Christianity 201

March 6, 2013

Digging Deeper Into I Timothy

One thing we’ve learned from the publication of The People’s Bible — an NIV edition that highlights the most frequently searched verses at — is that some scripture verses are more prevalent in the public consciousness than others. In keeping with the oft-mentioned theme here of scripture as a jewel, we find when we return to a passage something staring us in the face which may have totally missed before.

For example, consider I Timothy 3, the passage dealing with the requirements to be an overseer (as in the ESV and NIV, some use bishop, CEV uses church official, etc.) or deacons (today we might say elders or board members).  While you might not have this passage memorized, you could probably describe it: Self controlled, a solid marriage, not involved in any shady business dealings, a good manager of their family, well-liked by those outside the church, etc. But then we come to verse 9:

NIV I Tim 3:9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.

Matthew Henry says of this:

The practical love of truth is the most powerful preservative from error and delusion. If we keep a pure conscience (take heed of every thing that debauches conscience, and draws us away from God), this will preserve in our souls the mystery of faith.

Now notice, we would say that those ‘handling’ the truth of God’s word need to do so in purity; personally, I would want to see this passage as parallel to the purity laws in Leviticus required of the priests who were instrumental in administering the sacrifices.

But Matthew Henry reverses the cause and effect from what I would expected, and says that those who love truth will be kept from error and delusion by so doing, because the truth acts as preservative.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, however sees this passage as I expected, while the Eerdman’s Bible Commentary defines the ‘mystery’ referred to here as referring to truths not apparent to the common man, the one who is not privileged to be a partaker in the truth.

The other verse which I wanted to look at today is in chapter 5:

NIV I Tim: 524 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.

This is a chapter dealing with the treatment of widows and the responsibility of elders. The NIV section header adds “and slaves” though the word isn’t used in the chapter, but does occur at the start of  chapter six.

I like the CEV on this verse:

24 Some people get caught in their sins right away, even before the time of judgment. But other people’s sins don’t show up until later.

The Message Bible couples this with the verse that follows, offering a positive implication to follow the negative:

24-25 The sins of some people are blatant and march them right into court. The sins of others don’t show up until much later. The same with good deeds. Some you see right off, but none are hidden forever.

This couplet of verses seems like it would be more fitting in the book of Proverbs. It does stand out here which may be why we tend to skip over it, jumping to the next chapter and the treatment of slaves.  (And historically, we must see this referring to slavery; even the most modern translations avoid an attempt at being contemporary with the suggestion that this might refer to ’employees.’)

The Reformation Study Bible tells us that this section is included as a reminder of the type of screening process that is necessary when choosing elders, overseers, etc.

Matthew Henry reads it differently:

Ministers have need of a great deal of wisdom, to know how to accommodate themselves to the variety of offences and offenders that they have occasion to deal with. Some men’s sins are so plain and obvious, and not found by secret search, that there is no dispute concerning the bringing of them under the censures of the church; they go before to judgment, to lead them to censure.

Others they follow after; that is, their wickedness does not presently appear, nor till after a due search has been made concerning it. Or, as some understand it, some men’s sins continue after they are censured; they are not reformed by the censure, and in that case there must be no absolution. So, also, as to the evidences of repentance: The good works of some are manifest beforehand. And those that are otherwise, whose good works do not appear, their wickedness cannot be hid, and so it will be easy to discern who are to be absolved, and who are not. Observe,

  1. There are secret, and there are open sins; some men’s sins are open beforehand, and going unto judgment, and some they follow after.
  2.  Sinners must be differently dealt with by the church.
  3. The effects of church-censures are very different; some are thereby humbled and brought to repentance, so that their good works are manifest beforehand, while it is quite otherwise with others.
  4. The incorrigible cannot be hid; for God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of all hearts.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary sees this passage in the light of verse 22, which says,

22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

(Note: Just to be clear, there are always some who read ‘laying on of hands’ as referring to prayer for healing or deliverance; but it refers to setting someone apart for ministry leadership.)

