Monthly Archives: June 2015

1 Timothy 6:1-2

1Let all who are under the yoke as slaved regard their masters as worthy of honor, so that the name and teachings of God are not blasphemed. 2And if they have believing masters, they should not despise them, on the basis that they are brothers, but should rather serve them more, because the ones who benefit from their service are believers and beloved.

 

Few other passages in the Bible have stirred up more controversy than this one. Disturbing questions to the modern American mind arise: was Paul giving tacit approval to slavery by not agitating against it in scripture? Why doesn’t 1st-century Paul have the same abhorrent attitude toward the institution of slavery that we enlightened folks have in the 21st century? Much like his passages regarding women in the Church, Paul is easily misunderstood by the modern thinker who superimposes his 21st-century values onto an earlier time without expecting bad consequences. Ultimately, one of the big lessons we learn from this is that, even with 20 centuries of “progress” man is still essentially the same. He has not improved, like he pretends.

 

But there’s more here, and the Christian should attempt to understand it. To begin with, the institution of slavery was a very different animal than the American one that stains our collective consciousness in the West. It was not specifically racially motivated, but was rather a pragmatic reality of a conquering empire; as the Romans took over lands, they enslaved the populations. In many cases, slaves were even adopted as family members. The stigma that slaves were less human or 3/5 of a citizen or any of that garbage came later, in America, in a slavery that was predicated on bigotry and racism. Second, the early Church believed, like we do, that they were in the “last days.” But “last days” to them really meant “last days,” and that’s why you don’t see a whole lot of social agitation to change social structures in Pauline writing. Christians knew that the Messiah was going to transform the whole world order, and agitating for social change was pretty far down the priority list. Third, one of the chief problems in the early Church was the fact that, while slavery was a practical social and political reality in the Roman Empire, there were no such distinctions in the Church. As Paul himself points out to the Galatians, there is neither “slave nor free” in the Body of Christ (Gal. 5.28). Under such a culture, it was common for masters and slaves to sit next to one another in church as brothers before having to go back out to the Empire as master-and-slave. For this reason, some temporal Christian ethics had to be set up to handle the tension in such an environment. All of it was settled by simply referring back to the example of Christ.

 

Jesus Christ is the King of Kings, yet humbled Himself as a servant or slave to demonstrate God’s selfless love to man. He was not above serving others who disrespected Him, and we shouldn’t be either. Note that nowhere does Paul abjure masters to demand respect from their slaves; if slave and master are brothers in the Body, respect should be mutual and voluntary. This is why this passage cannot be used to justify slavery, since the essential premise being taught here is that Christ submitted to others in service, and HE is the great example for all of us.

 

The concept of social agitation is a recent event. It begins, to a lesser extent, with the idea of self-government during the Enlightenment, but really takes off as a tactic with the writings of Communist propagandist Saul Alinksy in his Rules For Radicals. The modern placard-waving demonstrator culture is a direct descendant of Alinsky. The contrast couldn’t be clearer: Alinsky the Communist explicitly taught free people to stir up social unrest and trouble, while Paul teaches slaves to submit in respect to others.

 

It is true that self-governance is the safest form of government for people of all religious stripes. And as self-governance dies, we’ll see an uptick in slavery again. Paul’s words will become more and more relevant as the times march forward: the Christian cannot control his society—his faith is in the returning Christ.

Advertisements

1 Timothy 5:17-25

17Those who lead well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially if they are working hard in the word and teaching. 18For the Scripture says, “You will not muzzle an ox while it is threshing,” and “The worker is worth his wages.” 19Do not accept an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or more witnesses. 20Rebuke those who sin before all, so that the rest will be fearful of sinning. 21I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus and the chosen angels, in order that you may guard these things without prejudice, and not do them according to favoritism. 22Do not lay hands on anyone quickly; neither take part in another’s sin. Keep yourself free from sin. 23Do not drink only water any more, but use a little wine for your stomach and your frequent illnesses. 24The sins of some men are evident, going before them to judgment—while those of others follow. 25In the same way also, good works are evident, and those that are otherwise are not hidden.

