Friday, April 16, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (16)

Concerning addresses two aspects concerning elders in the Church:

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. 

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. (1 Timothy 5:17-21)

Paul's first point is that some elders should be paid. Our churches pay our pastors and do not pay our elders. However, I think that this is simply because we have made a separation that did not exist in the first century. Notice that Paul says that an elder who works hard at preaching and teaching is especially worthy of being paid by the church for that work. This is typically what our pastors do. I like the spirit behind Paul's prrof texts for this. "Do not muzzle and ox ... The laborer is worthy..." This conveys an attitude that should characterize leadership in the Church. Leaders are oxen and laborers--beasts and positions of service. They are not kings and princes that lord over their congregations. Rather they are to have an attitude of service to the King and faithfully shepherd the flock.

I have never known a church leader who was fully liked by everyone all the time. Mankind simply is not one size fits all and personalities do not always mix well. This is one of the reasons that we are commanded to love one another. If it came easy or naturally, we would not have to be told to do it.

And so it is that there will be times when an elder will be accused of wrongdoing for reasons having to do more with church politics than moral failure. Paul advises Timothy to follow the Old Testament advice and require two or three witnesses. Since the purpose behind the witnesses is truth, they should be independent and fully corroborate the story. That, of course, is Paul's point. The accusation must be established and proven. Those who continue to sin after a private rebuke, are to be rebuked publicly.

Politics are such that the pursuit of truth can take a back door to the pursuit of the achievement of power and control. To this end Paul brings Timothy to the very presence of God and Jesus and chosen Angels and commands him to "maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality." This means that you must be as willing to do the right thing and rebuke a popular and well liked elder or defend one who has rubbed others the wrong way.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Thursday, April 15, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (15)

The church in the first century seems to have had a formalized system for caring for widows. This is clear from the instructions that Paul next gives Timothy:

Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. 

Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives. Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 

A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. 

But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan. 

If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed. (1 Timothy 5:3-16)

Paul and Timothy lived in a society that had no government welfare. As Jews and Christians, they did, however, have the Old Testament's admonition to care for the widow and the orphan. Indeed, this care had become part of the Church from the beginning (Acts 6). Since the church has not carried the practices of Paul's day through the centuries, there is much about this passage that we must guess at. So here are my guesses:

  • Paul uses the phrase "widows indeed" three times. Coupled with the phrases "put on the list" and "set aside their previous pledge" I get the idea that "widows indeed" is both a descriptive term and technical term. As a description, it refers to a woman who has lost her husband and has no other family to care for her. As a technical term, she receives sustenance from the church in exchange for her prayers and service.
  • Note the conditions prescribed for being "put on the list." Age at least 60, married once, and one who has shown a consistent pattern of service to her family and the church. 
  • In contrast to widows indeed are "younger widows" with no track record of service. These according to Paul would ultimately become idle gossips and do damage to the church community.
  • Throughout the entire passage, you get the sense that the Church is the last resort for this situation and that it should not very quickly intervene into the situation. Rather it is the extended family of the widow as well as the widow herself that must do what they can to not burden church resources.
  • A "woman who ... has dependent widows" is perhaps an unmarried daughter of a widow. It is worth thinking back to the story of Ruth, who gleaned in the fields of Boaz in order to provide herself and Naomi food to live on.

Paul understands the issues of welfare abuse and communicates policies that puts responsibilities on individuals and families to work out most situations. Even in the case of "widows indeed," you get the sense that he expects them to serve the needs of the church as best they can in exchange for the church's assistance. 

To one with a heart that easily flows with mercy, the teachings of Paul can seem rough. The key is to see the bigger picture and anticipate the fruit of a more generous program. You can argue that the "War on Poverty" from Lyndon Johnson has aggravated the plight of the poor in this country. What borderline parent is going to get a low paying job and risk loosing Medicaid and other assistance from the state. Is it not interesting that the disasters predicted from Welfare Reform in the 1990's did not materialize and there is a good bipartisan consensus that it has been a success?

It would seem that welfare works best when it is means tested, character tested, limited, and requires some service in exchange. The seeming harshness of such a system must be viewed against the eroding effects of a more generous system.

In a perfect world, Paul's instructions would exist in a context of justice rather than oppression. That is not always the case. In such cases, the church--and I will also say government--better serves its constituency by laboring to increase justice. 

