1 Timothy 5:1-6:2.
Minister with Love and Respect
American Journal of Biblical Theology Copyright © 2004, J.W. Carter
When Paul left Timothy with the church in Ephesus, he left him with a daunting task. The Christian church in Ephesus had grown and evolved since Paul's absence. Paul had spent three years with the church in Ephesus, a tenure that is far longer than any other known with any other church that was founded on his missionary journeys. Because of this, Paul would have had a close relationship with the church, and he would have a personal knowledge of many of its leaders. It is understandable that Paul would be sufficiently distressed by the condition that he found the church in that he felt it necessary to leave Timothy behind as he went on to Macedonia.
The condition of the church is understandable. From previous chapters we find Paul's description of the church as one that is fragmented by leaders who, either maliciously or through sincere but ignorant error, impressed their own various agendas upon their congregation, taking it further and further away from its original roots in the simple and true gospel. When we think of the church in Ephesus, our first impression is probably that of a large body of believers who meet in a large facility, much like our churches today. However, this is not the characteristic of the early church. The first-century church was an association of house churches, each led by a leader or small cluster of leaders, an usually the owner of the home in which they met. Divided in this way, it is understandable that each leader would be able to lead his group in his own direction. With very few people having any previous Christian background, it is no surprise that the world-views of the leadership played such a large part in making up the doctrines of the church.
Paul's letter to Timothy was written to encourage Timothy and to give him some specific instruction on how to handle this situation. Following his introduction, he wasted little time getting to the point of describing the problem in the church, a problem that he fully attributes to its leadership. In chapter three, Paul describes the characteristics of a mature Christian as he instructs Timothy on how to recognize one who has the capacity to be a servant of the congregation. Though we often look at these verses as a set of guidelines for determining the qualifications of a Christian leader, we should recognize that these are simply the characteristics of a mature Christian and describe the characteristics of every mature believer. Consequently, as one observes those characteristics, one should endeavor to look into one's own life to see where changes are appropriate.
In chapter 4, Paul then brings a strong indictment against the leadership of the church. He exposes their pride and hypocrisy, as well as some specifics of the humanistic doctrines that they have brought into the church. Following this harsh statement, one might be led to want to "throw the bums out," and in a secular organization, this would probably be done. However, the Church operates under a different constitution than social orders of this world. The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit. All that is done in the church is to be fully led by God's Spirit, and so any efforts at correction are going to be fully immersed in God's agape love. When our churches engage in conflict, such love is often rejected, and our churches respond like worldly social organizations. However, the appropriate attitude for the Christian church is not, "throw the bums out," but rather, "bring God's beloved children home." This concept is alien to the secular humanist and rationalist world that rejects God's agape love and its power. Consequently, the world's way of dealing with issues of change in a social order do not apply to the Christian congregation. Compared with the way the world deals with correction, God's way is radical. So, following this harsh indictment of the state of the leadership in the church, Paul lays down a pattern of response that, rather than being a continued rebuke, is a set of very positive solutions to the conflict.
Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren;
Paul starts at the very foundations of the conflict in the church: its internal relationships. When a church is divided, people reject one another. They tend to take sides in arguments and give respect only to those who share their own opinions. When Christians do this, only Satan wins. Paul's instructions start with a plan for the restoration of the fellowship to an appropriate state of love and respect for one another, and specifically targets some of the most injured relationships.
First, Paul brings to mind the older members of the congregation. The Greek word used for "elder" here is not the same word that is used for the office of "bishop" that is also translated "elder" in other places in this letter. This word refers to one who is older. Was there a generation gap in the early church? Is there a generation gap now? Recall that one of the errors in the Ephesian church was its insistence on tradition. Tradition, by its very nature, stifles the spontaneity of the expression of the Holy Spirit, and can fully quench His power. The bent for tradition is usually one held by the older members of a congregation who tend to resist change and would rather quench new initiatives with a "we've never done it that way before," or "we've always done it that way, it always worked, and we will always do it that way" mentality. I have been guilty of referring to this older group of individuals as the "Old Guard," who seem to think that their single task is to stifle growth or change.
