Monday, November 28, 2011

"Command These Things"
(An exegesis of 1 Timothy 5)

Gotta love 1 Timothy 5.

Paul spends the bulk of the chapter addressing problems that most churches wish they had. 

Sure, the church in Ephesus did have issues. We know from the previous chapters that they had trouble keeping their doctrine straight and a lot of folks were leaving the faith because of it. But then, in chapter five, despite Paul's negative tone, we learn that the Ephesian Christians were actually doing quite a bit right, too! Take a minute to consider what must have been going on in order for Paul to write the things he did in this chapter. Here's what I read, between the lines:
  • The church was giving away too much money to widows, so much that the pastors weren't even taking a salary (1 Tim 5.3,18)
  • The church was embracing and providing for the needy--whether or not those people were living righteously (1 Tim 5.11-12)
  • They were respecting all Christians and weren't idolizing big-name pastors (1 Tim 5.17)
  • They were dealing quietly with sin, loving and accepting sinners (1 Tim 5.20)
  • They were hasty to lay hands on each other and appoint leaders (1 Tim 5.22)
So naturally, Paul had to set them straight! 
All I can say is: those are some good problems to have. Isn't Paul's rebuke a little odd? Anyone who reads this from the viewpoint of American Christianity will be left scratching their head. It's not often that we need to be reprimanded for going too far. Such a notion is foreign to us. In fact, it's all I can do to pray that we might break out of our comfortable, reserved bubble and minister so recklessly that this chapter might apply to us. But as it is, most of Paul's exhortation simply doesn't make sense to our churches today.

Of course, God's Word is living and active, and there are still truths to be gleaned here. Let's look at some of them.

Ten Truths for the Church in Ephesus and the Church in America:
  1. We are to treat all people as we would treat family members (1 Tim 5.1,2).
    • Men need to be encouraged, not rebuked; there is a difference.
    • The only way to interact with females is in purity.
  2. God wants the Church to be the primary access point for widows to receive care (1 Tim 5.3).
    • This says something profound about God's love for the broken.
    • The needy should always be able to turn to one of two places:
      • a) Their family
      • b) The Church
  3. It's our responsibility before God to care for our elderly parents  (1 Tim 5.4,16).
    • Yes, this matters to God! He is much more concerned with the family unit and the relationships it contains than our culture teaches us to be.
    • Caring for our family members is part of how we show our love for God.
    • To not do this is to deny the gospel. Paul even considers this to be worse than unbelief! (1 Tim 5.8)
  4. Even when we have nothing, we can still be godly (1 Tim 5.5,10).
    • The "true widows" that Paul instructs the Church to care for are over 60 and have no family, yet are known for their good works.
    • Their hope is on God; they pray continuously
    • They open their homes to strangers (exenodochesen, literally "accepted strangers")
    • They wash the feet of the saints; take the lowliest postion of service--the ministry no one wants to do
    • They care for the afflicted, paying no mind to their own affliction
    • They devote themselves to fulltime ministry
    • Does this change your idea of retirement? It should! In your old age, will you be a widow or a "true widow?"
    • Young people are characterized by poor follow-through which can ultimately destroy their faith (1 Tim 5.15).
      • They are drawn away from Christ by worldly romanticism (1 Tim 5.11).
      • They make pledges (protos pistis) to God but they do not keep them (1 Tim 5.12).
      • They're prone to idleness and gossip (1 Tim 5.13).
      • Paul says the antidote for this plague is raising a family (1 Tim 5.14).
    • We must honor and respect our pastors as they labor to preach God's Word (1 Tim 5.17).
    • We need to pay our pastors (1 Tim 5.18).
    • Sin is serious.
      • An allegation of sin against a leader is a big deal; don't do it unless you have witnesses (1 Tim 5.19).
      • Those who persist in sin ("backsliden" Christians?) are to be publicly rebuked, both for their own good and the good of the congregation (1 Tim 5.20).
      • We are to view sin objectively; double-standards are forbidden (1 Tim 5.21).
      • We should not hire pastors just because we like them. The whole Body is responsible for preserving sound doctrine. After all, if our leaders fall into sin, we won't be far behind (1 Tim 5.22)!
    • God made all food; even wine has its place (1 Tim 5.23).
    • Good works identify the godly just as evil works define the worldly (1 Tim 5.24,25).

    Some things never change. God's desire ever since the inauguration of Christ's reign has always been to set His Church apart as a city on a hill. We are marked by our humble service to the needy, the way we open our homes to the poor, and our love for the unloved. The church at Ephesus took this mission so seriously that they were actually going overboard and Paul had to rein them back in. The contrast between them and us is unsettling. I wish we needed a "list" (katalegō) like the Ephesian church did (1 Tim 5.9) which categorized people according to who would receive temporary care and who would receive long-term financial support, since otherwise we would help too many people!

    When was the last time we overextended ourselves like that, oh American Church?

    My prayer is that we would take these truths to heart. That we would live by the ones we understand, and meditate on the ones we don't. That the difference between the Ephesian Church and the American Church would stir us to action. And that in all our deeds, we would give glory to the One who is worthy of our lives laid down as living sacrifices.
    Soli Deo Gloria

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