2 Timothy 1 – Thankful

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Given the context of where Paul is writing from, no one would blame him for complaining or even, at the very least, expressing some desire to either be free or be done with it all.  Chained in a dungeon, facing his execution, and deserted by all of his friends and companions, it would seem a good time to just give up.  Rather than complaining, though. we see Paul open this second letter to Timothy with thanksgiving.  How many of us, put in the same situation, could say we would do the same?  I know I wouldn’t.

Paul, though, keeps everything in focus.  Yes, it is likely that his life will end soon.  He has also come to realize that his work for God is also nearing its end.  Yet that doesn’t keep him from continuing to encourage Timothy or to care for the Church.  He knew of the persecution that was going on throughout the Roman Empire and his first concern was for those persecuted, that they would not let go of the Gospel Message.

To make sure of this, Paul builds into Timothy, one of the major leaders of the Church at this  time.  He implores him to hold on to what he was taught and to “fan the flame” of God’s gift to Him.  Though the path may be dangerous, Paul doesn’t see this as a time to maintain the status quo.  Instead, he reminds Timothy of the empowerment that we have received through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We are not called to shrink back, to hide until our own safety is assured, but rather we are called to live into the hope that we have by being willing to risk everything for the sake of the Gospel.

There is nothing that the enemy can do to take away our hope, to separate us from God’s love once we have accepted Christ into our hearts.  However, there is plenty the enemy can do to prevent us from getting to that point.  One of the ways is to make us fearful so that we don’t spread the Gospel message.  Paul doesn’t want the church to fall into this trap.  The message must go out no matter what the cost!



1 Timothy 5 – Treating Others

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Chapter 5 seems to be full of rules and regulations about how to treat different groups of people within the church.  At first glance all we really see is “do this” and “don’t do that,” “take care of this group” but “that group can take care of themselves.”  Honestly, given the teachings of Jesus and the freedom that Paul touts so often, this seems like a bit of a reversal to all that.

However, Paul’s continuing desire to equip and empower the believers to live into their faith sometimes requires some boundaries and rules regarding how that all works out.  These things, like some of the boundaries that we have in our own churches, are necessary things to have in place so that the church can continue to function, so that people understand practical examples of what “loving your neighbor” and “freedom” mean, and so that the church isn’t caught in a position of enabling people to be lazy or advantage of her generosity and thus sinning in some way, shape, or form.

We often talk about Law vs. Freedom as if there can only be one or the other.  People tend to see rules and policies as part of the law, something that enslaves us or keeps our hands tied.  While there can be truth in that, boundaries that govern the limits of our freedom are often a good thing.  In the case of Timothy and the church in Ephesus, allowing younger widows to be “on the list” could encourage idle behavior… or worse yet encourage sins like gossip and slander.  Churches must tread carefully in these circumstances, balancing the joy of generosity with the danger of enabling.

The same can be true with regards to the treatment of leaders.  All leaders should be held accountable to the higher calling that they have in the time of leadership.  However, we must also be careful to not allow the discontented voice of 1 or 2 to sway the perceptions of all.  Once again, we must balance these things, taking appropriate action when necessary and also trusting in God’s call on their lives.



1 Timothy 3 – Qualified Leadership

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In pretty much every job description on earth there is a section that talks about what makes a particular person qualified for the job that they are seeking.  For most of those jobs, that will include education as well as a number of skills and experience that will be needed to get the job done.  The qualifications for leaders within the church, however, have much less to do with skills or education and much more to do with the living out of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Looking at the list that Paul writes here, most of this seems fairly obvious and self-evident.  As the leaders go, so will go the followers and as such, it is important that the leaders of the Christian community be those who are living out their faith well.

It is important to point out, I think, that in no way do these things have any bearing on the salvation of an individual.  Paul never meant this to be some sort of “works righteousness” message.  No leaders are earning any special place in heaven by being good leaders.  In fact, Scripture says that leaders will be judged more harshly because of their position.

Instead, we think about this in terms of modeling what means to live a life of faith in response to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  As leaders, we want to be examples to those around us, but not so that people can model us, rather so that they can model Christ.

Unlike our politicians, who tout themselves as the “best of the best,” church leaders should understand that they are not.  Their calling doesn’t depend on what they have done but rather what God has done for them in Jesus Christ.  As such, leadership in the church does not look like a number of people standing on a hill so others will look to them, but rather a group of people standing within the community pointing to Christ.



1 Timothy 2 – Worship Instructions

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I do not typically do a lot of research when it comes to these blog posts.  My goal and hope for these posts when I started them was that they would be more personal reflections out of some of my education and life experiences.  Today, however, I’ve done my homework.

