Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus. Both were disciples of St. Paul and are mentioned in the New Testament. Timothy eventually became the Bishop of Ephesus and Titus became the Bishop of Crete, so they are important early witnesses to the structure of Church leadership.
St. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy and one letter to Titus that became part of the New Testament. These letters are commonly grouped together as the “Pastoral Epistles,” because they provide pastoral guidance to individual bishops rather than instruction for entire local Churches, such as in the case of the letters to the Corinthians or Romans.
In honor of the feast, I now humbly offer my “top ten” list of favorite verses from the Pastoral Epistles. Here it is:
(10) 1 Timothy 3:15: “The church of the living God [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”
I’m probably underrating this one, perhaps because it is so frequently trotted out in the context of “winning” apologetics debates. While there is an unmistakable apologetics dimension, as St. Paul is clearly referring to the Church–and not the Bible alone–as the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” what really moves me is the fact that I can turn to the Church, in season and out of season, for the truth.
(9) Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.”
This is a really beautiful description of the Sacrament of Baptism, which is truly the doorway to the Christian life. I love the image of “regeneration,” as through the sacrament we become “new creations”–sons and daughters of God by adoption. Our Lord makes all things new!
(8) 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, . . .”
This popular verse connects the concept of “inspiration,” which means “God-breathed,” with Scripture’s value for the believer. And the next verse, sometimes overlooked, completes this beautiful insight: ”. . . that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
(7) 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”
This passage provides a biblical basis for remembering civil and Church leaders in the General Intercessions at Mass. For me, it’s a challenging reminder, especially after the disastrous 2008 election, to pray for our leaders despite their entrenched opposition on the issues that matter most. (The only thing that President Obama and I agree on is that there should be a playoff system in college football, but I digress.) And I have to say that “a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” is a goal that really resonates with me.
(6) 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings.”
That time has come. Many people today do not endure sound teaching, and sadly they can find New Age gurus, heterodox theologians, start-up “churches,” and even some Catholic clergy and religious who will tickle their ears. Instead of saying “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” they say “You’re okay as you are, believe what you want.” This verse challenges me to have the humility to listen to the truth, and also the courage robed in charity to resist the temptation, born of a false compassion, to scratch ears rather than speak the truth. (See also 1 Timothy 1:19 about how going against what we know is right makes a shipwreck of our faith.)
(5) 1 Timothy 4:16: “Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
What a wonderful verse for those of us who are parents or teachers, as it challenges us to walk the talk–not only for the good of our “hearers,” but also for our own salvation. This verse also touches on the need to persevere in the faith if we want to attain the “crown of righteousness” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8).
(4) 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
St. Paul’s use of military and athletic images to describe the Christian life summons men to step up and live generous, heroic lives for Christ. This verse also points to the necessity of persevering in the faith, lest we run aimlessly or otherwise become “disqualified” through mortal sin (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We’re not in heaven yet; we need to put on the armor of God and fearlessly run toward the prize.
(3) 1 Timothy 6:20: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.”
What an amazing verse. St. Paul is instructing Timothy to guard the deposit of faith. Yes, the deposit of faith, summed up in the person and teachings of Christ, needs to be proclaimed, but it also needs to be safeguarded lest mere human wisdom or even outright error intermingle with the Word of God. So the Magisterium, or teaching office, of the Church not only plays offense (teaching the faith), but also defense (protecting the faith). Praise God that the Church proclaims the true faith in every generation, through the ministry of the apostles and their successors, by means of a special gift of the Holy Spirit.
(2) Titus 2:11-14: “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”
I know, it’s a hefty four verses, but it’s such an inspiring passage that I didn’t want to chop it up. I especially appreciate how Christian hope impels us to live virtuous lives.
(1) 1 Timothy 1:15: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
What can I possibly add to this verse? Here St. Paul, a la the late Howard Cosell, is simply “telling like it is.”
Well, those are my favorites. What are yours?