40. On Guard

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 40:  On Guard

1 Tim 6:20   Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.

As Paul draws this letter to a close he presents Timothy with two further instructions, a primary one and then a secondary one. He tells him, in the primary instruction, to “guard” something and the something is that which “has been entrusted” into Timothy’s “care”.   Each of these words is significant.

When you ‘guard’ something you watch over it, protect it, make sure it comes to no harm, keep it safe and defend it. When someone speaks of having ‘entrusted’ something into your care there is behind this the feeling that whatever it is, it is valuable and worthy of care and protection. In your ‘care’ signifies under your protection. All these things say the same thing: Something has been given to Timothy and whatever it is, it needs protecting and it needs guarding and he needs to take care of it. Now you may think this paragraph is unnecessary but these words are vital to describe Timothy’s ministry and are critical in the face of a warning that has come twice so far in this letter.

So what is it that has been entrusted into Timothy’s care?  Ultimately it is the truth, it is the Gospel in its widest sense  and it is that which has been conveyed by the apostles of the Lord, it is the truth about God and about Jesus. Now in an earlier meditation we commented that there were various attacks against the early church and one of them was in respect of heresies, false versions of the Gospel, distortions of the truth. There were well over half a dozen such things, Gnosticism being the best known.

Perhaps to understand the battles that were going on and the importance of Paul’s instructions to Timothy, it maybe well to examine this a little more. With Gnosticism there was a hostility between this world and God’s kingdom, one evil and one good (dualism), seeing no good in the created world, only in the spirit. Gnosticism rejected any notion of God’s disclosure of Himself. It saw two ‘God’s – a harsh God of the Old Testament who created the world (which was bad) and the unknown supreme God of the New Testament. Jesus was first a human being and a heavenly ruler descended on this human and deserted him at his Passion. Salvation came through gnosis, knowledge – a mystic knowledge revealed by the God of the New Testament (the good God) to the teacher of the sect.  Now as Christians today we might find this amazing, that people would believe and follow these people, but they did! There was a major battle to preserve the apostolic truth. Thus the significance of this little sentence: Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.”

Do you remember when Paul went to Athens, we find the comment on what he found there: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” (Acts 17:21)  This tendency wasn’t just among the Greeks but was also a tendency of the church then because Paul goes on, “Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge.” Godless chatter? Talk that focuses on the world, on the news, on ideas that other people have. With Television today how true this still is. And how often do you hear God mentioned in it? Virtually never! No, we live in a world that is largely godless and the thinking of men and rulers is largely godless. No, Timothy, this is not what you have been called to!

The “opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” is probably as subtle reference to Gnosticism that we referred to earlier that placed great store in ‘special knowledge’ that only the group or sect held. It was a ‘knowledge’ that competed with the Gospel and was different from it. Maybe we might parallel it to the ‘knowledge’ that such groups as the Freemasons have or the Mormons have with their book of Mormon, add-ons or extra knowledge that in fact denigrates the Gospel and takes from it the power of God.

This knowledge has a detrimental effect, says Paul for “some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.” (v.21) Some had been seduced by these ‘new’ things and had got involved with them and taken them on and in so doing had drifted or wandered from the true faith and (by implication) no longer trusted in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. That is the outcome of getting caught up with these new ideas, these alternative teachings, these exciting new mysteries. They existed then and they still exist and they are not the truth and they do not bring salvation. Steer well clear of them, was Paul’s instruction to Timothy. It was there at the beginning of the letter as a problem to be challenged and it is there at the end as a thing to be avoided.

Paul ends with a simple, “Grace be with you.”  i.e. may you know the ongoing saving grace of God, the goodness of God through Jesus Christ, the goodness that comes by the Spirit. May you know that grace to keep you and hold you, to strengthen you and hold you. Those, I suspect, are  the things implied in those simple words in the light of the teaching of this letter. It was true for Timothy; may it be true for us.

39. Guidance for the Rich

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 39:  Guidance for the Rich

1 Tim 6:17   Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Perhaps we would do well to check the flow of Paul’s thoughts through this chapter. Earlier he had warned against false teachers again (v.3-5) and had concluded in response to their constant agitation that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” (v.6) This had led him to then warn against the love of money (v.7-10) and had then charged Timothy to flee that materialistic, wealth grabbing life and go all out to fulfil the calling on his life (v.11-16) With all these thoughts in the back of his mind about materialism and going for money, it is natural therefore for Paul now to give instructions to Timothy about those who are wealthy. Christian teaching does not deny wealth and say it is wrong, but is more positive and instructs on how to use it wisely.