The commentary suggests that the overarching principle should be, “By their fruits you will know them;” thus character is established over the long term. (Ref. Matthew 7:20 also verse 16.)

The International Bible Commentary reflects the implications when both verses 24 and 25 are considered together:

…Great discernment will be required where the true nature of the individual is not so obvious. Some will only after a time reveal disqualifying traits. Others, in danger of being turned down, may subsequently show that they possessed in good measure the qualities of a first-class elder. Timothy must be aware of making a rapid assessment, and arriving at a superficial judgment. First impressions are not always accurate. Where uncertainty exists, caution will clearly be the wisest choice. And yet Paul encourages his colleague; good deeds, though not always immediately discernible cannot be concealed forever.

Do you have a verse you’d like to see looked at closer?  No promises, but if so, feel free to use the contact page. (Try to avoid known difficult passages as there is never full resolution on those!) If you know a link where the passage has already been discussed include it with a note as to whether or not you found that explanation satisfactory.

September 21, 2011

Pastoral Relations

One of the ways we can demonstrate spiritual maturity is in the way we respond to the host of conflicts which come up in the life of a typical church.  It’s been awhile since we linked to Keith Brenton at Blog in My Own Eye, but I appreciated the practicality of this piece which he called, Pastoral Care.

HOWEVER, for those of you who want to dig a little deeper — maybe something a little more Christianity 301 —  you might enjoy his balanced approach to the Calvinist versus Arminian positions on the depravity of man, which he deals with in two parts, here and here

I begin with my standard disclaimer: I am not a minister or pastor, nor do I play one on TV.

I work in a church office, but I am not employed specifically to share the gospel of Jesus Christ or tend the flock of the Great Shepherd. But I work with a good number of priceless ministers who are, and priceless colleagues who support them, and I just want to offer a few words of advice on the care and feeding of church leaders, whatever their titles: ministers, preachers, pastors, elders, shepherds, deacons, interns, and staffers.

  1. If your pastor says something you disagree with, keep it to yourself. Seriously. If it’s a difference of opinion over something which scripture doesn’t dare to touch (and scripture dares to touch a lot), then the guidance I’d suggest is ” … So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” (Romans 14:22a) And consider the possibility that you heard something you needed to hear; needed to be convicted by … in order for you to turn around and draw closer to God again.
  2. If your pastor says or does something that conflicts with scripture, go to your pastor. Not to someone over them or under them or beside(s) them. Go to them. Follow the steps: “… just the two of you … if they will not listen, take one or two others along … if they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church.” (Matthew 18:15-17) No shortcuts. No keeping it to yourself. No withholding of love or fellowship or willingness to discuss, listen, correct, reprove. You can do this kindly, lovingly, privately — in a way that does not affect your pastor’s influence — just the way Aquila and Priscilla did for Apollos, in their own home (Acts 18:26).
  3. If your pastor has something against you, go to your pastor. Now. Today. Don’t wait until Sunday when you bring a gift to God. Don’t expect Him to accept it when He knows you have something unresolved with your minister. “First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:24b)
  4. If you have something encouraging to say to your pastor, say it. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5) Do it often. Daily if you think they need it. And, again, don’t put it off until tomorrow. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3)Your church leaders and staffers find out thing about people … things they don’t want to know about. They don’t want to know because they love the flock and want to think the best of them. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable even sharing this information with a spouse who also loves and cares for the flock. The wise ones share it with God and turn it over to Him and do what they can to comfort, admonish, and encourage the strays and the injured and the sick and the dying among the flock. They are not the hired hands Jesus talks about in John 10:12. They don’t run away; they stay with the flock at risk to their own safety and security.Their hearts break on an irregular but frequent basis — sometimes several times a week. Don’t overlook the ones who oversee you. Don’t fail to serve the ones who serve you. Don’t miss administering care to the ones who minister to others.
  5. If you have a pastor who imitates the Great Shepherd (who laid down His life for the sheep), thank God for your pastor. You have a treasure in your church family worth more than all you could ever afford to pay. So give what is due. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17)

This is by no means an exhaustive list of admonitions from scripture — but it’s a great start. They’ll nourish any believer who does them or receives through them, church leader or not.