First of all, Paul is addressing the worship of the church, particularly in Ephesus.  Some of this we have talked about elsewhere, especially in the book of Ephesians.  It is interesting to note, I think, that when addressing matters of worship, Paul never once addresses the issue of music.  Music is a stylistic preference that the church has far too often equated with whether worship is “good” or “bad.”

Paul’s concern in worship, as always, is where the heart of the people is as they gather together to worship God.  Here this motivation is found expressly through Paul’s encouragement toward unified prayer, not just for themselves, but for the world around them as well.

In doing so, Paul also encourages Timothy and the church in Ephesus to avoid distractions and put off and selfish ambition.  This is the driving force behind both the plea for unity, “lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing,” as well as Paul’s comments on modesty and appropriate dress.  Those who dressed in fancy clothes, jewelry, and hairstyles did so to show off their elaborate wealth, not as a way of honoring God.

All of this falls in line with what Paul has already written to the church in Ephesus, as does his comments about women being in leadership.  Remember that, in Ephesians 5, Paul talks about the roles of men and women under the distinct phrase: “submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.”  That is still true here.

The specific context here, 2000 years ago, is somewhat of a mystery.  Where the women of this community particularly dominating in nature, causing trouble with the men?  We do know that, because of the cultic worship of pagan gods that went on in the city, Paul desired that the Christians be set apart.  This pagan worship involved showy signs of spiritual indwelling as well as temple prostitution, most of which happened by women, and which Paul obviously wanted to avoid.  We find this to also be true in the context of the church in Corinth as well.

Whatever the specific issues that led to Paul’s words here, we also cannot read them in a vacuum without looking to the rest of Scripture for God’s will in this subject.  One of the fundamental themes of God’s work in Jesus Christ is breaking down barriers in relationships both with each other and with him.  Through the reconciliation that Jesus Christ ushered in, divisions were also broken down.  Paul himself writes that there is no longer “Jews nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  In addition, the prophets attest to a time when God’s Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (not just on men).  Women have been clearly gifted by God for the tasks of leadership and service in the Chuch and in the world and we must honor that gifting and God’s call on their lives by equipping and empowering all women and men to their fullest God-given potential.



1 Timothy 1 – Distractions

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As Paul opens his letter, he implores Timothy to keep his focus on the main thing.  Apparently, there had been issues with people getting distracted from the main message of the Gospel through by the teaching of false doctrines.  Paul is also concerned about long discussions about “myths” and “endless genealogies.”

The reason that he focuses so much on those things is because they were part of the false teaching of Gnosticism that had cropped up in the early church.  These genealogies were a part of tracing things back to the very beginning of the world, or to attempted to discern or know some secret knowledge or spiritual being that others don’t know.  What these ended up being, for one reason or another, is just a mess of endless conversations about nothing that went nowhere.

Isn’t that fairly typical of the enemy?  Rather than a direct assault on the ministry of the church or a challenge to the power of the Gospel, he takes a round-about approach, distracting believers in endless discussions and arguments about things that are neither true nor matter at all, and Paul calls them out for it.

Paul’s letter, however, is not necessarily directed toward the church in Ephesus, where Timothy was leading, but rather to Timothy himself.  Paul left Timothy in charge at the church in Ephesus, and as such, is responsible for leading the people in this time.

People’s ability to talk around subjects is particularly amazing to me.  Far too often we spend time talking about issues and subjects that are not the true issue or problem in our lives.  Sometimes, we argue about subjects that don’t even matter simply to avoid the real issues that are taking place in our lives or in the life of our faith community.  Paul charges Timothy, as the leader of the church there, to see through this, cut through this, and get back on track to the Gospel message of God’s love for all people and the love he calls us to as His people in Christ.



Galatians 2 – Flippity Flop

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Paul spent a long time working toward acceptance within the Christian community, an understandable hurdle to overcome when one joins the side of those he or she has been persecuting.  This was somewhat complicated by the fact that Paul was also moving outside of the Jewish circles and preaching the Gospel to Gentiles.  This made the Jewish Christians somewhat uncomfortable which was also understandable given the generations of exclusion that had taken place.

There is really one thing that Paul is addressing here that he does so in two different forms.  First, there was a process of forgiveness, healing, and acceptance that the believers had to go through before they welcomed Paul into the community.  In that time, I’m sure questions were raised about his motivations and such, but ultimately that time had since passed and he had become not only a part of the believing community but a leader within it.