So Paul starts with a warning to challenge those who are rich to maintain a right attitude: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth.” (v.17a) We have commented before that in the world there is this tendency for one class to look down on another. Those who are rich have the greatest temptation to allow pride to reign so they think much of themselves (having achieved much or being born into a rich family) and thus think less of others. Money has that capability of distorting one’s view of oneself. Even the rich are prone to illness, even the rich will die, even the rich will have to face God and give an account for how they lived. So Timothy, instruct such people not to be like that. Even more warn them against trusting in their wealth for they will not take it with them when they die and their wealth will not bring them salvation. Yes says Paul, wealth “is so uncertain.” It can go so easily, as Job found out and as so many investors and bankers have found out.

Warn them not to trust in their riches “but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (v.17b) Yes, their hope should be in God. It is not as if God wants to keep on taking away our money or possession; quite to the contrary He is a God who provides for us and all He provides is for our enjoyment. This is a wonderful verse to counter those kill-joys who take on ancient Greek thinking that says the material is bad and only the spiritual is good. Oh no, consider the incredible wonder of all that we have in the material world, incredible numbers of  different sorts of food or drink, and so many ways that with our five senses we can enjoy. In fact the more you think about it the more you realise that God has made us material beings who are designed to enjoy all the senses in so many ways. It is actually incredible when you think on it.

But these rich people have so much potential to do good so, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (v.18) These are people who have the potential to really bless the world. Bill Gates is an example of a man who found himself with incredible wealth and realised there were only so many things he could spend it on, so has created a foundation to spend much of it on blessing the human race. There have been other philanthropists who have done similarly. When you have so much that you just can’t spend it on yourself meaningfully, the only thing left is to give it away. But there are thousands upon thousands of rich people in the world who don’t have unlimited wealth like the few, and so their tendency is to be self-focused but in so doing they fail to become what they could become and will be answerable to God for their selfishness.

No, says Paul, warn these people to do good and so, “In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (v.19)  There is an echo here of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:19-21).

Each one of us has to decide what our values will be. Will we make our life focus achieving what I can for me, achieving in a career and obtain status through position and wealth, or will I put God first and submit everything to Him and let Him lead and guide me into ‘good works’ where I look to the welfare of others rather than myself? If I choose the former I will get to the end of my life possibly rich with money but bankrupt spiritually and as I pass through death the money will remain in the world I leave and I will find myself in total poverty in eternity. If I choose the latter I may well end up quite affluent when I leave this world but as I enter the next world I will find myself truly rich. Real life is following the latter path.

38. Before God

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 38:  Before God

1 Tim 6:13-16   In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time–God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever. Amen.

To catch the full import of this we need to backtrack a little to the beginning of verse 13. In these meditations we often comment about needing to note the context in which a verse appears but, if you like, these verses say, watch the bigger context in which all these things are said. As we have noted previously Paul is saying to Timothy, “I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame,” (v.13,14) and the command was to go all out to fulfil his calling from God.

We also noted that Timothy was to do that and fearlessly hold to the truth in the same way that Jesus did before Pontius Pilate (v.14b) and to carry on doing until Jesus returned (v.14c) which, Paul observed, “God will bring about in his own time.” (v.15a). This charge Paul brought, “In the sight of God.” (v.13a) In such a way he added weight or significance to the charge.

Once we take out those things we have already dealt with we are left with Paul’s description of this God before whom he charged Timothy: “God the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.” (v.15,16)  God thus becomes the backdrop or overall context in which Paul speaks. It is like Paul says, “I do not make this charge casually but I stand in God’s presence and make it as His ambassador or His representative and so it is important for you to remember just who is this God who I represent.” That is the strength with which this charge comes to Timothy for fulfil his calling. It is God who called Him and who now, through Paul, exhorts him to go all  out to fulfil it. So let us examine now the descriptions Paul uses of God in this context as he seeks to create a context for all he is saying.