 

This is a section devoted to the treatment of elders, and the term for “those who lead well” is a Greek word that typically means “general superintendence,” or “those who direct affairs.” In today’s parlance, it would be “pastor.” Paul here argues that such people should be considered worthy of double honor, and it is abundantly evident that he is talking about money. He employs two textual citations in defense of his argument: one is found in Deuteronomy 25.4, and he has already used this one in 1 Corinthians 9 to discuss the moral obligation a church has to ensure that their teacher/leader makes his living from teaching/leading. He also cites the words of Jesus Himself; these words appear in Luke 10.7 and also Matthew 10. It shows that Paul considered those words and writing to be Scripture, along with the Old Testament, which is a very telling point. He instructs Timothy to not entertain an accusation against an elder except on the basis of multiple witnesses; if this sounds familiar, our Western system of jurisprudence also follows this. It is generally representative of the Christian belief that men are essentially wicked and therefore should not be trusted with power in concentrated doses; power is rather dispersed so that it does not damage as much. Evidence for such a system is here in this text, as well as others. Most disturbing in this passage, of course, is the “church discipline” aspect of it. In the early Church, the elders were charged with exposing the habitual sin of members and rebuking them publically. This type of discipline—typically for sexual immorality reasons—had the effect of being an example to others. Our current American culture of “this is my business and you can just stay out of it” would never allow for this type of biblical discipline. For this reason, sexual immorality is prevalent in the Church today. There is no church discipline to end it. It is quite possible to have church-going Christians engaged in sexually immoral behavior and NOT HAVE ONE PERSON SAY A WORD about it—for fear of being labeled “judgmental.” But the 1st-century Church would have been confused at this elevation of the individual over and against the group. Paul also instructs Timothy to be slow and deliberate about ordination of others; to “lay hands” on someone and put them in leadership too quickly is to become a partner in their sinful immaturity. Those set apart for ministerial service should undergo a slow, deliberate process that ultimately results in ordination. This demonstrates their self-control and patience, both important fruits of the Spirit that are necessary for ministry.

 

You will note that all of these imperatives have one thing in common: they are given for the good of the Church. They are not given for the good of the individual, but for the Church. That’s the hardest thing for us Americans to swallow. The individual should subjugate his own interests to those of the Church (Philippians 2.4). In order that the Church may be healthy, pastors should: (1) be full-time; (2) never concentrate leadership authority or power in one person; (3) engage in church discipline; and (4) develop future leaders slowly and deliberately. When you pay God His tithe and you also pay your offerings, you contribute to #1 being fulfilled. When you volunteer for leadership involvement, you contribute to #2. When you put others’ needs ahead of your own in the Church, you contribute to #3 and 4. So how might you apply this passage today?

 

Have you tithed and supported the mission of your church?

Have you volunteered to be part of your church’s mission?

Do you consider the Church’s direction important enough to submit yourself to it?

 

1 Timothy 5:1-16

1Do not rebuke an elder, but encourage him as a father, and a younger man as a brother, 2an older woman as a mother, and a younger woman as a sister in all purity. 3Honor the widow who are really widows. 4If a widow has children or grandchildren, let them learn to do their godly duty to their own household first, and so give repayment to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5She is truly a widow who has been left all alone and has put her hope in God and continues in petitions and prayers night and day. 6But she who is self-indulgent has died while she lives. 7So command these things, so that they will be above reproach. 8If anyone does not care for his own, especially members of his family, then he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 9Let the widow be enrolled if she is not younger than sixty years of age, having been a one-man woman, 10having a reputation for good words, in raising children, in showing hospitality, in washing the feet of the saints, in helping those in affliction, in being devoted to all manner of good works. 11But refuse to include the younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry, 12and have judgment because they are abandoning their first love. 13And besides, they also learn to be idlers, going from house to house, and not only idlers but also gossips and busybodies, speaking things they should not. 14I would have, therefore, the younger women to marry, have children manage their households, and not give the enemy the opportunity to speak evil. 15For already, some have strayed after Satan. 16If any believing woman has a relative who is a widow, let her care for them. Do not let the church be burdened, so that it may care for the true widows.

