rise to a new form of preaching known as emergent preaching. The
earlier modernist method of Bultmann is considered to be outdated. Emergent theology is a reversal of
the Bultmannian style. Bultmann thought of demythologizing the narratives in order to reconstruct the
theology of the mythical elements. The modern trend is to preserve the narratives and rule away the
propositions, which are considered to be too relativist.

Paul’s emphasis – we should not neglect the doctrine (apostolic teaching and instruction). At the same
time, the reading of the whole Word (without neglecting any portion) signifies the emphasis on the
narrative as well. Exhortation is sandwiched between the two.

JOHN 3:16: Narrative of the great saga of God’s love and declaration of the proposition of eternal
salvation through faith only in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2. The Blending of the Personal and the Public Testimony of the Word

The NIV translation of αναγνωσις as “public reading” is over-extended. The public ministration cannot
be without the personal administration of the Word of God. Reading is not just about the external. The
ministry of the Word is a fountain that must have its spring within the personal. I read it and then I read
it for others. Similarly, I find exhortation for myself and then I exhort others, and so on.

And so, the word “exhortation” is better than the NIV’s “preaching” – though the Biblical idea of
preaching is not separable from the personal. Exhortation is not mere sermonizing. It has to flow from
the inner springs of maturity gained by spiritual experiences and spiritual discernment obtained from
partaking of the strong Word of God.

Similarly, “doctrine” is faith - faith that one holds on to and is ready to live and die for. It is not the
Pharisaic interpretation of the Law that binds heavy on the lay but is shunned by the clergy. It is not the
opinions of humans but the givens of God. The Christian minister has nothing to do with teaching things
or opinions that he is not willing to lay down his life for. Jesus came to bear witness to the truth and this
truth was unlike the contingent facts of this world. That was why Pilate was unable to understand it; for
truth for him was politically non-existent. Therefore, the seculars create ideals like nation and
nationalism which are idolized into religion. One can’t trade eternity for temporal ideals after all.

The servant of God is a singular blending of the private and the public ministration of God’s Word.
Therefore, we emphasize prophetical preaching. Remember the OT prophets; they had to live out what
they preached.

Our ministry should flow out of a personal enrooting in God’s spiritual realities. How can one be a home
for the birds and a shadow for the weary when one’s trunk is uprooted and severed from the ground?

3. The Fusion of Intentionality with the Concreteness of Divine Truths

Intentionality means “aboutness”. The concept is that human consciousness is always about something.
Intention is always related to the intended object – which either exists as concrete reality or is a mere
ideal of mental construction. The idea is that pure consciousness doesn’t exist. For one can only be
conscious of something. Therefore, Sartre called pure consciousness as nothing. It is blank.

For Heidegger, intentionality in the authentic sense captures the whole concern of human existence. We
can say that one’s intentioning is inauthentic when its object is non-concrete reality. We live in a world
of virtual reality, video games, science fictions and moves. The ancients had their myths, legends, and
fairy tales.

But, the Christian preacher’s consciousness is dominated by the concrete facts of God’s unchanging
Word. His consciousness is purified by the Truth of God, submerged in it, and so the outpouring of the
heart (or the analysis of this consciousness) demonstrates the perfect interweaving of faith and reality.

Further, the relation is first vertical and then horizontal. One relates first to God and then to his
neighbor. The commandment is: love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and
with all your mind; then, love your neighbor as yourself. It has been debated whether the objects of
intentioning really always exist or need to exist. For instance, one could admire Sherlock Holmes in the
same way that one admires Kiran Bedi, though the former exists only in fiction. But, this can’t be said
about God – for consciousness of God necessarily implies the existence of God as the ontological
argument (Anselm) clearly shows. This is not Gnosticism but it’s also important to note that Jesus said
“You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free”. Similarly, He prayed the words “And this is life
eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John
17:3). Indubitably, faith, truth, and knowledge assume concreteness when one acknowledges and
believes in the true God. God is greater than human consciousness and so, we can’t fully comprehend
Him. Still, this knowledge provides the basis of right and meaningful service in this concrete world.

Someone said, God is like the sun. You can’t see Him; but without Him you can’t see anything else.
When His light dominates our world of experiences, then intentionality is blended with His reality.

So, the narrative and propositional knit together, personal and the public are interwoven; and
intentional and concrete particular are blended together in the command.

“Give attention to reading, exhortation, and doctrine.”

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