It starts out, “God the blessed,” which sounds slightly strange. When a person is blessed in Scripture it means that good has been done to them by God. Noah declared, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem!” (Gen 9:26) which perhaps might be rendered, “How good is the Lord, the God of Shem who has blessed him.”  Melchizedek blessed Abram, and declared, “blessed be God Most High,” which can be rendered, “and may God Most High be praised for His goodness to you” in its meaning.  Perhaps, therefore, Paul’s words may be simply put, “God who is good in every way in Himself.”

He continues the description: “and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” This elevates the Lord above any other, He is the ONLY ruler. There may be kings, but He is the King of them all; there may be lords, but He is the Lord of them all. No one rules without His say-so; He is the only true ruler in the universe, because he is the all-powerful Creator of all things and all things only exist and continue to exist because of Him. This is who we are talking about here; this is who Paul stands before, the One who makes plans and fulfils them, the One who calls people and enables them. Because of this, as His emissary, Timothy need have no fear. We can have the same thinking here as David had when he approached the giant, Goliath and asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” and then declared to the giant, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (1 Sam 17:26 & 45). The talk of him being an “uncircumcised Philistine” refers to his lack of relationship with God and not being part of God’s people. Thus David, as God’s representative had no fear of him. The same is true in the present case: Timothy need have no fear because he is the representative of the almighty Lord of all.

Paul continues his description of the Lord: “who alone is immortal.” (v.16a) Human beings die, God does not. He goes on for ever and ever. That makes Him unique, that makes Him scary and perhaps because of that, “lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” (v.16b) The light, of course we know from elsewhere in Scripture is the glory of God, but what that actually is, we really don’t know. It was the same light, denoting the presence of God that filled the Tabernacle when it was finished (Ex 40:35,36)  and when Solomon’s temple was completed (1 Kings 8:10,11). There is something about the presence of the Lord that means no one can see Him and live. Moses had asked, “show me your glory,” but the Lord had answered, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Ex 33:18,20) At various times in Scripture there had been ‘representations’ of the Lord as He appears to make Himself known but the reality is never actually seen.

Thus he finishes with praise to the Lord: “To him be honour and might forever. Amen.”  i.e. this is how the Lord is, so honour and praise Him for who He is and live out your life and calling in the awareness of His presence. Is that enough to keep you going Timothy? Is that enough to keep us going? It should be!

37. Fight the Good Fight

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 37:  Fight the Good Fight

1 Tim 6:11,12   But you, man of God…..  pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

In the previous meditation we saw verse 11 in the light of what went before, but actually it also goes with what follows. In the face of the false teaching, confused ideologies and mixed up ‘believers’,  Paul reminds Timothy that he is a man of God who is called to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (v.11) These six characteristics are part of the inheritance that every believer can come to experience, they are the hall marks or brands of the believer and where they are absent you see a believer who has a long way to go to maturity.  But the truth is that there is a battle and the enemy would seek to stop these characteristics coming about in us.

Thus as we move on we find Paul making this very simple exhortation: “Fight the good fight of the faith.” (v.12a) For those who mistakenly think that the Christian life is just sitting back and receiving all the good things that God has to give, this comes as a cultural shock. Fight? Fighting suggests effort, effort to resist and effort to overcome. This has the same sort of feel to it that we find in Ephesians 6 where Paul wrote, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) Other versions use the word ‘wrestle’ instead of struggle but the same sense is conveyed, there is a battle to be fought, a struggle to overcome. Every time you are confronted with a temptation, there is a struggle to be overcome, every time you are confronted with a doubt or a challenge there is a struggle to be overcome.

But this is a fight “of the faith”, it is what comes with the package, it is part of the life to which we have been called, ‘the faith’, and we should NOT think badly about it for it is “the good fight” or as some have put it, “the noble fight”. It is a fight that is worthwhile for in fighting we are made stronger and through fighting we come through to a better place. In Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev 2 & 3) there are seven calls to overcome. When we ‘overcome’ we get the better of the enemy, of sin and of temptation, we prevail against them, and we come through stronger. It’s a good fight!

So, he continues, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”  Eternal life isn’t just for after we die; it begins the moment we come to Christ. From that moment on, we are living in the eternal dimension by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. When God called us, it was to enter into and enjoy the fruits of this life which, as we just said, started the moment we were saved and continue on through this life and into eternity. The call to Take hold of the eternal life” suggests this is an action our part, an act of will. The Christian life is not passive, it involves resisting the enemy and it involves actively taking hold of the things God promises in His word.