 

As Paul give Timothy some advice on administering pastoral care, we can learn many things about how the first-century Ephesian church valued character and ethics. It helps us to remember that the early Church, in Acts 4-6, had grown quickly. The people in the church had begun being faithful to God by being faithful to the Church, and had given money for the care of the Church. Because financial resources are finite, the election of deacons (Acts 6) was necessary to administer the resources appropriately. It is in this context that Paul instructs Timothy.

 

A pastor should treat all members of the church in love and purity and even-handedness, preferring a healthy respect for the aged. When it comes to the physical and pastoral care of the widows (which is a sign of true religion—James 1.27), the decision to use the church’s limited resources should be made on a case-by-case basis, particularly connected to Christian ethics. Paul makes a contrast between the widow who is truly alone and the one who has children and grandchildren; just as the Church cares for its own, each family should care for its own. The reputation of its own religion is at stake; one who doesn’t care for his parents and grandparents is denying the Christian faith—and is worse than an unbeliever. Paul also draws a contrast between how deserving some of the widows are in the Church; on the one hand, he argues, there is the older widow who is no longer drawn about by her sexual passions but it wholly given over to a life of prayer. She has no one, and has chosen to live her life in faithfulness to God despite her circumstances—she is first in line for the limited resources of the Church. Not to be included in such a list, however, is the self-indulgent younger woman. These were the ones who didn’t have enough to do. Because they didn’t have families of their own, they were “idlers” (), which shows how dangerous early Christians viewed idle existence. In their idleness, they were restless and gossipy and undisciplined with the way that they spoke and behaved. Rather than being given over to a life of prayer and trust in the living God, they were given over to indulging themselves. Paul tell Timothy that such women would be better off marrying and having families of their own so that they wouldn’t be idle and therefore pulled into the direction of Satan.

 

Paul’s description of the self-indulgent woman requires a bit of cultural explanation. God has created everyone with a drive and some abilities and talents. In today’s world, a woman can go to college, get a job, write a book, help others in a variety of ways. Having a family is one such manner in which the God-given engine is engaged in today’s woman; it is not the only way. The important element of this teaching is that she be engaged. If her day-to-day life consists of idleness, gossip, and indulging her own passions and desires (something that our culture has taught all its young women), then she is in the process of straying after Satan, according to Scripture.

 

People in the Church should have a great respect for the elder members. In our culture, youth is worshiped and the aged are pushed aside. This is unbiblical; there should be a great amount of respect and care for our senior citizens, who have lived the Christian life a lot longer than we have. Additionally, we should be good stewards of the resources with which God has trusted us. We should help others, but we should be wise about who they are. All of us should care for our own families, in order that the Church may have enough to care for those who really need it. And we should be engaged in a life of dedication to the Lord. When we sit idly, our engines are not engaged as they were designed to be. We are being self-indulgent—drinking, getting high, gossiping, running away from our pain, keeping the Word of God and His people at arm’s length so that we may indulge our own passions and desires. The Christian life is one of self-control and engagement.

 

Your church needs you to donate some of the resources with which God has blessed you so that it may have a benevolence fund and help those in the church who need it. But you and I should learn from this text what constitutes the proper Christian ethical behavior, and model it for others.

1 Timothy 4:6-16

6By pointing out these things to the brothers, you will be a good minister [servant] of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of faith and the good teaching [doctrine] that you have followed closely. 7Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths, but rather train yourself for godliness. 8For physical training is of some value, but godliness is valuable in every way, having promise in the present life and in the one to come. 9The saying is faithful and deserving of acceptance. 10It is for this reason that we work and struggle, because we have our hope in the living God, Who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. 11Command these things and teach them. 12Let no one despise your youth, but become an example of the faith in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13Until I come, devote yourself to public reading, to encouragement, and teaching. 14Do not neglect the gift that is in you, that was given to you through the prophecy with the laying on of hands of the elders. 15Practice these things and immerse yourself in them, so that your progress may be evident to all. 16Pay close attention to yourself and your teaching, persist in them: for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

 

