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.

August 21, 2012

Qualities Desired for Local Church Leadership

This is part two of a two-part article begun yesterday

There are some attributes that should not be found by people in leadership.

First, they should not be confused. Sounds a bit strange, but there are a lot of people who aren’t ‘set’ or ‘fixed’ or ‘firm’ on key doctrines or matters of responsible Christian ethics. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy:

“Some have wandered away from [a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith] and turned to meaningless talk.  They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” (I Tim 1: 6,7)

Second they should not be immature. In the epistle to the Hebrews we read,

“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food.” (Heb. 5:12)

The spiritual leader must desire the deeper things of God. His/her diet should be two-pound prime rib, not two-percent milk.

Third, they should not be inconsistent. Their walk must match their talk. God hates hypocrisy. To echo a verse in Revelation, He would rather we be one thing or the other, but not dabbling in spiritual things and then living an unholy life in the world. James writes,

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (Jam. 3:1)

So what kind of person is God looking for?

Each one of the above negatives implies a positive:

  • authority
  • maturity
  • consistency

The leader must also have a clear understanding of the role to which he is called.

  • There is the traditional role of Pastor or Missionary
  • There are parachurch organizations which offer the option of service that is linked to particular aspect of ministry (social service, camp ministry, pregnancy centers, counseling, inter-church youth events, Christian radio, Bible translation, medical ministries, Christian school, etc.)
  • There is the bi-vocational route which allows you to serve God while earning income as a secretary, doctor, pilot, printer, shipper, salesperson, etc.
  • Others have a role that is even less defined in a career sense, but participate actively in organizations such as The Gideons, Youth for Christ, Compassion, etc.; or are a Sunday School teacher; or give of themselves to serve on a church board or a committee of a Christian agency or mission organization.

There is also the need for certain, called Christ-followers to take their place in the community as civic or political leaders. Others are called to be creative, cultural innovators in the arts and media. There is a place for Christian engineers, administrators, professors, lawyers, designers and entrepreneurs. The qualities which bring a Christ-centeredness to this work will always be spiritual attributes, not things measured by academic laurels.

But now, we’ve saved the best for the last…

There are two things which God can use more than anything; and they both begin in the heart. With these two qualities, the weakest among us can become effective, fruitful, dynamic leaders.

The first is a compassionate heart.  The desire to lead must be cultivated in an atmosphere filled with a love both for God’s people and the unsaved. The spirit of caring should be instantly recognizable. Although the command to love is given to all disciples, the person in leadership needs a double dose.

The second is a servant’s heart. In the kingdom of God, greatness is achieved only through humility. One gets to be the president of the company only by doing the janitor’s work. Too many people are clamoring to be religious superstars without realizing that in God’s scheme of things, the last often become first, and the foolish often confound the wise.  The spiritual leaders God is most seeking — the ones he really needs — won’t be bestselling authors, recording artists or Christian television celebrities. Discard those aspirations; that’s not spiritual reality.

And if you want to go deeper on leadership, Chapter three of the first letter to Timothy is also full of a number of qualifications for leadership applicable to the New Testament church. All the requirements listed would make good criteria for selecting spiritual leadership.

Going back to yesterday’s post, I certainly don’t want to leave the conclusion that Bible colleges and seminaries are not helpful. For many, it’s a good place to begin, for the spiritual attributes one needs will only be found through intense study of God’s Word.

However, it just might be that there is someone reading this who has never studied theology, philosophy, Biblical Greek or Hebrew; yet you know as you sit comfortably in church week after week that God has a major task for you if you will only submit your availability to Him. You know what it is to experience a restlessness that doesn’t want to settle until you answer that strong feeling that you need to be doing something more. I hope you are encouraged to step up; starting in your local assembly or spiritual community.

There may also be someone reading this who is already in a recognizable position in Christian leadership, but you know deep down that lately you’re merely “playing Church.” It’s become routine; you play your part flawlessly by rote. It’s not too late. Ask God to give you a heart full of compassion that can be poured out in humble service: A compassionate, servant’s heart. That determination will direct you to the actual shape a renewed ministry role will take in your life.

Finally, a word to the young (and young in the faith). Don’t wait. Paul’s first letter to Timothy offers good advice to tomorrow’s Christian leaders:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.  (I Tim: 5:4)


June 19, 2011

Adding to “Male nor female, slave nor free…”

You know the verse.  In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female…  The ground is level at the foot of the cross.  But when it comes to serving God, sometimes I wish the verse also said, “…neither young nor old, academic nor uneducated, rich nor poor.”  The call to active service in ministry is open to all who have surrendered their lives to Christ, regardless of their station in life. Rick Apperson captured the heart of that this weekend at his blog, Just a Thought, with this post he titled, Age is Relative

You are never too young, too old, too uneducated, too poor, or too busy to serve the Lord!

I wasn’t much older than 20 when I was asked to be a youth pastor. I was the missions director of my church at 15. When I was 21, I traveled with an itinerant evangelist in his late 70’s. I could not keep up with his energy!

It is a sad, but true fact, that over the years, the church has relegated the young and the aged to the pews and youth groups. I have heard numerous stories of people who were told that they needed to be older in order to serve God. I have also seen the elderly members of a church ignored when it came to ministry opportunities.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10)

 How can we do good? By serving others, by loving others and by sharing the truth of Jesus Christ. For that job description, age doesn’t matter.
You may be familiar with this Scripture:
“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;” (Acts 2:17)

I like the following passage found in Joshua 14. Caleb is telling part of his story to Joshua and the Israelites and he says this:

And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the LORD spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said.” (Joshua 14:10-12)

He was 85 years old and still ready to go for God! However, even the youth can be mightily used by God! Remember, Samuel the prophet was called by God as a youth.

The Bible talks of two kings: Joash who assumed the throne at the age of seven; and Josiah who became king at the age of eight. The Bible says that both of them obeyed the Lord. (2 Kings 12:2, 2 Kings 22:2)

Nor do you need to be educated to serve God. True Biblical education happens when you leave the Bible College, the missionary training school, etc… . It happens just like it did for the apostles…when you rub up against the world. Remember that Peter and a few of the others were just plain old, uneducated fishermen. Yet God used these uneducated men to change the world!

I am not knocking education; however, any education or lack thereof, is not an excuse to sit idly by on the sidelines and hope others will share the love of Jesus Christ. Any one at any age can and should do that. The Great Commission is for all of us!