How are we to relate to the "Old Guard?" The rational humanistic approach is to draw a line in the sand and then step over it with weapons drawn. Paul's approach is quite different. The word for "rebuke" used here is not referring to a gentle word, but rather a harsh attack. Paul clearly instructs Timothy to refrain from any attack on the older members of the church. Instead, Timothy is to think of them in the same way he thinks of a beloved father (or mother.) Where it might be easy to rush into battle against an aged and intractable opponent, it is quite another matter when that individual is a loved parent who is deserving of respect, love, and hugs, rather than rebuke.
Likewise, the younger men are also to be treated with uncompromised love. Possibly, aligned against the elders, the younger men may be caught up in the conflict. Also the younger men might harbor more passion for their ideas, and be ready express that passion. One's first consideration might be to take on the passionate youth and attempt to beat them down with rational arguments, exposing there error, etc. However, again, when uncompromised love is engaged, such a response is fully inappropriate. Timothy is to approach the younger men as beloved brothers. This is an appropriate expression, since Timothy is closer in age to these than he is to the elders.
The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.
It is evident from the context that the elder women were contributing as much to the errors in the church as the men were. When Paul prescribes correction for the elder women he implies that they are engaged in slanderous gossip and manipulative behavior. Some of the widows are taking advantage of the generosity of the church, and others are living worldly lifestyles that are devoid of any faithfulness to God. Just as Jesus' respect of women was equal with that of men, the church strives to do the same. However, the male-dominated culture brought a freedom to women within the congregation that was new, and when inappropriately expressed, was difficult to manage. Consequently, Paul had to express some specific teachings regarding dealing with this newfound freedom, describing some of the responsibility that comes with that freedom. When understood from this context, we can better understand Paul's teachings. Some argue that Paul was a sexist. Such arguments totally ignore the context of the situation. Paul's guidelines concerning women shape some boundaries of responsibility around this new-found freedom in the church, a freedom that was heretofore unavailable to women.
First, Paul describes how Timothy is to relate to the elder women. It is very clear that there is no sexism in Paul's statement. Timothy's regard for the elder women is to be identical to that of the elder men: he is to think of them as one thinks of his own beloved mother. Actually, we know a little bit about Timothy's own mother, how she was faithful in raising Timothy in a Christian home. Timothy would relate to his own mother in a manner that is different than a parallel relationship in a non-Christian home. When God's love empowers the phileo love of family, the family bonds are fulfilled. It is this type of relationship that Timothy is to have with the elder women of the church.
as Timothy relates to the younger women, the relationship is the same as with
the younger men: they are to be treated as beloved sisters. However,
Paul adds a qualification to this relationship that is not quite as necessary
with the others: purity. The relationships that a man has with
female members of the church are characterized as those between a man and his
beloved mother, sisters, and daughters. Unfortunately, it is an
all-too-often occurance that Christian men (and women) exchange the agape-phileo
love for one another with eros. There is no such thing as an innocent
flirtation. Purity has no compromise. The secular world would argue
that there is no harm in a little flirtation, but purity demands
integrity. There is no need to argue that a flirtation can lead to
deeper and more damaging behavior: the flirtation itself has already
damaged the purity and integrity of the form of the relationship that God has
ordained between members of the body.
1 Timothy 5:3.
Honour widows that are widows indeed.
As Paul speaks to the relationships with the church women, he turns specifically to the program that exists in the church that serves its widows. Most of the people who read these words are citizens of countries that are either democratic or socialist republics. In these societies, citizens pay huge taxes (in America, about 40% of income is used by most citizens to pay taxes of one form or another.) Such governments have social programs in place to assist the needy, not to guarantee wealth, but to avoid destitution and poverty. Such programs did not exist in the first century culture, and the plight of widows was dire and devastating. Deprived of land and income, most widows were dependent entirely on handouts. Those who were able were often driven to prostitution.
