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Honor your elders

When Paul talks about honoring the elders in today’s Bible reading, he isn’t talking about honoring your parents or honoring people who are older than you. He’s talking about honoring church elders.

Elders in the First Century church were pastors and mature men who had been called to provide spiritual and financial leadership of the church. Deacons tended to the day-to-day “pastoral care” ministries of the churches.

In most of the churches in my tribe, Baptist Churches, we don’t have elders. Pastors provide spiritual leadership and work with the deacons to administer the financial dealings of the church. Our Congregational polity means that all business decisions must be approved by the church congregation. How minutely the deacons manage the church differs from church to church.

I remember one church where every motion brought before the church in our business meetings came from the “Deacon Board”. And I remember hearing stories of staff members who had to appeal to the deacons to approve everything down to the number of servings of fruit on a Singles Retreat. Yes, seriously!

Admittedly, not all church elders are worthy of respect. But Paul isn’t talking about those people in 1 Timothy 5. He tells Timothy that good leaders who work hard at preaching and teaching should be considered worthy of double honor. Exactly what Paul means here may be a little unclear, but he explains himself when he quotes the Old Testament and talks about letting oxes eat while they work. (Deuteronomy 25:4) He summaries his thoughts with, “The worker is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18)

Unfortunately, not every church treats its pastor as well as I have been treated. Just this week, I talked with a pastor-friend about new opportunities before him. He hesitated whether to take the next steps with a new church because with the church-provided parsonage, he might end up with less in his pocket every month, despite the slightly higher salary. Most pastor search committees — and churches in general for that matter — are unaware of the financial downside to living in a parsonage. The IRS sees the parsonage as a taxable asset in the salary package. This means the pastor must pay income taxes on a “fair market rental value” for the parsonage. So for this friend, going to this new opportunity may not be the financial increase he and his family were hoping for. I deeply hope that churches are just unaware of situations like this, rather than being uncaring about them. Many churches have no idea just how poorly they are treating their “elders”. It’s wrong and God will hold them to account for their mistreatment of these servants.

Application

You can honor your “elders” in many ways.

How do you feel about your pastor and church ministry staff? Do you appreciate them? Do you tell them? Sometimes a reassuring or affirming word goes a long way.

Do you pray for your church staff? Have you asked them how you can pray for them?

Sometimes a gift certificate to a restaurant and an offer to keep the kids so a staff member can take his wife on a date night can go a long way.

I haven’t met anyone who goes into vocational ministry for the money. In most churches, there’s no money to be in it for anyway! But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid for their work. Is your church fairly compensating your church staff? When was the last time your pastor or staff received a raise or a special gift to show your appreciation? Maybe it’s time to talk with your church leaders about addressing these issues.

I hope that you and your church honor your elders. Honor them, not as unto men, but as unto God. (Colossians 3:23–24)

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Image source: Wikimedia

In today’s Bible reading, Paul tells his spiritual son Timothy that Believers should pray for those in authority over them. He uses several Greek words for prayer, each covering a different kind of prayer. And he tells Timothy to pray “for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 CSB) The emphasis isn’t so much on the kinds of prayers, but whom the prayers are to be for. He begins with “everyone” and immediately names the title of civil authorities. Yes, we need to pray for our church leaders, but that’s not Paul’s focus. Paul’s focus is on the civil authorities. Why?

In order to better appreciate Paul’s instructions to pray for those in authority, we must look at the historical context of Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul wrote the letter around AD 63-66 after his release from house arrest in Rome. He is quite aware of the growing climate of Roman religious persecution. Nero is the Roman Emporer and he isn’t known for being friendly to Christians. Actually, Nero is known to have used Christians as street lights in Rome as their bodies were impaled and set afire at night.

It’s in this historical context that Paul tells Timothy to pray for civil authorities … including Nero. WHAT???

You may have seen social media posts decrying Christian persecution because a retail store employee was forbidden from telling customers, “Merry Christmas” or an HOA prohibited a Christian from displaying a manger on her front lawn. Now let me ask, in comparison to the religious persecution experienced by First Century Christians under Nero, how can we dare call these examples “Christian persecution”? We can’t because it isn’t.

