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.

30. Gentle Prophet

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 30 : Jesus, the Gentle Prophet

Jn 4:16-19      He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied.  Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.

There is the well-known instruction, Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Lk 6:31)   It’s well known because it is often quoted and also because it’s acceptable to most people.  Why is it acceptable to most people? It is acceptable to most people because they like its sentiment. We want other to treat us well and so we see that as a good standard for behaviour generally. The apostle Paul when he was teaching the Corinthian church said,everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort (1 Cor 14:3). In other words, anyone who is bringing a word to individuals from God will be speaking with the aim of strengthening, encouraging and comforting. “Ah, but what about correcting and rebuking,” says my legalistic friend. “Surely the word of God is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’(2 Tim 3:16). Exactly, but watch how Jesus does it.

Jesus knows this woman as he knows every person he encounters. He knows what her state in life is. Does he chide her? Does he rebuke her?  No, he tells her to do something that provokes her to speak the truth about herself. She starts facing herself by Jesus’ seemingly innocent instruction. Once she acknowledges her basic state, Jesus ‘fills in the gaps’ and speaks detail into her life, and concludes with the disarming words, What you have just said is quite true.” He isn’t having a go at her, and so she doesn’t act defensively.  Is his main intention to convict her of her sub-standard life and bring her to repentance? Yes and no!  Ultimately he does want her to face the truth about herself because he knew that, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:32), i.e. facing the truth about ourselves is the first step towards salvation.  However, he has a greater desire, for her to realize who he really is.  When we realize who Jesus is and come to him, everything else (including our past sub-standard lives) falls into place.

What was the end result of Jesus words?  The woman went away full of the encounter and wanting others to come and meet Jesus. Without any doubt she was strengthened, encouraged and comforted. Her encounter with Jesus had not left her feeling thoroughly embarrassed, exposed or got into a corner. Oh no, to the contrary, it has had a remarkably liberating effect upon her.  And how had that happened?  She had encountered a gentle prophet!

How often do we or others feel we have to put others’ lives right? That’s not the call of the Gospel; it is to introduce them to Jesus so that he can put their lives right! How do we share the Gospel?  I know when I was a young Christian I was in ‘attacking mode’ and I know there are still many people who do that, but Jesus comes to each individual with respect, and care and concern for them. He allowed this Samaritan woman to speak about something of her situation and then he showed he knew all about it, but without condemning her. The result was that she felt good and her life was changed.  That’s how Jesus comes to each one of us. Yes he comes to confront but he does it in such a gentle way we sometimes hardly realize that’s what he is doing, until we find ourselves confessing our state to him. Can we be like him?

59. Elihu Prepares

Meditations in Job : 59. Elihu prepares the way

Job 32:10-12 Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know. I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, I gave you my full attention. But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments.

Some commentators complain that Elihu is wordy but I believe we see in the verses we’ll consider today, a young man, aware of his youthfulness, who seeks to be gracious and seeks to explain why he is daring to speak in the company of these older and, one might suppose, wiser men. He starts by, in a sense, laying down his right to speak: “I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning…. I gave you my full attention,” i.e. I have sat quietly taking in all that you have said. I have not interrupted (implied) or joined in; I’ve sat, listened and thought about what you have said. And, to the three friends, “not one of you has proved Job wrong.” This is the truth, this summary of all that they have said. As we noted in the previous meditations, the Lord also chided these three with, you have not spoken of me what is right.” (Job 42:7)

He continues, “Do not say, `We have found wisdom; let God refute him, not man.” (v.13)  I like the Message version’s take on this: “And don’t excuse yourselves by saying, ‘We’ve done our best. Now it’s up to God to talk sense into him.” That’s a cop out, we might say, but he’s not going to be defeatist like this: “But Job has not marshaled his words against me, and I will not answer him with your arguments.” (v.14) i.e. I’m not going to use the same wrong arguments you used.

This then becomes like a stage play where one player moves aside from the rest and talks out loud for the sake of the audience, for it’s as if he makes an aside about the three friends who have been silenced: “They are dismayed and have no more to say; words have failed them. Must I wait, now that they are silent, now that they stand there with no reply?” (v.15,16)  Look at this, he says, they’ve run out of words, so must I remain silent any longer while they say nothing?  No, he continues, “I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.” (v.17)  Why?  Because he feels like he’s about to explode: “For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.” (v.18-20).  In this he sounds like some of the prophets who felt the same thing.  They tried to remain silent but God’s word, bottled up in them, just had to explode out!

Then he gives a little warning: I will show partiality to no one, nor will I flatter any man; for if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away.” (v.21,22).  It’s all right, he reassures the friends, I’m not going to take sides and I’m not just going to pat Job on the back to encourage him, because if I did that God would not be pleased.  We are in the business of truth and although grace may prevail, it has to do so in the face of the truth!

But then, as we move into the next chapter, he turns directly to Job: “But now, Job, listen to my words; pay attention to everything I say.” (v.1)  Now this may sound a little condescending but I believe he is in fact acknowledging that Job has almost come to the end of himself with all this arguing and needs this exhortation to hang on in a bit longer and hear what he has to say. He goes on: “I am about to open my mouth; my words are on the tip of my tongue.” (v.2) i.e. I can’t hold back any longer so please stay with me, I’ve got to speak!  Please understand, he continues, “My words come from an upright heart; my lips sincerely speak what I know. The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (v.3,4) i.e. please see that I’m trying to come without any deviousness and I will speak as sincerely as possible, to share what I believe God’s Holy Spirit has taught me.

“Answer me then, if you can; prepare yourself and confront me. I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay. No fear of me should alarm you, nor should my hand be heavy upon you.” (v.5-7) i.e. please give me answers and be ready to challenge what I say if it is untrue (implied) because we’re both just men and I don’t come threateningly to seek to overpower you.

In the poetic form that this story comes, it may appear a little straight-laced to us but I believe the tone or sense of Elihu’s words are as I have suggested.  I have always been struck by the similarities between what he says and then what the Lord says.  I believe he comes as a godly intermediary. This is no jumped-up upstart trying to put down these four older men.  I believe we should see graciousness in the way he says things.  This run-in to the main thrust of what he has to say to Job suggests a diplomat, or at least one who is concerned about the people he is addressing.

Perhaps these thoughts might leave us thinking about how we approach people who we feel need correcting.  Presumably we have earned some right to be in the position of correcting another.  If not we should remain silent!  But perhaps by servant hearted godliness we have to come to the place of being in a position to help others in their thinking.  We have to assume from the context that they have wrong thinking and we need to help them correct it.  Do we come to them as people who are obviously lesser beings who can’t think properly for themselves, or do we approach them as children of God to whom we are coming as servants.  I am always mindful of Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders: “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.(Acts 20:28)  What was he saying to them?   As you care for the church, remember that these are people who are precious to Jesus for he gave his life for them.  They are precious to him!   That is how we approach Christians in need of correction: they are precious to Jesus and we should treat them accordingly.  May it be so!