The other aspect of this is Paul’s ability to and right questioning of Cephas, also known as the Apostle Peter, in his interaction with the Gentiles.  It seems that Peter was working harder at “keeping up appearances” with the Jewish Christians and doing so was leading other believers astray.  As we read in 1 Corinthians, Paul is uniquely concerned that our actions do not damage the witness of the Gospel, and that is what is happening here.

Division or Unity?

All of this is to once again prove Paul’s authority as an Apostle.  Ultimately this Authority comes from God.  His calling on our lives, however, would also be confirmed by others in the Church and in leadership positions.  It would also be confirmed by Paul’s actions as a leader.  He has the responsibility to preach the Gospel and live His life in accordance with it, and to be held accountable when actions and words don’t line up as was the case with Peter.

Thinking about this and watching the continuing political coverage of the current election cycle makes me wonder what has happened to our political leaders.  They say one thing and do another, or just say different things all the time depending on who they are in front of.  How have we come to such a point?  How are they held accountable?  It is a lesson for those of us in the church, both leader and layperson alike.  We cannot flip-flop our message, our lifestyle, and our values to suit whomever we are with.

We cannot flip-flop our message, our lifestyle, and our values to suit whomever we are with.  Yes, there is freedom, but never should that freedom be used to lead others astray.  Rather, we use our freedom to love.

I wonder what the government would be like if it lived out the love, acceptance, equality, and unity that it so often claims and far too often wields like a weapon against the other party?



1 Corinthians 1 – True Wisdom

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From the very beginning of this letter, Paul touches on the theme that will be repeated many times throughout his correspondence with the church in Corinth.  Ultimately Paul’s appeal to the Christians there is that they would have the same mind as Christ, who is the wisdom of God.  This wisdom transcends all worldly and human wisdom.  That, however, makes little sense to those who do not understand the nature of the Gospel.

God’s wisdom does not take the strongest, most eloquent, or the most powerful of humankind to further His message and love.  In fact, as is seen with Christ, God often chooses the weak, the seemingly foolish things by worldly standards to show His strength and love.

Paul takes this theme and applies it immediately to the divisions plaguing the church in Corinth.  There had been many disagreements about issues related to theology and the practice of faith, but it also seems that there was an issue of who people felt was best to follow as a leader of the church.  Each of the men listed were champions of the early church.  Paul, a theological giant, Peter, the Rock and Jesus “right-hand man,” and Apollos, an eloquent and passionate speaker.  All were solid choices for leadership.

Yet Paul cuts through it all, getting right to the point: Jesus is the head of His Church.  God’s strength and salvation will not be found in the following of one good leader or in the strength of theological knowledge or eloquent speaking.

It isn’t, however, that God doesn’t use these things, though.  Paul’s emphasis is on their place of importance in our lives.  When we look to these things rather than the cross, we empty it of its power, essentially saying, Jesus’ work is not good enough for us.



Luke 20 – Religious Authority

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The moment Jesus’ authority is questioned shows up in both Matthew and Mark, and in all three circumstances, after putting them in their place, He speaks a warning about the religious leaders.  They may hold a high place in society, but, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

Jesus’ comment at the end of his warning is telling, for those of us in places of authority, we will be judged “more severely.”  I’ve often wondered what this really means and what it looks like in today’s culture.

It is pretty clear throughout Scripture that those God calls to be leaders, those with knowledge and wisdom, are held to a higher standard.  Jesus shows us how we are to live into this through the model of humble service to one another and sharing God’s love and the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven to all He encountered.  When Jesus sends out the seventy-two and the twelve, He commands them and gives them authority in this way.

I wonder what Jesus would have to say about the leaders of our day.  Some go around touting their status as “reverend,” all the while stirring up trouble, division, and dissension in the name of religious rites, demanding perfection from some while excusing the sins of others.  Others find the use of vulgar speech and emotionally manipulative tactics to be the way to more power.  Sadly, almost every leader that we see in the news or seeking an office does less of the humble serving and much more of the “devouring” that Jesus mentions.

Leaders that say that we need to “help” and “serve” without showing it with their actions (or their pockets) should probably heed Jesus warning here.  Like the parables, when much is given, much is expected.



Matthew 23 – Walk the Talk

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Yikes!  Jesus’ teaching takes on a rather angry tone today!  This scathing section of Scripture tears the Phariesses and other teachers of the Law apart for their practices as the leaders of Israel.  It is interesting, and sometimes we miss this, how Jesus begins this section; He acknowledges their position, their seat, and tells His listeners that they are to”do and observe whatever they tell you…”  Doesn’t this seem a bit contradictory to the harsh verbal beating that follows?