Application

It seems that our political climate is as divided as I’ve ever heard of. When it comes to those in places of civil authority in our country, I confess, I complain a lot more than I pray.

You may really like the current President of the United States of America. Or you may think the President is unpresidential. You may think the President is a reprobate. You may feel the President is personally repulsive. You may feel the President is guilty of committing crimes.

I’m sure lots of people have voiced these opinions of most of our Presidents!

It really doesn’t matter who our civil authorities are, if you call yourself a Christian, you are obligated to pray for them. The same goes for those in civil authority on the State and community level. Paul says to pray for all of them. And so we must.

So what do we pray for those in civil authority?

For starters, pray for their salvation. Pray for their walk with God. Pray they live in integrity. Pray for wisdom. And pray for impartiality in enforcing, legislating, and interpreting our laws.

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Distracting discussions

We begin reading 1 Timothy in today’s Bible reading. Paul reminds Timothy that he should teach people not to teach false doctrine or pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. Why? Because they “promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan which operates by faith”. (1 Timothy 1:3-4, CSB)

Paul refers to Timothy as his “true son in the faith.” (v.2) He sees himself as being a spiritual father and role model to Timothy who is learning the ropes as a young pastor. Obviously, there were some people who weren’t teaching sound/correct doctrine, but rather speculative ideas. Rather than sticking with properly using the Law (the Scriptures available to New Testament Believers), these false teachers seemed to prefer things that distracted from the Gospel message.

I love a deep theological conversation as much as the next guy. Back in my seminary days, several of us would often talk about theological issues late into the night in the stairwell of the men’s dorm. Unfortunately, at least 99.9% of the things we used to argue about are the kinds of things Paul was referring to. Looking back, it’s almost humorous that we literally lost sleep over things that don’t matter and things that distracted us and divided us, as opposed to things that build up each other. (Ephesians 4:29)

It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t refer to false doctrine — as opposed to true doctrine — but rather to different doctrine. Paul uses this word different in 2 Corinthians 11:4 to refer to a different Spirit and different gospel. In Galatians 1:6, Paul says he’s astonished that the church has so quickly turned to a different gospel. Two verses later in Galatians 1:8-9, Paul curses those who would preach a gospel contrary to the one he had preached to them, and presumably he’s equating the contrary and the different gospel they have quickly turned to.

We don’t know what those myths and endless genealogies were. And I’m glad we don’t. But in many ways, we are probably still rehashing the same kinds of distracting discussions that Paul warned Timothy to be on his guard against.

Application

What kinds of things distract you in your Christian walk? They may be innocent things, but what kind of things — that you do or that you enjoy reading or listening to — promote speculations, rather than things that promote God’s redemptive plan for mankind? What kind of things do you need to lay aside in order to keep your focus on the “main thing”?

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Thorn

If you’ve been around church for a while, you may have heard of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”. Today’s Bible reading includes Paul’s brief discussion of his thorn.

Paul never tells us specifically what his thorn was. Obviously, he was using the word as a metaphor of something else. Some have speculated it was poor eyesight. Some have speculated it was malaria. The truth is, we don’t know what it was. And if we knew, I’m sure someone would find a similar thorn, claim it was Paul’s and proceed to venerate “Paul’s thorn”.

What we do know about Paul’s thorn is that God gave it to him to keep him humble. (2 Corinthians 12:7) Further, Paul’s thorn was a “messenger of Satan”. Paul asked God to remove his thorn, but each time, God told him “no”. God wanted to use Paul’s thorn to show His strength, made perfect in Paul’s weakness.

There are a few things to notice from Paul’s discussion. God doesn’t always do what we ask Him to do, even apostles. God can use all things to work out for our good of becoming more like Jesus, even our weaknesses. God’s grace is sufficient.