This eternal life, says Paul, came when “you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” That probably refers to the confession of belief that Timothy made when he first came to Christ  and which almost certainly would have been repeated before the congregation at his baptism.

Paul exhorts him strongly to persevere with his faith: “In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame.” (v.13,14) He makes this charge in all seriousness before God and reminds Timothy how Jesus had testified before the Roman authorities. In the same way Jesus had been fearless, so (by implication) Timothy is to be fearless is testifying. The good confession that Jesus made was probably, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (Jn 18:37)

The command that Paul refers to is probably that of verses 11 and 12, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” i.e. go all out for that to which you have been called! When he says, “without spot or blame” he is saying, don’t let there be any points where you hold back and there could be accusations of half-heartedness against you.

Do this, he continues, “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time.” (v.14,15)  i.e. keep on doing it until Jesus comes, whenever God decrees that will be. It doesn’t matter how soon or how long, just make sure you are going all out for these things until he comes.

So we have seen the call – to go all out to fulfil his calling – the importance of it – with a charge before God – and the duration of it – until Jesus comes. That’s it! Go for it!

36. A Balanced Life

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 36:  A Balanced Life

1 Tim 6:6-8   But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Note the ‘but’ that starts this verse indicating a flow of thought from what has just been said, “men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (v.5) Godliness for financial gain is not on, but godliness with contentment is really worth going for! The truth is, of course, that if you try to be godly to get money, you won’t be godly. Godliness is all about being like God, open to God and directed by God. You are godly when you submit to His will and let Him lead you into what He has in store for your life.

Contentment is being at peace with what you have, not striving to get more and more. It may be that you sense the Lord leading you on into something more than you are or more than you have at the present, but that is very different from striving and struggling to achieve your own ambitions. Contentment is about being satisfied with what the Lord has given you in your present situation, a place of peace in His will for you.

Thus put godliness together with contentment and you have a person at rest in who God is making them to be and that, says Paul, “is great gain” (v.6c) Note that is not a phrase we would use commonly today and so it needs explaining and so Paul goes on to do that:  “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (v.7) This is the reality of life. When we were born, we had nothing. When we pass through death we will take nothing of this present world with us. In other words, everything we have in this present life is transient  and does not last. We need to assess or value it accordingly. Look, he says, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (v.8)  That is his stance in life. Food and clothing are the basic essentials of life and so if we have them, we should be content; anything else is a bonus. In this materialistic and affluent age, we need to see it like that otherwise we will be striving all the time to get and have more and more. That is a life of stress.

He continues, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” (v.9) The path of seeking out riches, he explains, is one full of temptations and traps and wrong desires that so often lead to ruin and destruction. Those who are out to make more and more money take short cuts, make dubious ethical decisions, do others down, verge on the illegal; it is so easy to go morally and ethically astray in this area.

And then he declares a general principle: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (v.10a) Note that it isn’t money that is the root of all evil, but the love of it. You can use money in a whole variety of ways without a problem but it is when you create an emotional attachment to it or reliance upon it that you are opening the door to a whole lot of wrong things or things going wrong. We might note in passing that having or creating wealth is not wrong in itself. The richest man in the Bible was undoubtedly King Solomon and he had it because of the wisdom given him by the Lord. Creating it and possessing it is not wrong in itself; what is important is how you create it and what you then do with it. Those are the areas where we particularly need the Lord’s guidance and perhaps correction.

Paul wants Timothy to be alert to the dangers and hence he adds, “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (v.10b) Note again it is not ‘everyone’ but some people who have been eager to make money who have allowed their desires and their chasing after money to drift away from the faith (“I was too busy to go to church and be involved in church life.”?). Such people got into difficulties and created many problems for themselves that ended up causing them hurt.

So, finally, Paul gives Timothy a warning: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (v.11) Timothy, your calling has been to be a man of God, not a chaser of money, so instead of chasing it, flee from this money-making approach to life. Instead of pursuing money, pursue “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” Let a right standing with God, putting on the character of Jesus, being a man led by the Spirit, Timothy, a man of faith, a man filled with love from God, a man who endures against the trials and obstacles of life and a man in whom in found gentleness when you meet him; let all these things be the things you pursue, you chase after, you work for. May it be so! 