This isn’t the only time that Jesus acknowledges earthly authority as being valid.  In fact, multiple places in the Old and New Testament we are presented with the fact that earthly authority and government is ordained by God and we are called to respect those seats.  That does not, however, mean that we are to do what they do which is a major distinction to say the least.

The “7 woes” that Jesus speaks of here revole largely around the how the teachings of the Pharisees don’t match up with their actions.  They set up Law and practice which they themselves do not follow; “heavy burdens” that they are unwilling to bear.  Yet the things that they do follow are those outward rituals that make them to appear pious and righteous in the eyes of the people.  During those times they take honored and very visible seats so all can see their “holiness.”

Jesus points out the depth of their hypocracy; this is, in fact, the very thing that condemns them.  They don’t even walk their own talk.  The greatest leader, Jesus reminds us, is the one who humbly serves.  These are important reminders for us, in a country and culture of would-be leaders, ones who speak of great things but are betrayed by their actions, or lack thereof.



Day 348: 1 Timothy 1-6; Leadership Qualifications

We now enter a set of three books that are commonly called the Pastoral Epistles.  These are a set of letters that Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus towards the end of his life, likely while he was imprisoned in Rome.  Paul, understanding that he is at the point of handing off the leadership of the Church to others, exhorts Timothy and Titus, two primary, second generation believers and leaders in the church about the things that are important as they move into the future.  The Church itself was in a time of transition, as persecution was increasing and the thoughts of the immediate return of Christ were fading, the Church and its leaders had to learn how to function in the world as it worked to spread the Gospel in an extremely hostile and dangerous environment.

Remember that some of the beginnings of Church leadership and governance have already been seen in the book of Acts.  In Acts 6, we see the first selection of the office of deacon, a role that was primarily concerned with the physical well being of the Church and the poor around them.  These were people that are in charge or receiving offerings and gifts and then distributing them to those who have need.  Also in Acts, we see several situations where the church leaders decide things in a greater counsel.  In some ways this was the beginning of what the Reformed Church knows as a “classis” or a “synod,” which are larger bodies with representatives that come from churches within their areas to help govern and maintain order and direction in the greater church.

In my studies this semester I have had the opportunity to read through the Book of Church Order for the Reformed Church in America and some commentaries on it.  While this probably doesn’t sound like an entirely thrilling read, and it wasn’t, I think that it does offer some insight into how the Church, or at least the RCA denomination has taken the words that Paul speaks to Timothy here, and later to Titus, very seriously.  For lack of better things to say, I think I’m just going to encourage you to re-read this portion of 1 Timothy 3 and then I included a portion of the preamble of the RCA Book of Church Order about the leadership offices.  Compare what Paul has to say and what the view of the RCA is.  The emphasis on ordination to the offices within the church is important in the RCA because of what is meant by the word “ordained.”  It comes from the word “to choose” or to “elect,” something that comes from our doctrine of election, something that has a great deal to do with Lord’s choosing of a person of people to accomplish a particular task.  I say this, and so does the RCA, in whatever way conveys the highest amount of humility possible as this is not something to be flaunted, but rather understood as being completely and totally about the work of God in the lives of the people He has chosen, not because of their own excellence or merit.  In any case, let me encourage you again to read and compare the selections below!  I welcome any discussion that they or this might bring!

1 Timothy 3

Qualifications for Overseers

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.  Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,  not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Qualifications for Deacons

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.  They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.  Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.  Let deacons each be the husband of one wife,managing their children and their own households well.  For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Preamble of the RCA Book of Church Order

The Reformed churches have sought to follow the practice of the churches whose experience is recorded in the New Testament. The churches then were ruled by “presbyters” or “elders,” just as the synagogues from which the first Christian converts came were ruled by elders. The Reformed churches consider the minister to be an elder of a special kind, called in some churches of the Reformed order, the “teaching elder.” Ministers and elders therefore govern the church together. They also assist in the governing of the larger church by becoming from time to time members of the higher legislative assemblies or courts of the church. Thus also the lines of authority in the Reformed churches move from the local church to the General Synod. This is so since Christ, according to the New Testament, has appointed officers to govern the church under himself. Their authority to govern derives from him even though they are elected by the people. The local churches together delegate authority to classes and synods, and having done so, they also bind themselves to be subject together to these larger bodies in all matters in which the common interests of the many churches are objects of concern.  While governance of the Reformed church is executed through the offices gathered in assemblies, the church expresses its full ministry through all its members in a variety of tasks. Each assembly is charged with determining the nature and extent of its ministry in faithful obedience to Scripture and in responsible concern for the church’s mission in the world. Every member receives a ministry in baptism and is called with the whole church to embody Christ’s intentions for the world.