Because of this, the support of widows in the church was well-established by the time that Paul writes this letter. However, like other areas of the church, this ministry had also become perverted and abused. The extent of the problem was significant enough that Paul invests the bulk of the message of church relationships to the appropriate care of widows.
First, Paul expresses that appropriate and necessary honor, or tribute, is be given to those widows who are truly in need. Paul first makes it clear the program of supporting widows should not be terminated, but he does also clearly qualify who is a widow. The context here cries out. Paul would make no such statement if abuses in the program did not exist. The nature of that abuse is outlined in the next verses. Paul states that it is appropriate that those widows who are truly in need should be supported. The word for "honor" goes beyond mere exalting of respect. The word, "tribute" is also a reasonable rendering of the concept, and we may recall that Caesar required "tribute" of his subjects in the form of cash payments. The honor showed here goes beyond respect to include sufficient financial support to maintain the health and life of the widow.
We will find that Paul's "widow, indeed" is qualified by one simple trait: the church is her only possible means of support. She is one who has no family, and who is too aged to appropriate support from another source. Paul makes no statement that all other widows are to be ignored, for if we treat widows with love, such ignorance is obviously inappropriate. Paul is referring only to those who are receiving "benevolence" payments from the church.
But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.
What is the widow's first source of support? It was common practice for their secular, pagan, culture to fully reject widows, subjecting them to certain misery and death by starvation. This was actually an accepted practice, a form of euthanasia, that was rationalized in their pagan philosophies. The Christian approach to support was dramatically radical, a demonstration of respect for women that was unheard of in their culture.
Where it was the practice of the family to "put out" the widow, the practice of the church would be quite different. If the relationships in the home are characterized by the product of agape and phileo love, such a rejection of the widow is unconscionable. It is first the responsibility of the family to care for the widow, fully accepting her as a dependant in the family, fully supporting her needs, and making her an integral part of their relationships. If the church has a program of benevolence, it would be very easy for the family to simply turn the support of their widows over to the church. Paul firmly decries this practice. It is not the purpose of the church to absolve its members of their responsibility to one another, and the abuse of the benevolence of the church serves to do just that.
Paul further supports his position by stating that the family's support of its widows is the proper and acceptable pattern that God ordains. Though the basis for this position is rather obvious when we consider the response of a family that is characterized by agape love, Paul leaves no room for question.
So, how does the church respond when the family refuses to support its widows? Is the church to turn out the widow in expectation that the family will follow? Of course, such a policy is not based on love, and Paul makes no such statement. Paul states that the widow should "first" seek support from her family, and Paul challenges the family to follow through on their responsibility. However, we can see from Paul's argument that, should the family continue to reject the widow, the church must then serve as her family, and give her tangible support.
As members of a Christian fellowship, it is appropriate that we identify for ourselves who those widows are in our congregations and assess their state. Often providing the simplest of ministries to widows can make a profound improvement in their lives. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call to dispel loneliness. When one looks at the needs of of the widows in their fellowship it is a trivial matter to assess how those needs can be met. A church that is proactive in this effort will be strengthened in its character, its ministry, and the love that is shared with one another as the needs of those in the church are met. Observers will see a church that truly loves one another. For such churches, growth is not a program, it is a characteristic.
Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. 6But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. 7And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless.
Just as Paul gave Timothy some guidelines for recognizing a mature Christian in chapter three, Paul gives Timothy some guidelines for recognizing a widow who is an appropriate candidate for benevolent support. In doing so, Paul give some instructions to the widow, since as a supported member, she is to be identified with the church, and should be a testimony to none other than its love and grace. In this manner, Paul does not advocate the benevolent support of those who reject the church and its doctrines. He describes the widow who is to receive benevolence as one who is "desolate," or truly in need. Furthermore, it is evident that she trusts God, and continues in her prayers to Him. That is, she is looking to God to meet her needs, and it is then through the church that God can do so. If she is not looking to God for those needs, but rather is simply looking for a handout from the church, she is failing to recognize the true source of her strength, and rejecting the God who brings it to her. Such a woman who is rejecting God's faithfulness to support her is already dead.