35. Straight Teaching

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 35:  Straight Teaching

1 Tim 6:3,4   If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing.

Perhaps Paul is starting to wind down and is aware that he ought to be drawing to a close soon, for now we find him returning to that subject with which he started this letter. Remember he exhorted Timothy at the beginning of it, “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.” (1:3,4)  See the words ‘false doctrines’ there; we have them again now but now he expands on this with a threefold description.

The first is about anyone who “teaches false doctrines”. These people don’t so much reject the truth as distort it and replace it with teachings which are simply wrong! Second, these people do “not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The ultimate proof of their wrongness is that their teaching conflicts with what Jesus himself said. The teachings of Jesus had been passed on by the apostles and was in the process of being put into the first three Gospels, but these men rejected and distorted Jesus’ teaching. Third, these people rejected “godly teaching”. What they were left with was godless myths, things that had no origin in heaven. In each of these ways, these men were flying in the face of the apostolic teaching and were wrong.

But more than that, says Paul, such a man “is conceited and understands nothing.” (v.4a)  That he is conceited means he is proud and refuses to accept the truth and let the truth impact and change his life. That is what should happen when we come to Christ, the word of God impacts us under the convicting of the Spirit, and changes us. However, these men have not submitted themselves to the truth but have, in fact, concocted their own ‘truth’ and by so doing reveal that they really know nothing of the Gospel.

But Paul doesn’t leave his condemnation of these men there, for he lists off a whole series of wrongs that they are involved with. They have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (v.4,5) We need to read the list as a whole and then as individual parts.

The first part is about what they DO  and the second part are the CONSEQUENCES of what they do and the third part is the MOTIVATION for what they do.

So, first of all, what they do. They have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words.”  We have to be careful here because I would always challenge students of God’s word to question it, but that is to say, “What is it saying and what does it mean?”  There is one particular modern fiction writer who has come to some prominence by building in controversy to his stories, for example postulating that Mary Magdalene was one of the apostles or even the mistress or wife of Jesus. Built on a non-canonical book, the writings of which compare in no way to the Scriptures, and digging up old heresies from the past, this writer is typical of those Paul was speaking against. He says that have “an unhealthy interest” in such things. When the truth of the New Testament is so clear and so accredited, why should anyone want to delve into and stay in these weird and wonderful spurious writings from first century cults?  There is nothing spiritually healthy about that!

But then, second, we have a list of consequences or outcomes that this sort of thing produces: “that result in (1) envy, (2) strife, (3) malicious talk, (4) evil suspicions and (5) constant friction between men of corrupt mind.”  This sort of disharmony  over purported truths, things made up by men, ideas that are twisted from the Scriptures and completely distorted, these things simply provoke argument and upset and division, definitely not the work of the Spirit!

Finally Paul reveals his opinion of why these men do this: “who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” Having given their thinking over to the weird and wonderful, they have had the truth taken away from them by the enemy and they use their ‘school of thinking’ as a means for gaining an income. Today we would see them making money by writing articles for newspapers or magazines, or giving seminars. They use what they have, their version of godliness, for making money. You can’t get much further from the truth than that. The truth is not for using but for letting God apply to your life and bring transformation. Tragically, because of the sinfulness and stupidity of human beings, people are gullible and do allow themselves to be swept into wrong thinking, and so, even today, Paul’s warnings still apply.

34. Slaves & Masters

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 34:  Slaves and Masters

1 Tim 6:1,2   All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them.

As Paul continues to give practical guidance for Timothy and for the church, he comes to a group of believers in a way we might struggle with. He speaks of slaves, but note how he refers to their lot in life: “All who are under the yoke of slavery.” (v.1a) A yoke held an animal in position and it was stuck there.  Paul recognizes that this is not an easy place to be.

Now perhaps we should be aware of the reality of the position of the slaves that Paul is speaking to. The Law spoke thus: “If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves.” (Lev 25:39-43) Israelites were not to work as slaves and were eventually to be released back home. Where there were slaves they were servants of limited duration, or they were foreigners (Lev 25:44,45) The Law also provided a variety of protections for those who were working as slaves. What is also interesting is that slaves must have been part of the congregation of the local church for Paul to have written to them and for them to have heard his letter read out.

