In today’s Bible reading, Paul tells Timothy what to look for in church leaders. I don’t know that Paul’s checklist is so much a checklist as much as it is a reminder that character matters. And character matters … a lot.
I find it interesting how Bible teachers and commentators read their Bibles. Many modern Bible teachers look at Paul’s qualifications and immediately jump to the bit about elders and deacons not being divorced. (1 Timothy 3:2, 12) Or that’s what we think it says.
Paul’s actual wording is “a man of one woman” or “a husband of one wife”. Yes, Paul could mean that elders and a deacons cannot be divorced. But that isn’t what he said. Paul could have used the word “divorce” in his discription, but he didn’t. Instead he worded this qualification in a way that includes polygamy, divorce, and the general way the man looks at women. The way Paul worded it covers it all!
On a parenthetical note, let me say that whether or not Paul was talking about divorce, I don’t think he had our American “no-fault divorce” in mind. I don’t want to get into it here, but “divorce” in the Bible and “divorce” in late Twentieth/Early Twenty-First Century America are not the same. And we can easily run into problems when we impose a modern concept onto the Biblical context.
I also find it interesting how Bible translators do their jobs. Specifically, why do they translate some words one way at one time and translate those same words a different way at another time. My two somewhat-related interests intersect in Paul’s prescription to Timothy when it comes to the service of men and women in the church.
We get the word misogyny and gynochology from the Greek word for woman. This Greek word can be translated as woman or wife, depending on how the word is used. You can’t just say that a Greek word always means one English word in all circumstances. Context dictates how to properly bring the word from Greek into English. Sometimes, the word means woman. Other times, the word means wife. Similarly, the Greek word translated as man can also be translated as husband, depending on the context.
The reason you can’t force a one-to-one correspondence of Greek-to-English words is you run into interpretation issues when the author speaks generically and you translate it specifically or vice-versa. For example, look at Paul’s prohibition of women teaching men in church in yesterday’s reading (1 Timothy 2:12). Is Paul’s concern with women (in general) or wives (specifically) teaching men (in general) or husbands (specifically)? I think by translating the word contextually clears up most of the “problem” passages like the one I’m referring to.
Getting back to Paul’s requirement of male church leaders being a “man of one woman”… Paul was concerned that male leaders should have a single focus on one woman. Church leaders shouldn’t be distracted with multiple wives. And neither should they have “roaming eyes”. They shouldn’t be distracted by other women; they should have eyes for only their own woman.
There’s an application for all of us when it comes to having a single-focus on God when it comes to a growing relationship with Him. This is reinforced with Jesus’ comments when He was questioned on the “Greatest Commandment”. (Matthew 22:36–40)
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.
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.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about people supporting his mission work. He says that even in the midst of financial hardship, the Macedonian churches gave out of their poverty to support God’s work. He says, ” I can testify that, according to their ability and even beyond their ability, of their own accord, they begged us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us by God’s will.” 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 (CSB) This reminds me of when Jesus and His Disciples watched people give their tithes and offerings in the Temple in Mark 12:41–44.
Sitting across from the temple treasury, he watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had—all she had to live on.”
The picture above is from a Facebook group for Small Church Pastors that I belong to. I have never seen anything like this. And I find it gravely offensive on many layers. This is definitely NOT what Paul was talking about in today’s reading. My point is not to get into the pattern of New Testament giving, but to talk about how Paul used the Macedonian churches as an example of how giving is supposed to function.
As I read Scripture, it seems that if God is calling someone to do a ministry, God will provide the funding to support the work. Missionary Hudson Taylor said,
“God’s work, done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”
If Taylor was correct — and I believe he was — what does that say about modern-day fund raising to support “God’s work”? I remember many conversations with my dad talking about people “begging for money” on Christian radio and TV. It shouldn’t be this way! Yes, ministries should be up front with their needs. And they may miss a lot of financial support if they don’t ask. And like Paul says, people get in on a blessing when they support God’s work.
But how much of “God’s work” isn’t? That may well explain why so many ministries have to “beg for money”. Maybe it isn’t God’s “big K” Kingdom they’re trying to build, but rather their own “little k” kingdoms.
Paul says that the Macedonian churches begged for the privilege to support God’s work. (2 Corinthians 8:4–5) When Moses collected the Hebrews’ gifts to build the wilderness Tabernacle, the people responded above and beyond the need. Moses responded, “Let no man or woman make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” So the people stopped. The materials were sufficient for them to do all the work. There was more than enough.” Exodus 36:6–7 (CSB)
Let me ask you, when was the last time a church or ministry begged people to stop giving? I never have!
Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith. Galatians 6:7–10 (CSB)
So how much should you give? That’s a great question! I like what John Piper suggests.