Though Paul has turned his attention to some very practical advice for a young minister like Timothy, his words tell non-ministers (lay people) some very important things. In fact, it is telling that the Greek word that I’ve translated “minister” (διακονος) is also “servant.” Since, in a sense, we are all ministers, this is an important passage—but most especially for those charged with ministering God’s word. For those not charged with this task, studying this passage will help you to understand the significance of doctrine and sound teaching in the Church. Here are a few things we notice about the proper model of the minister:

 

  1. He has been nourished (4.6). This implies a process in which he has invested a good deal of time in learning the Word, how to handle it, how to interpret it, and how to teach it. He didn’t just go from the altar to the pulpit. He has spent time in training, the same way an athlete undergoes the discipline of a training regimen (4.8).
  2. He is authoritative (4.11). Though he is the servant of all, the minister is someone who can and should command God’s people. He speaks for God—which is why he is so immersed in His Word. He is charged with learning and giving the vision that God has for His Church, and for that reason is to be authoritative in the matter. Once again, this speaks to a good deal of training. While “authority” comes from God, to speak authoritatively about any issue implies a hefty time investment in training. You wouldn’t take your sick relative to some doctor who’d only had a couple of semesters of cosmetology training at the junior college, would you? You’d want someone authoritative in that field of medicine. It is the same with God’s word.
  3. He is an example in speech and conduct (4.12). The term “youth” is relative here, since most 1st-century Greek speakers employed it to mean anyone up to the age of 40 or so. It is most likely that Timothy was in his late 20s to mid-30s. But he was to set an example of how God’s people to should talk and act.
  4. He should be full-time (4.13). The minister should be “devoted” to the public reading of Scripture (a tradition that dated back to the Jewish synagogues and was continued in the early Church), encouragement and teaching. You can’t be devoted to something if you’re only part-timing it. These three areas should be the minister’s whole life. That’s why God set aside a living for the one who ministers His Word (Deut. 25:4 and 1 Corinthians 9:9).
  5. He should practice his faith, developing the gifts that God gave him (4.14). No one is born with fully developed gifts. God gives them to you, but you must develop them. The faith isn’t something that is stapled to you when you’re saved; you must learn it and practice it and immerse yourself in it.
  6. He must be ordained (4.14). That’s right; you read that correctly. Apparently, at some point in the past (as evidenced by the aorist tense of “given” [ἐδοθη]), there had been some moment in which the elders of the church had gathered around Timothy and laid their hands on him and prophesied over him. It had been a moment in which the Church recognized God’s call on Timothy—and this was crucial. Timothy hadn’t been convinced of it in his own mind, and then run off to start preaching. Rather, he knew that it was God doing the calling when He let the rest of the Church know as well. He heard God’s voice in the community of faith; and the moment in which they did so was called “ordination.” This followed a period of time in which Timothy had learned the faith and been nourished in it. So the current evangelical notion of the untrained minister who “doesn’t need man’s approval” is unbiblical and dangerous. Handling God’s word is a frightening and dangerous occupation, and no one should attempt it without as much training and immersion as possible.

 

By these six things, the lay people of the Church should recognize that the faith is a long-term discipline and that the gifts are to be developed. What are you doing to immerse yourself in God’s word and His Church today? In which ways are you developing your gifts to be used for His service?

1 Timothy 4:1-5

1Now the Spirit specifically teaches that in the last times some will depart from the faith, devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and demonic teachings 2by the pretense of liars whose consciences are seared. 3They forbid to marry, abstain from food which God created to be received with thanksgiving for those who believe and know the truth—4that everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected that is received with thanksgiving, 5for it is sanctified [set apart and made holy] through the word of God and prayer.