Does this mean that the church is prevented from the support of a widow who does not know Christ? Of course not. Again, Paul is referring to a specific church program that is subject to abuse. The church can have a tremendous evangelical ministry to women who have lost their husbands and do know know the God who is waiting to tend to their needs. However, as with any evangelistic ministry, the context of that ministry must always be maintained: one that is based on agape love, and one that points to the saving power of Jesus Christ.
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
Do Christians ever use the tradition of their faith to reject their true calling? Can we become so caught up in the details and liturgy of religion that we fail to see the real needs around us? Church tradition can be used to smother the spontaneity that is characteristic of responsive ministry. When the church fails to care for the needy, particularly its own, it steps across a line that no church should ever cross. I have seen example after example of churches who make financial decisions to pay for buildings, and "stuff" for their own pleasure while leaving little or nothing for actual ministry. Pastors are usually dramatically underpaid, a common problem that he addresses later in this chapter. Missions becomes a payment made outside of the body rather than an effort that takes place within it. And, the needy within the church are ignored by a budget that has no room for them.
When either the Christian family, or the Christian church family rejects the support of its needy, it is worse then the pagan. Though the pagan may do the same, the Christian knows the nature of God's love, and His love must be rejected in order reject the needs of those that God has entrusted to the church. That makes the sin of the church and its members greater than that of the pagans. Christians have a calling that is far higher than that of the pagan, a call to obedience to God that is not expected of those who do not know Him.
When the church invests its resources in the building a palace and rejects its responsibility to its own, it has fallen to a state lower than the social organizations of this lost world. That is a solemn truth to consider.
Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, 10Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saintsí feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.
Paul returns to describing the characteristics of a widow who should be enrolled in their program of benevolence. He first identifies that such a widow is elderly. Though it may be difficult, younger widows can be helped in other ways. Those under sixty may still be able to be productive members of society, and suitable employment may be found. Paul is often adamant that those who can work, should work, and should not be a burden on those who do. When one who is undeserving exacts benevolence from the church, he/she is taking it from the mouths of those who do. The church must be vigilant to qualify the recipients of benevolence to assure that those who truly need it will have it.
The widow is also qualified as a member of the fellowship. Membership in the Christian family is not done by enrollment, but by a true testimony of faith in God through Jesus Christ. Many join churches that refer to themselves as Christian, yet make no such qualification. It is no surprise that the problems we see in the early church are replicated today. These qualifications simply describe a woman who loves the Lord. This is not a list of required service, but an example of the spontaneous service that one Christian conducts for another. She is known to be a person of good works, one who raised her children in a Christian home, and one who showed love for others, ministering to them.
But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; 12Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. 13And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.
Paul has already stated his opinion that younger women should not be included in the enrollment of the benevolence for widows. His continued arguments relate to those he has already expressed. His first statement refers, not so much to remarriage, as it does to the rejection of the faith by the younger women. Paul's imperatives are invariably pointed at specific situations in the Ephesian church that needed addressing. Consequently, it is evident that there were younger women who demanded support who did not hold to the testimony they first confessed. As productive members of society, instead of working to support themselves and their children, their unemployment was maintained by the church, leaving them idle. How does a young woman or young mother spend her time in a culture where the norm is to spend it working hard? She has little or no fellowship with those who are busy working, for they will not have all day to visit with them. They end up going from house to house, engaging themselves in multiple homes and having little else to do than talk, fall into a pattern of sharing inappropriate details of the lives of those she encounters. Paul is simply contrasting the characteristics of a widow who is truly dependant upon the church with one who is using the church as a means of support. This is not an indictment against women. Paul is not accusing women of being "tattlers and busybodies." He is, however, pointing to those specific individuals who are abusing the benevolence system, defrauding the name of giving, and taking resources from those who truly deserve them.