What we headstrong and occasionally brainless sheep fail to see, too often, is how famished and weary our pastors can become doing what they love for those they love to the glory of the One they love.

Feed the ones who feed the flock.

They’re trying to help Him look after your soul.

~Keith Brenton

October 3, 2010

Leading Others to Growth

When I first read this post on Kevin Rogers blog, The Orphan Age, my first reaction was that it would fit well on any number of general leadership blogs.   But the more I thought about how it applies to the discipleship process and mentoring (or what we sometimes call Paul-Timothy relationships), or church life in general, I realized there’s something here that everyone — not just people in leadership — needs to see.

By Kevin Rogers

Some lead according to their stature and height.  They build a ceiling on vision just above their own head.  As long as other leaders and followers are shorter in stature, they can live comfortably in the containment of the leader’s vision.

The Pharisees led people with a clearly defined ceiling on God’s House.  If they stretched up on tippy-toe, they could touch the ceiling.  They felt taller than others and thought they were authorized to define maximum growth potential.

In a small aquarium fish will only grow to a size suitable to their environment.  The same fish in the wild can grow several times larger.

Indoor plants will only grow to the maximum potential of the soil pot they are planted in.  They can grow several times larger when they have more resources.

On the birch tree in my front yard, there were two posts in the ground alongside the slender trunk of the young tree.  The tree had the advantage of stabilizers while it grew to maturity.

Your role in leading leaders is to come alongside and join to them to provide stability so they can grow straight and tall.

It’s not your job to put a ceiling on how big they can grow, unless you want to keep them small like goldfish in a bowl.

Advice from Ross Perot about how to treat your people: “Never ask anyone to do what you haven’t done before and wouldn’t do again. That’s a pretty fundamental rule in leadership…treat them like you treat yourself. Things you don’t like, they don’t like. You don’t like to be jerked around, they don’t either. You don’t like to be talked down to, and they don’t either. You would rather work with somebody than for somebody. So would they. You hate people who pound on your head after you gave everything you had and failed…It’s that simple.”

~ Bits & Pieces, August, 20, 1992, p. 3.

July 11, 2010

Discovering and Using The Spiritually Gifted

Today’s post is something I feel strongly about and is being jointly published here and at Thinking Out Loud.

I think we’ve all been to enough seminars on “discovering your spiritual gifts” to last a lifetime. But what happens to the “spiritually gifted” after they’re done doing the survey, taking the course or completing the booklet?

We’ve all heard the verse, “…Your old men will prophesy; your young men dream dreams.” This implies that God will — both in general and in the last days in particular — be raising up people of vision.

But what opportunity do the visionaries have to implement those forthtellings or visions? In the average church, both the power base and the vision base is concentrated in the hands of a very few church staff members and church board members.

Our churches are actually “prophecy protected” to the point where, even in Pentecostal circles, it’s getting harder and harder for a person to say, “This is where I think the Lord would have us go;” unless they are the pastor or chair the deacons board.

I believe God still births vision in the hearts of old men and young men (and women) but that there are few places in the average church for their prophetic vision to be heard. This only leads to a great deal of discouragement and frustrated.

I’ve known what that’s like. Fortunately, I’ve also known what it’s like to have the freedom to develop new ideas. I’ve worked in three places where I was told to create new initiatives. In the one, I came up with new ideas every two to three weeks. In the other, I came up with a new program every month. In the final one, I came up with new concepts on a daily basis. But I was paid staff. The church, historically, does not function solely with an elitist hierarchy. It’s a community. It’s organic. It’s grassroots.

So have your seminars. Do your spiritual gifts series. But balance it out with means for people to take those visions and turn them into realities. If every time a member of the laity walks into your office with a concept, and your response is a default “no” answer, your spiritual gifts series was a complete waste of time.

Don’t tell people to discover their spiritual gifts until you, as leaders, learn how to discover your spiritually gifted.