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (14)

We're all mishpachah (mish-pah-khah'). Mishpachah is the Hebrew word for family and that is how the church leader is to relate to the people in the church:

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

The leader is to show proper intimacy with boundaries and respect from which the authority to lead emerges. If Paul were to have verbose in this verse, he would have repeated the phrase "Do not rebuke ... but rather appeal ..." with each group. By appealing to Scripture and common sense while providing counsel, the leader is able to work a change of heart rather than a conformance of will. By the phrase "in all purity," Paul intends the leader to understand that sexuality among opposite sexes is a natural by-product of frequent and close contact and is to maintain a safe distance. 

On the other hand, a certain family style interest in the affairs of the people in the local body is warranted. This has a limited range, which is one of the reasons why a church needs to promote small groups and train enough leaders to meet such needs in the body.

Thursday: Widows

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Monday, April 12, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (13)

What I am taking up now are these words from Paul to Timothy:

Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)

I cannot help but contrast "you will ensure your salvation," which seemingly implies that salvation is difficult to obtain, with these earlier words from the same letter, "... the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." (1 Timothy 4:10) The former words of Paul seemingly suggested universalism, while these suggest salvation by works. Neither conclusion was intended by Paul.

While some, at this point, might make appeals to Calvin or Arminius, my plan is to go to some related Scriptures and see what practical points Paul is making. I begin with Hebrews 10:

Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 

For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. 

But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

I see a parallel teaching in Paul's words to Timothy and these words from the author of Hebrews. I want you to note the last line here, "We are not of those who shrink back, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul." The author to the first century Messianic Jews and his readers knew that they were saved. But notice that their salvation implied a steadfastness in the face of trials. They had "faith to the preserving of the soul" and were, therefore, "not of those who shrink back."

Here is what Paul wrote to the Colossians:

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23)

Paul here states with confidence that his readers "were formally alienate and hostile" and that Jesus "has now reconciled you." Paul here and elsewhere also makes clear that it is Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection that have provided salvation for us. So why does Paul tack on "if you continue in the faith?"

The first fact to lay down from the evidence is that it is possible to know that we are saved. The author of Hebrews makes this clear. As does Paul in Romans:

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, (Romans 8:16)

It is this "assurance of salvation" that Paul has advised Timothy to obtain for himself and others when he writes, "you will ensure salvation."

The second fact to lay down from the evidence is that we need to emphasize the effect of faith in the life of the believer. A person is a Christian by faith:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. (Hebrews 11:1-2)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Faith is not merely belief or intellectual assent to understood truth. It is also a force for change in the life of the saint. It is the connection with God and His Holy Spirit that is expected to yield fruit. 

The third fact to lay down is that there will be those who have good starts and bad finishes. Paul wrote of Hymanaeus and Alexander as examples. The achieving of faith is both a work of God and a process. Modern Christianity likes to be either/or about this:

Would you like to go to heaven?


Say this prayer asking Jesus into your heart and you will get to go to heaven.

OK! I'm now heaven bound.

But is he heaven bound? Besides appealing to self-interest, the above illustration sees salvation as either there are not there. The New Testament is more transitional:

And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? 

“The sower sows the word. 

“These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. 

“In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. 

“And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 

“And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:13-20)

Some teachers try to assure people of their salvation by giving them a "prayer reference" as a point in time when they trusted the Messiah. The New Testament, however, asks the individual to look for assurance in the heart and by fruit in the life. There are times when a person only needs to pray and make a final commitment. There are other times when more seed needs to be sown, or hard ground broken up, or rocks removed, or weeds pulled. As tests of faith come and go, your assurance will grow. As your heart loses its hardness and love for God and desire for His Kingdom emerges, you assurance will grow. Ask, seek, and knock, and such will come to you.

In light of this, can a man or woman of faith have periods of grievous sin? Yes, they can! Faith does not bring perfection and seeds sown prior to our being saved often grow their own grievous fruit. I know many who have walked through such periods and have emerged stronger than before. During their time of sin, they grieved over their lack of power and, in a curious way, placed their hope in Jesus to deliver them from the power currently entrapping them. Sin was there, but so was faith. Eventually faith won and deliverance from the sin achieved.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>