Finally, Paul’s thorn was a “messenger of Satan”. The word translated “messenger” is also translated as “angel”. This means that Paul’s thorn was a Satanic angel. Paul — the Apostle, the “spiritual heavyweight” — was demonized. Am I trying to say that Paul was demon possessed? No, because that’s not the language the Bible uses. The Bible doesn’t differentiate between demon possession and demon oppression. The Bible just says “demonized”. And to be demonized is to have a demon.

Application

This may not fit well with what you’ve always heard in church. But that’s what Paul says. So what do you do when you come across something in the Bible that doesn’t fit your preconceived beliefs? It’s important that we stick with what God says in the Bible and adjust our beliefs accordingly.

If Paul could be demonized, then it’s possible for other Believers to be demonized. Even us. Even today. And if a Believer is demonized, he/she should do the same thing Paul did: Ask God to remove the demon and its influence. But if God says, “no”, then we should accept what He has given/allowed and live in closer dependence on the empowering Holy Spirit to live day-to-day until our final deliverance to the other side of eternity. God’s strength can be made perfect in our weaknesses, too.

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Recently, the Parker County Sheriff’s Department (in the county where I pastor) issued a warning about counterfeit money being passed off as being legitimate. In a news conference, they highlighted the easily-discerned marks of these counterfeit bills. Anyone who has handled much money should be able to spot these counterfeits, if you just look at the bills instead of their denominations and the dead president pictures. Instead of noting these were bills of the United States Treasury, these bills clearly state that they are “For Motion Picture Purposes”.

Paul wasn’t happy with the Corinthians. They had lost all semblance of discernment. In fact, in today’s Bible reading, Paul rebukes them for opening wide their doors and accepting people peddling another Jesus, a different Spirit and a different Gospel than what he had preached to them earlier. (2 Corinthians 11:4)

A few years ago, after many hours arguing the details on some tertiary issues with some cultists, it dawned on me that I was arguing the wrong things. Paul squarely hits the nail on the head when he lists these three subjects: Jesus, the Spirit, and the Gospel. Every religion and every cult distort all three of these subjects, or outright reject the historic orthodox Christian belief.

If my doorbell rings tomorrow and some nicely-dressed young men ask me if I want to talk about Heavenly Father’s plan, I’ll invite them in, but I will only discuss three subjects: Jesus, the Spirit, and the Gospel. If an older and younger couple of women knock on my door and ask if I’d like to talk about living forever on Paradise Earth, I’ll invite them in, but I will only discuss three subjects: Jesus, the Spirit, and the Gospel.

I have encouraged classes at church to limit their conversations with cultists and other religious adherents to these three subjects. Why? Because it keeps you on task on three of the most important subjects in light of eternity. If you only discuss three subjects, you know very clearly where you stand on these important doctrines, and you can easily demonstrate where they don’t line up Scripturally … where things really matter.

When discussing the nature of the Gospel in Galatians, Paul says that if anyone — including an angel from heaven — preaches a Gospel contrary to the one he preached, let that person be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

I’ve heard that no one is taught how to recognize counterfeit money. Instead, bank tellers and even the checkers at your local big box retailer are trained in some key features of real money. Just a few months ago, I was waiting for the customer ahead of me to check out, when the checker told the customer she couldn’t accept her $100 bill. The marker the checker used to validate the bill didn’t reveal the correct color. She called in a supervisor who also swiped the bill with the marker and immediately told the customer they couldn’t accept her money. This customer was trying to make off with goods she hadn’t legitimately paid for, and the checker would have been disciplined for accepting funny money.

Application

So how do you recognize spiritual counterfeits? The same way the checker recognized counterfeit money. She was familiar with the real thing. When the customer presented the fake bill, it didn’t bear the marks of the real thing.

The only way you’ll recognize spiritual counterfeit is to know your Bible. Read your Bible. Study your Bible. Read and study with other Believers. Carefully choose whose books you read and whose teachings you listen to and watch. The more familiar you are with the real deal, the more easily you’ll recognize a fake.

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1 2 3 24

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