 

Paul switches gears now, introducing to Timothy a major theme of the book: bad doctrine. He reminds his young protégé that the Spirit has quite specifically taught that in the last times (that is, the time between Christ’s first and second coming) many of the faith would leave it over demonic teachings. The teachings themselves would find their actual origins among demons, but would be taught and modeled by pretending liars. The word used in verse 2 is ὑποκρισει (from which we get our word “hypocrite”), which was a Greek term for “actor,” or one who pretends to be something he is not. In this case, that person is pretending to be a teacher of God’s word. Some of the false doctrines that these pretenders will be teaching are called asceticism, which meant to deny oneself food or sexual gratification because of a belief that the body was evil and must be denied. The Gnostics taught this heresy—they reasoned that matter was evil, and that included the human body. Denying yourself food and sex was a very spiritual thing, since those things were evil. But this is false teaching, since everything God created was good. He created food and sex for not only enjoyment and gratification but for the sustenance of human life and future existence. The Christian teaching is that the person is body AND soul, and therefore there is an importance in the body that the Gnostics rejected. When Jesus was raised from the dead, He wasn’t raised as a ghost, but raised physically. He had a body, and was physically taken up into heaven. In the last days, we will be resurrected and given bodies. To teach that the body is evil is distinctly non-Christian, even though many still do this.

 

There are all sorts of false teachers roaming about today, many of whom still teach asceticism of some sort. The constant droning on and on about veganism and such is an example of the modern asceticism. But we Westerners have allowed all sorts of demonic teachings into our realm, as well, and I see Christians following them. The practice of astrology, for example, is a doctrine rooted in demonic influence. In days where doctrine was taught more clearly and consistently, no Christian would have ever posted their horoscope on Facebook—now many do it without even batting an eye. They are participating in the teaching of demons without even knowing it. But note that Paul doesn’t just shake his head sadly at the teaching of bad doctrine; he actively refutes it. Immediately after noting that these lying pretenders were active, he spends verses 4-5 proving them wrong. A real teacher of the Word is someone who has been set apart and trained for it—not a pretender. Paul knew the Word enough to point out the falsity of asceticism and refute it. So one application of our passage today is acknowledging that there is such a thing as bad doctrine, and receiving with thanksgiving that which God has provided for you in the way of sound teaching.

 

Another application is to remember that God has provided for all of your needs physically; His provision of food is constant and His provision of sex is found in marriage. When we seek provision outside of His boundaries, we seek our own harm and reject Him. So be thankful for His provision and trust that He has your best interests at heart today.

1 Timothy 3:14-16

14I hope to come to you quickly, 15but if I am delayed I write this to you so that you may know how to conduct oneself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and foundation of truth. 16And we confess undeniably the great mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in light

               Vindicated in the Spirit

                              Seen by angels

Preached among the nations

               Believed on in the world

                              Taken up in glory.

 

Paul finished one section of his letter to Timothy and includes this hymn at this spot to serve as a sort of hinge for him to move to the next section of the letter. He wraps up the thematic elements of the first part by reminding Timothy that there are right and wrong ways for people to conduct themselves in the house of God. The existence of this passage really emphasizes the importance of the local church in New Testament theology in a way that we frequently forget. It refers to the Church as belonging to the living God, for one thing. She belongs to Him, and He is alive. She is also a pillar and foundation of truth; She is the guardian and keeper of the gospel of Christ, not some randomly selected place to go when we feel like it. She is the guardian and keeper of the mystery of godliness, contained in the hymn Paul writes. This hymn contains three parallelisms—these three reflect the central truths of Christology that are foundational to the gospel.

 

You and I live in a world in which “church” is denigrated regularly. In the world, “church” is a dirty word that is to be avoided at all costs. Even among mature Christians, “church” is frequently a place in which people gather when they have the chance. Cyprian’s famous words no longer apply: “No one can call God his Father who has not the Church for his Mother.” I we get mad at the preacher or the song leader, we’ll just leave and go to the next one. The concept that one is faithful to the local church is predicated on a belief that there is something important or significant about the local church.

 

But according to Paul, there is. This is the building of God, in which we discover truth and are discipled to conform to the image of Christ. That’s why Paul has written the first three chapters to this young minister: there are right ways and wrong ways to dress, talk, and generally conduct oneself in God’s house. A reverence for the living God is necessary among His children.

 

So how committed to His Church are you? Paul isn’t talking about some ethereal, invisible church here—he’s talking about the local church. Are you faithful to yours? Are you participating in the worship, catechism, learning, and evangelism of the church? Are you helping to build her up? Do you treat her with respect? When you enter her doors, do you do so with a sense of reverence and propriety that is considered appropriate in our own time and place, culturally? These are the best applications of what Paul writes to Timothy.