Now Paul doesn’t say, “God’s grace is here for those of you who are slaves, to help you cope,” because this ‘servant-hood’ wasn’t seen in harsh terms. He was more concerned that they maintained a righteous outlook in life as slaves and was aware that because of their position there were particular temptations to be overcome and thus he says that they, should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.” (v.1b) The latter part of that sentence is interesting. Make sure you continue to respect your masters so that no accusation may be brought against the church that we have been teaching a freedom that brings a rebelliousness in those of you who are these bought servants. No, make sure that doesn’t happen by giving full respect to your masters.

This temptation or difficulty was even more  likely in the case where the master is a Christian: “Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers.” (v.2a) Familiarity breeds contempt is a familiar saying and simply because both Master and Slave (bought servant) are not brothers in Christ, that should not mean the slave doesn’t esteem the Master for who he is.

Respect is a strange thing in our society. We have largely lost it for people in authority, MP’s and the like, because so often they have shown that they have large feet of clay and have often failed us. Yet in the streets of some cities, gangs get upset for being disrespected by another in the street. Respect is given when we recognize worth, value or achievement. In this case, ‘Masters’ – to be able to have afforded a slave – would have been men who had achieved status and wealth and are worthy of respect for who they are and what they have achieved. We shouldn’t be afraid of saying that. We need to recapture respect and honour.

No, says Paul, don’t treat them as equals just because you are both Christians now. Yes, there is equality in the faith, but these are still men (or women) of achievement in the world and are worthy of your respect for that, if nothing else. We’ve seen it before but it’s worth repeating, the apostle Peter taught, “Show proper respect to everyone.” (1 Pet 2:17) If for nothing else we respect EVERY person for being someone made in the image of God and loved by God.  To the Ephesian elders Paul had said, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) The church has got to be precious to God because His Son gave his life for it. Each person is precious to God in the church and outside it, there are people who one day we are going to see as those destined for the kingdom. Let’s reclaim the respect thing!

So, says Paul of the bought servants, “Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them.” (v.2b) Slaves, be a real blessing to your Christian Masters, work to bless them as fellow members of the church. Timothy, “These are the things you are to teach and urge on them.” (v.2c)  These are areas of difficulty in the life of the church, Timothy, so make sure you face them and deal with them through teaching accordingly.

33. Personal Exhortations

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 33:  Personal Exhortations

1 Tim 5:21   I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favouritism.

Paul has just covered the serious subject of elders and in particular dealing with elders who go astray. It has been serious stuff and it requires a serious commitment to the church and its ministry to follow through these things. They are sometimes difficult and the temptation may be to ignore misdemeanors of leaders and hope the problem will go away, but that is not the way of righteousness.

It may be because of this that Paul brings a very strong exhortation to Timothy: “I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.” (v.21) Look at that language: “I charge you.” That is as strong as you can get when giving an instruction. But it is more than that: “I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels.”  i.e. I stand before God the supreme authority and Jesus his Son, the secondary authority, both who are over me and over us, and before them I make this demand. That is strong stuff. With all of heaven looking on to back up what I say, I make this demand of you.

So what is the demand? “to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.” (v.21b) Now why is Paul saying this?  No reason is given but I wonder if it is because Timothy is a young man and may be swayed by emotions that have not yet been tempered by the wisdom of the years.  If there are elders not up to the mark, you are not to let your feelings for one or other of them cloud your judgment. The fact that some of them are probably a good bit older should also not affect your judgment. You are a minister of God, answerable to Him and you don’t act or make judgments on your own whims or fancies!

But then comes another exhortation or, rather, three mini-exhortations that seem linked together: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” (v.22) Now because this all follows on from the fairly lengthy passage about elders, there is no suggestion that this is a general instruction but one linked to the ordination of elders. We have seen previously (4:14) how this procedure took place with the laying on of hands and prayer and prophecy. It is again mentioned in 2 Tim 1:6. We must assume, therefore, that this is a warning not to ordain men hastily, men who have not been checked or proven, men who may have things wrong in their lives and if they do, and Timothy ordained them, he would be sharing in that wrong. No, says Paul, “Keep yourself pure.” i.e. keep yourself free from carelessness and sin by doing these things hastily.