Any careful study of the context of scripture invariably shows that Paul had great respect for women, and in no case did he stereotypically deny their value. In each case where Paul sets guidelines that are specific to the female gender, he is responding to a specific situation that deals not only with the actions of a specific group of women, but also shows a deeper concern of the doctrinal error that is being demonstrated by the setting he refers to. Here, Paul is describing more than the characteristics of these women, he is referring to the appropriate distribution of benevolence.
I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. 15For some are already turned aside after Satan.
Paul's recommendation to Timothy concerning the future of young widows may certainly challenge some of the ascetic traditions in the church. The needs of young widows is great, and is dramatically different than those who are elderly. These young women are still in the prime, productive, years of their lives, years that should be spent in a manner appropriate to their youth. They cannot simply resign themselves to the life of the elderly. Many may still be of child-bearing age, and have a real need for the life that is associated with raising children. The needs for emotional and sexual identification are real. For these, Paul recommends remarriage. Note that he is not making up a legalistic rule that characterizes the nature of that remarriage. He does not qualify the state of the man she marries, as to whether he is a widower, never married, divorced, or otherwise. The church will gladly add qualifications that Paul does not.
It is very possible, if not even evident by Paul's explicitness, that the church was demanding that widows cannot remarry. If this were so, they were holding to an ascetic viewpoint of marriage, demanding that the widow live the remainder of her days as a widow, without regard to her needs or that of her family. Ascetic behavior is not limited to the first-century church. Originating in Greek gnostic philosophy, ascetism, the equation of self-denial with holiness, is still prevalent in the church. It is amazing how many times, however, that the practice of ascetism is predicated by the demand, "you will not ...", where one Christian makes demands on the behavior of another, and by so doing enforces levels of holiness. When people are subject to ascetic theology, they will often rebel against it, and thinking that this is what true church is, they will reject the church, and return to the world. Paul notes that many have already done this, have left the church, and returned to the world.
1 Timothy 5:16.
16If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.
The Greek text uses a single word for "man or woman that believeth," the word piste (pih - STEE). This is the feminine form of the word, "believer." Paul has already addressed this issue to the men, and now opens the issue to women. Simply stated, if there are any women in the church who have a responsibility to minister to the needs of a widow, they should fulfill that responsibility and relieve the church of the need to take care of her. The concept goes beyond the relationships that center around family, as this issue was previously addressed. A widow who is in need of support from the church is one who is not afforded support from another source. That other source is simply any believer or family of believers that God has placed in a position to individually provide support.
17Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.
The issue of the support of those who serve the church in lieu of secular employment is related to the support of widows. It is the responsibility of the church to provide for them. We see the example of this in God's requirement of the ancient Israelites to support the Levites with the tithe. Pastors, ministers, and those who accept the vocation of ministry in lieu of secular ministry are just as dependant upon the benevolence of the congregation as are the widows. They have dedicated themselves to serving the church fellowship, and it is the responsibility of the church fellowship to care for their needs. Paul is so adamant on this issue that he provides two scripture quotes to defend his point. The first taken from Deut 25:4, and the second from Luke 10:7. This may be the first illustration of the recorded words of Jesus Christ as scripture.