Giving is a way of having what you need. Giving in a regular, disciplined, generous way … is simply good sense in view of the promises of God. [2 Corinthians 9:6] says, “He who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.” Then [2 Corinthians 9:8] says, “God is able to make all grace abound to you that always having all sufficiency . . . ” In other words the “bountiful reaping” promised in verse 6 is explained in verse 8 by God’s pledge to give a sufficiency for us and an abundance for good deeds.
He says elsewhere,
When you get your paycheck, do you look to the Spirit for how to turn this money to best advantage for God’s kingdom, or do you invest it in the field of the flesh for your own private use? Sowing to the Spirit means recognizing where the Spirit aims to produce some luscious fruit for the glory of God and dropping the seed of your resources in there.
One thing to point out: the Corinthians knew Paul and Titus, just as the Macedonians did. They weren’t just sending money to some preacher who may have been a charlatan, frivolously squandering their gifts. There was a sense of accountability by knowing the people they were supporting.
Note: God doesn’t need your money.
But you need to give!
In today’s Bible reading, Paul makes the case for personal budgeting for missions. He tells the church at Corinth to set aside a little extra money every week so that when it comes time to take up a collection, everyone can participate in the blessing of supporting Paul’s mission work.
You may have heard (or personally experienced) the rationing that was done during World War II. People gave up certain things so that the war effort could be carried out. Ladies went without their nylons. Copper pennies were replaced by steel pennies (I actually have some 1978 steel pennies).
John Piper has made the case that Believers should live with a wartime mindset, similar to the mindset people had during the War. Why? Because spiritual war is more real than physical war. The cost of souls dying without Jesus is higher than the cost of soldiers going off to war.
Do you have a wartime mindset when it comes to your finances? Pray about how God would want to use you to further His Kingdom with your finances. Paul didn’t tell the Corinthians how much to set aside, just that they should set aside something. You don’t have to give huge sums of money. But if you set aside a little money each week, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll have available when it comes time to give to the cause of missions locally, in your state, in the US, and around the world.
I remember piggy banks that looked like a bowl of rice that churches used to hand out for missions collection. What a great idea! It reminds you of the basic needs that people have to have in order to survive. And how much more important than food is eternal life?
Paul began talking about spiritual gifts with 1 Corinthians 12. In yesterday’s reading (Chapter 13), he talked about love. In today’s Bible reading, he continues addressing spiritual gifts, specifically how the gifts should be used in the church setting.
The first thing to note is that things were not just a little bit different in the First Century. Today, at least in the US, we have many churches in metropolitan cities, some right across the street or right next door to ours. That wasn’t true in the First Century. We have structures in place — not just the brick-and-mortar kind, but church governing structures — that weren’t in place in the church at Corinth. We have historical differences. We have cultural differences. We have theological differences. Plus, we have the benefit of hindsight. So we need to be very careful about taking our concepts of how things are done in our Twenty-First Century churches and imposing them onto the church at Corinth.
Obviously, the church at Corinth had problems with their attitudes toward many things, including spiritual gifts. As I have said earlier (and throughout 1 Corinthians), the Church at Corinth had a major issue with narcissism, as well as pride, and a lack of humility.
As I said above, Paul tells us how the gifts should be used in the church setting. He is crystal clear in highlighting the point that when God’s people come together in an official setting, everything is to be done for the good of the church body. Everything. We don’t get to do whatever we want. The church is Jesus’ church. Jesus decides how things are done. Our place is to humbly submit to His design. Or… we can live in disobedience. And that’s not a good thing!
When God’s people come together in an official setting, there is to be order, not chaos. Look at a few of Paul’s comments.
In the same way, unless you use your tongue for intelligible speech, how will what is spoken be known? For you will be speaking into the air. So also you—since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, seek to excel in building up the church. What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn,
a teaching, a revelation, another tongue, or an interpretation. Everything is to be done for building up. But everything is to be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:9, 12, 26, 40 (CSB)
In other words, everyone gets to participate. And those who have the same gifts have to take turns. Why? So that everyone benefits.
But I find it interesting that Paul never tells the church leaders to reign in anyone. Paul doesn’t seem to indicate that the leadership should shut down anyone in their chaotic use of their gifts. Instead, the people are to self-regulate. Notice the way Paul says that people should silence themselves, as opposed to being silenced by someone in leadership. Obviously, Paul recognizes that the people have some sense of decorum and humility. But I can see Paul handling things differently if they repeatedly didn’t practice self-control.
But if there is no interpreter, that person is to keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by
one,so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets. 1 Corinthians 14:28, 30–32 (CSB)
God is generous in giving spiritual gifts. He gives according to His choice of who gets what. No one should be “puffed up” because of God’s choice to give him/her a particular gift. And no one should feel belittled for not receiving one of the “big gifts”. Again, God gives according to His choice. But then again, the focus should be on the Giver, not the gift.
By focusing on the Giver, everyone benefits from the humble, orderly exercise of everyone’s spiritual gifts.