In all this Paul is aware that Timothy is a young man who needs both encouragement and exhortation, a young man who possibly veers towards being too timid (see 2 Tim 1:7). It is possible that worry and concern are tendencies that Timothy has as a young leader and these cause him to sometimes have an upset stomach so that Paul now gives him health encouragement: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (v.23) Some have suggested that the water was not good but I suggest the use of wine was more to help his digestive system.

It is a difficult role being a leader, having to be alert to all that is going on with the local flock, working constantly to fend off the temptations of the enemy and his endeavors to bring down the people of God, so it is no surprise that Timothy needs all these encouragements. So Paul adds what are almost afterthoughts about the behaviour of people: “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.” (v.24,25) What is he actually saying?

“The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them.” (v.24) Sometimes observing human behaviour is simple and straight forward because the sins of men are sometimes quite obvious and the consequences of their sins quickly come to fruition and they are brought down by those consequences. Little discernment is required here for it is clearly obvious what is going on, but sometimes “the sins of others trail behind them.” i.e. their sins are not so obvious and the outworking or consequences of them seem to take a little while to become apparent. This is more difficult because until the consequences make obvious the sin that has been going on, it may need discernment or a word of knowledge to reveal it.

Then, “In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.” (v.25) The truth is, declares Paul, that good deeds are always obvious and can be clearly seen, but even deeds that are not good will eventually be revealed because they will have consequences and those consequences will always become visible. So, Timothy, (implied) don’t rush into things; take your time over this matter of raising up other leaders. Let their lives reveal what they are really like and let the flock judge, so that your role is simply one of confirmation or acknowledgement of what God has done in them, and also, if there are wrong things in them, they too will become obvious and stop you acting wrongly. It’s not easy being a leader!

32. Correcting Elders

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 32:  Correcting Elders

1 Tim 5:19,20   Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

There seem two opposite sets of behaviour that appear in churches in respect of attitudes towards ‘leaders’. The first is to elevate the leader(s) to such a pinnacle of authority and power that never a word dare be spoken against them, even when behaviour is questionable. The second is to see the leader as a lower servant who is up for constant gossiping criticism. Neither is good.  Whereas we neither want to elevate our leaders to sainthood nor pull them down to caretaker level, we should maintain a balanced view of those who lead our local churches.

On the one hand we need to recognize they are frail individuals like ourselves who are prone to the same struggles that we have, needing our support and encouragement (gifted as they may be!), as we noted in the previous meditation, but on the other hand that ‘frailty’ of humanity does mean they can get it wrong and fall off the rails. Tragically the history of the Christian Church in the last twenty years is littered with great men who have fallen. The fall usually has to do either with financial irregularities or with illicit relationships; those appear the most common things that have occurred.

Now whereas we are not to go looking and expecting for our leader(s) to fall, there are times when it becomes obvious to one or another that things are not right. How does one deal with this? Does one just gossip the concern around to see if others concur? No! I would suggest that the wise course is first to pray and seek God’s wisdom. If you are sure of your concerns then the next stage, I suggest, it to take them to someone else in the church of maturity or even in some leadership role and share your concern.

Remember Paul’s injunction: “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” (v.19) There need to be at least two of you who constitute ‘witnesses’ and a witness knows, doesn’t just ‘think’, they know something is wrong. Now please, realise our aim is not to pull down our leader and so casual or careless spreading of rumors is out!

Even back in the Law of Moses the requirement was for more than one witness: “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Deut 19:15) Jesus established the procedure for dealing with someone who sins against you in the church: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that `every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Mt 18:15-17)  The difficulty of course, is to determine what is a sin but in the case of illicit relationships, say, it is quite obvious: it is wrong!

We have suggested a slight variation against this general procedure because what we have talking about is the possible sin of a leader and the relationship of leader to member of the flock is an unequal one and so going on your own to confront him is an unwise approach. One warning: where sexual sin is involved I have observed that the ‘sinner’ almost invariably denies it and even in the most plausible way. Sexual sin always seems to be accompanied by deception. This is why being sure of facts and having another ‘witness’ is essential. Now remember what we said earlier: our intent is not to pull the man down. Our intent must be for his good as well as the good of the church. We are looking for repentance – but there is a further problem. This man, if we are talking about some serious sin as we have been referring to above, cannot continue in his present role. He needs to be dealt with correctly – dealing with whatever wrong it is in the appropriate way. Financial irregularities would involve crime. Child abuse would also involve the authorities. Adultery would not only require an ending of the relationship but would also require marital counseling. There are likely to be ongoing issues to be dealt with.