How much honor is due the career minister? Paul refers to it as "double honor," or "double tribute." The minister who has dedicated his life to the ministry of the congregation should not be worrying about how to care for himself or his family. However, it is very common for pastors to be grossly underpaid. One of the greatest stressors in the life of pastors is directly related to the difficulty they have maintaining a level of living among a congregations that expects them to do so on an income far less than they themselves demand. Paul makes it very clear that the underpayment of pastors is inappropriate. This is one area where I have a personal interest, as I have witnessed the abuse of many pastors by their congregations. The pastor seeks to serve, and that very nature of nurture will not empower him to make demands on his pay. He will typically accept what the church gives and try to live with it. When a church underpays the pastor, they are taking advantage of that nurturing spirit and defrauding him of what is truly his due. If your church is not paying your pastor what he deserves Paul's imperative should cause you to take a good look at your priorities. Are you spending money on church facilities instead of church ministry? Or, are your members not giving as they should in the first place. Whatever the reason, the pastor remains inappropriately supported because of the selfishness of the church members. This is an issue that can, and should be immediately addressed. Satan says, "wait until the next fiscal year budget." Listen to the Holy Spirit.
Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
Recall that Paul is addressing a church whose leadership represent a broad range of faithfulness and apostasy. Some leaders are taking the church into radically heretical directions. If we were to observe these individuals today, we would probably be surprised that they were considered Christian leaders. However, we are probably not immune from examples of such leadership today. How do we deal with Christian leadership that has demonstrated unrepentant and ungodly behavior? Paul gives some recommendations.
The first is the most important, and usually the first ignored advice. I have served in various ministry positions over the years, ranging from minister of music and education for a church to a four-year stint as the director of music for the Baptist Convention of New York (1989-1993). During that time I have been accused by peripheral members of the congregation of every sin imaginable. My favorite is a rumor that was started by one of the idle church women who wanted the church to think that my wife and I were brother and sister, living in incest. Shortly after she embroiled the church in her gossip, her house burned to the ground. I could not help but wonder if God was trying to get her attention.
Before we respond to an accusation against a minister of the gospel, we must find a way to determine if the accusation is, indeed, true. Satan has no opponent as vulnerable as the pastor, and will not stop short of using people to bring him under attack. When we first hear of an accusation brought against a minister of the gospel, we should respond immediately in a manner that is bathed in God's wisdom and God's love. My first assumption is that the pastor is under attack, as is all too-often the case. It does not take godly Christians long to ferret out an unqualified accusation. It did not take long for the rumors of my incest to be refuted, and most members were only amused by the atrocity of the charge. However, the impact of the act was significant enough that it brought an interruption to the work of the ministry.
Stlll, with pastors under so much pressure, they do express their human frailty just as any other. We have already addressed several of the pressures on pastors including inappropriate compensation, attack by church members, and inappropriate flirtations. Sidebar: I just realized that, as a minister, I have been subjected to all of these, and I am only part-time bivocational!
What do we do when the accusations are true? This opens up another avenue for the expression of God's love and grace. Our secular-humanistic bent calls us to "throw the bum out." Here we are again. God's plan for reconciliation is not the same as the world's desire for death, mayhem, and destruction.
Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
Paul's recommendation on the dealing with Christian leadership is quite different that what we might first expect. Does Paul tell us to remove the person from leadership? Are we to make demands on the individual in question? I am reminded of David, who refused to bring any injury to Saul, the King of Israel, while Saul was trying to kill David. If anyone had reason and justification to take action against Saul, David did, holding to the position that he refused to injure "God's anointed." This is a good lesson for us all. This is the context of Paul's response to dealing with errant leadership.
First, note that the congregation is not to remain silent and ignore the problem. The pastor has accepted a public responsibility when accepting the call to ministry, so the response to this situation is public. A current candidate for president was quoted at a town meeting as stating to a citizen, "my private life is none of your business." As a public official, his private life is our business, and the character and life of a pastor is public. Paul's approach is simple: upon determination that the problem is real, that problem is to be brought to the attention of the pastor, discussed with the pastor, and that discussion is to public. There are many reasons for doing so. For example, lets go back to the charge of incest brought against myself and my wife. The church leadership could have come to my home and in a private session the issue cold be resolved quietly. However, my responsibility is to the public congregation. If not dealt with publicly, those who were not part of that home meeting would not find resolution, and many may wonder if there was a cover-up, if the charges had some truth, etc. Also, by illustrating the integrity that is demanded of me as a minister of the gospel, each member of the congregation is reminded of the same level of integrity that is appropriate for them as Christians, for the call to Christian integrity is not reserved for those in leadership. However, those in leadership are simply more harshly judged. (James 3:1).