1 Timothy 3:8-13

8Likewise, let deacons be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for financial gain—9holding the mystery of the faith in pure conscience. 10And let them be tested first, and serve as deacons when they have proven to be above reproach. 11Likewise the wives [or deaconesses] should be serious, not slanderous, temperate, faithful in all things. 12Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and own households well. 13For if they do well as deacons, they will obtain for themselves good standing, and much confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

 

The office of deacon undoubtedly goes back to the incident in Acts 6—seven men chosen to perform service for the Church in a practical sense. As Paul has outlined the office of the overseer for Timothy in the preceding section, now he turns his attention to the deacon. The character of a deacon must be serious (σεμνους), although the term does not mean unbending or without humor. The deacon does his service as representative of the whole church, so this is serious stuff. Paul also adds three negative traits that help define “serious” in this context: the deacon must be self-controlled in the areas of speech, drink and finances. He must not be a repeater of secrets or a gossip—the Greek word here is διλογους, which is literally “double-tongued.” He must not be given over or indulgent in much wine. Note that there is no teetotaling prohibition here; a sober-mindedness is required to execute this office, which is the product of self-control. For some, this may well be total abstinence. But the adjective “much” (πολλω) is all the evidence we need that Paul wasn’t banning alcohol altogether. Their hearts should be devoted to the good of the Church, rather than their own financial gain. This concept is a bit foreign to the American church, in which frequently the board members of affluent churches are the “money” people who have gained the most influence. Next, Paul moves on to women. There is some worthy debate to be held here over whether Paul is speaking about the wives of deacons or female deacons; the Greek word employed here can be used for either “women” or “wives.” We do know of a female deacon named Phoebe (Rom 16.1), so Paul could be talking about female deacons. But he could also be talking about the wives of the deacons he’s just described; either interpretation is sound. I am going with “wives” because it follows the pattern that he established with overseers in the preceding section, but I am not dogmatic about it. Note that the same self-control is required of them: self-control in speech, drink and doing. The women are encouraged not to be slanderous—and this is interesting because the Greek word is διαβολους, which also forms the root of “devil.” Satan was the original slanderer of God and His people, and the faithful women in the church must not share in that sin. Talking about others behind their backs is sinful, and should not happen with a deacon’s wife or with a female leader in the church. Like it was with overseer, deacons should have a firm grasp on the management of their own households and children. The current fad of being “buddies” with one’s children—which always leads to unruly, undisciplined, and frequently criminal offspring—must be shunned in favor of the proper discipline and management of a household. If a man can’t be counted on to be authoritative in his own home, how will he then exercise the management of the Church? To do this job is to obtain good standing and confidence in the faith.

 

In our church, the office of deacon is usually synonymous with “board member.” This is not always the case, and perhaps will change over time, but seems to be the current model. Our board members are required to know our doctrine, to have been here in this church culture for some time, and to have proven themselves faithful in attendance and tithing. This demonstrates that they are serious people and self-controlled in the areas that Paul has mentioned. Of course, in the New Testament, deacons actually traveled around in visitation and helped people who were in need. Perhaps it’s time for our board members to do this, as well. But Paul’s instructions to them are also good for us, too:

  • Be self-controlled in your speech. Don’t talk about others behind their backs. Don’t repeat secrets or betray confidences. Watch your mouth.
  • Be self-controlled in drink. Don’t give yourself over to much drinking; and since getting high is still illegal, don’t do that at all.
  • Be self-controlled in your finances. Either you control your money, or your money controls you. Ultimately, it’s not YOUR money, but God’s. You could have been born in Zimbabwe, where you wouldn’t make your weekly wage over the course of your entire life. Instead, God’s grace allowed you to live in the wealthiest culture in the history of the earth; seeing your money as God’s and behaving accordingly is the kind of self-control we are to have. This means giving God back the 1/10th that He requires (Malachi 3), as well as learning to not indulge every spending impulse.

 

If you and I adhere to these three levels of self-control, we will be maturing in Christ indeed.