Paul’s teaching was, “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” (v.20)  At the very least this means it must not be covered up so that the extent of the sin is seen and is not trivialized. Now so far we have only covered what we might consider serious sins but in one sense all sins are serious. Suppose our leader got angry with a member of the flock and hit them – serious sin! It needs confronting, dealing with publicly with public apology etc. What if the leader just spoke very strongly to a member of the flock. Sin? We are now moving in more difficult areas. If he does it with one, he will do it with another and we, perhaps, have a behavioral or attitudinal issue to deal with. The more one thinks into these issues linked with Paul’s words here, we realise we are moving in difficult waters that need the wisdom of God.

31. Honouring Elders

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 31:  Honouring Elders

1 Tim 5:17,18   The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

It is interesting that Paul moves from widows to elders, from vulnerable women to men in authority. But perhaps it requires a knowledge of men in ministry to understand the leap. Actually, I would suggest that elders are actually another group of vulnerable people who need looking after!  Now that may seem strange for many of us because we look up to the vicar, the minister, the leader, the elder,  and so we do not realise that they have the same struggles that the rest of us have. They are still redeemed sinners and are still working out their sanctification, they still struggle with family relationships and even relationships with others. They still get tired, have worries, and get old; they are still very much human beings – and they need looking after! Perhaps our greatest danger is that we take them for granted. Having observed church leaders in lots of different denominations, streams etc. over the last forty years, I believe this word from Paul is particularly needful.

We have considered the role and qualifications of elders in earlier meditations (17 & 18) and here we see Paul identifying their activities as directing “the affairs of the church” and “preaching and teaching”. The way he speaks of preaching and teaching might suggest that not every elder does this. He is speaking of those who fulfil their role “well”. How does an elder do these things ‘well’? I suggest he does them carefully, diligently, wisely, with grace, and with his whole heart, listening to the Lord and conveying the Lord’s heart to His people, and being there for them. That will do for starters!

But then Paul says that such men are worthy of ‘double honour’. What does that mean? At the very least it means we stop taking them for granted and we think about them and care for them. Now in some churches where the ‘elder’ is an authority figure that may require others in supportive roles ensuring they build their relationship with their leader so that they can speak into his life and be there for him.  Practically I realise it is not always easy with some of the church structures and expectations that we have in this country. Nevertheless I would maintain that I know of men in the ministry – Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, free church – who have struggled with life and ministry and who have not been looked after!

But Paul does allow us to think that this means thinking well of our leader(s) for he uses two illustrations that clearly indicate that they is a material or financial dimension here as well: “For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” (v.18)  The first quote comes from  Deut 25:4 and is literally about oxen, while the second quotes Jesus in Lk 10:7 and both of them are about material and financial reward for service.

Now this is a difficult subject but it is one where I believe, looking back over many years as I have commented already, the church often fails. Yes, there are exceptions and sometimes (in the American mould it seems) there are leaders of big churches who seem to take this over the top and are paid and have lifestyles of top executives which divide them from the ordinary people of their congregation; they are superstars and seem out of place in the church of Jesus Christ. But they are few and far between and Paul would not have been able to imagine such a situation. No, he envisages the more normal church situation of the smaller church. What is common in the church of today is the full-time leader whose family struggles with the low wages the church gives him.

Perhaps this emanates from a wrong mentality that here is an employee and we then start assessing what he does with his time and so on. This is the mentality of those who have little understanding of the life and ministry of an elder, a man of God who must spend much time developing his relationship with the Lord on behalf of his flock. This cannot be ‘assessed’ or ‘measured’ in the same way as a man working a machine. The life in the ministry is too complex for that.  Incidentally, in passing, sociologists often declare that the role of the church minister is often one of the most stressful jobs going! So we add to his stress by giving him a pitifully low salary, often below the national average, so he is having to worry about how to make ends meet and explain to his wife and children why they cannot have the same as the neighbours have!

Church, this is not honouring the elder and I have seen it again and again and again.  We do not want to create a financial megastar but we do want to honour such men and provide for them reasonably. Simply ask yourself, IF you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, do you give the elder(s) of your local church “double honour”?  Be honest, do you? And if not, why are you disobeying God? It’s as simple as that!