A public airing of the issue empowers the Lord to deal with the anointed person without the encumbrance of the emotions and prejudices of a church who may feel hurt and betrayed. Taking action against a pastor in such a situation is a very inappropriate act, one that short-circuits the plan that God may have to bring restoration to this individual. It is easier for us to lash out and attack, and to stand back and let God take control can be exceedingly difficult. However, if our church is truly characterized by love, then our love for our minister is genuine, and demonstrating that love, in grace, can be easier to accomplish.
Like David, we should consider long and hard before we remove a minister from office. This should be done only after every opportunity for repentance has been rejected by the minister, and should only be done in a manner that is thoroughly immersed in true agape love. By giving this due to our pastors, we empower them against false accusations, contributing to the strength of their ministry, and embolden their faith that will help them to stand against the constant attacks that come to those in ministry.
21I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.
Paul has just addressed some very difficult issues, but has done so by insisting on a very positive and loving approach to them. Whenever such conflict occurs in the congregation, people tend to become prideful and consider themselves more holy, more righteous, or simply better than one another. We must continually be reminded that all Christians are sinners who deserve eternal destruction and were each individually saved by God's grace alone. There is nothing that any one of us can do to be more holy than another. Intrinsically, none of us is holy. Only God is holy, and it is only His Spirit in us that sanctifies us. So, Paul warns us to remember that, as we must make choices of how we serve and minister to one another, that "the ground is level at the foot of the cross." There is no temptation of any other person that we our selves are not subject to, and there is no level of goodness that makes us worthy of salvation. All that we do must be done in love, with partiality to no man (or woman). The church is not stratified into layers of holiness. No Christian has authority over another: all authority is reserved for the Lord. Paul is so concerned about this that he makes this imperative in the form of a "charge". This is a statement that is forwarded without expectation of discussion. This doctrine is simply not open to discussion, as it is an axiomatic truth. The moment I think that I am better, or more holy than any man, I have fallen into sin. This is true for all of us, from the most humble Christian to the most elevated of Christian leaders.
Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other menís sins: keep thyself pure.
One might think, when we consider the context of the English translations, that Paul is warning against Christian violence. However, this is not the case. The "laying on of hands" that is quoted here refers to the act of anointing an individual for Christian service. Many churches today use a form of laying of hands in their ordination services, and the meaning is unchanged. This act is a symbol of support for one who is called to ministry. Often when one lays hands on another in an ordination service, the one supporting the other will place a hand or hands on the individual's shoulder or head and speak a short prayer of edification. Having experienced ordination, I can certainly state that this can be one of the most profoundly meaningful experiences a minister will ever know.
However, with that ordination comes the expectation of mature leadership on the part of the one who is ordained. Consequently, as Paul spent all of chapter three describing the qualifications of a mature Christian, here he reminds Timothy and us, that the ordination of an individual should not be hastily done. When we ordain another to ministry we are showing tangible support for the character and life of this individual, and should we ordain an individual who is living a sinful lifestyle, we are telling the entire world that we view that lifestyle as an acceptable behavior of a mature Christian. By doing this we share in their sin. By assuring the purity of those we ordain, we assure the purity of the faith, a faith that we are to be characterized by.
We may sometimes feel pressured to ordain a church leader simply because a leadership opening exists. Remembering this advice of Paul can help us deal with that situation, and when we do, we might find we simply have to be patient and wait for the Lord to raise someone up rather than do so ourselves.
Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomachís sake and thine often infirmities.
We see a little of the personal nature of this letter to Timothy in this verse. Though some might want to make a strong case for an another ascetic argument herein, the context tends to disallow such an application. Ancient culture and life is no mystery to us, and it is well-known that potable water was often in scarce supply. The ancients knew nothing of bacteria and viruses, and had little reason to boil water in order to purify it. Consequently, wine was often drunk instead of water, and wine was preserved through the fermentation process. Though often diluted, wine was the normal drink at meals. This is still true in many areas of the world. Still the ascetic gnosticism that infiltrated the early church, spurred by the evidence of damage that alcohol abuse causes, called for absolute abstinence. Such abstinence is not foreign to God's commands, as when we look at the vow taken by a Nazirite (e.g. Sampson), that vow included abstinence from wine. However, Paul teaches that, as Christians, we are free from the law of legalism, and most assuredly freed of the doctrine of ascetism. So, he encourages Timothy to be resistant to the doctrines of the ascetics and drink wine with his meals. Though they did not understand why, the ancients knew that drinking wine was healthier than drinking water. It is the drinking of wine in excess that we find judgment.
Some menís sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. 25Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.
It appears that following Paul's short reverie into Timothy's health, he returns to the ordination of leadership. However, these statements are not detached. Paul is still speaking to the integrity that comes with mature and faithful Christian living. The concern of the ascetics towards drinking is a concern of holiness: "I am more holy than you because I do not drink wine." Paul exposes the folly of such a doctrine. When you live a life that is exemplified by mature Christian faith, that true faith is fully evident to those who observe with a heart that discerns the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. Timothy has no need to fear that people will think that he is a sinner if he drinks wine, because they know his true heart. The sin of the the lost is obvious, and their path to judgment is seen by all.
Jesus said, "A city on a hill cannot be hid." (Matt 5:14). This is part of the well-known "You are the light of the world" message. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer cannot be hidden. This can be a tremendous encouragement to those faithful who feel like they are getting nowhere.
I recently counseled a young pastor who grieved the state of an old high-school friend. As best friends they spent much of their time together in those formative years. He went on to the pastorate, and his unsaved friend went on to a life without God. He feels responsible for the decisions made by his friend because he thinks he never shared the gospel with his lost friend. Pointing out Matt. 5:14, I helped this young pastor to consider the tremendous impact that a Christian best friend had on his lost classmate. There is no limit to the protection that their relationship provided his classmate, protection from drugs, violence, etc. But more important, his classmate had years to know one who knows God, and the seeds of the gospel that were planted during that friendship may have an opportunity to come to fruition some day.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in one's life (or His absence) are often obvious. That knowledge alone can help us to set aside our prejudices and our legalistic/ascetic bent.
Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. 2And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.;
Paul closes this discussion with advice to Christian slaves. Some historians account that as many as 50% of the population of ancient Rome were slaves. The institution of slavery was such a part of their culture that the institution itself is not addressed by Paul. He only gives advice on how to live within it. There is much to be learned about how we are to live in our culture when we consider Paul's approach to slavery. Paul simply advises Christian slaves to show honor to their masters, and that by so doing, they will show their masters the nature of their God. To Christian masters he demands mutual respect for their slaves. Though the institution of slavery will persist, Christians, whether slave or master, are not bound by it. In Christ they are all free to express God's love for one another without compromising the cultural barriers that slavery engender.
Certainly, we can also apply this same principle to modern employment, as Christian employees demonstrate the love of God in the workplace through their love and respect for their employers, and Christian employers demonstrate love and respect for their employees.
This chapter of Paul's letter to Timothy has a common thread that is woven through the myriad of relationships that he covers: God's love is to be demonstrated in all relationships, without regard to the worldly state of the individual. He has looked at the state of widows and needy, church leaders, masters, and slaves, four of what the world considered to be finite levels of social strata. Paul clearly makes no distinction in such strata when these worldly positions are illuminated by the love of the Cross, and encourages every Christian to share this same view: a life that is lived in submission to the Holy Spirit is one that is characterized by love and respect for all people.