Saturday, July 21, 2012

Alms for the poor. Beer and paycheques for the pastor. - 1 Timothy 5

Pastoral Letters Series
1 Timothy 5:1-2 (ESV)
Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

After a brief encouragement to live as though the church is a family, Paul instructs Timothy in how to care for the widows among them. The widows among them would have been without the social assistance we have today. Without children or a husband, they would be especially destitute. Paul encourages Timothy to judge each case based on the need of the person asking for care. He tells him to encourage people to go to their family first.

I always remember when I read this just how different our society is today from that of the early church. In Timothy's day, households, families, and culture all lived, worked, and did business together and in small communities. Families shared together to provide for each other and survive. I have gladly worked for people with disabilities for over eleven years. Frequently I think of how our individualistic and self-centred culture has left the most vulnerable on the edges of our culture and communities. Communication technology increases how much we communicate, but decreases our connection. We have more friends on facebook, but fewer face-to-face. Families live across the nations from each other. We travel hours at breakneck speed to and from work, but we don't know our neighbours.

It is right and good that a church should have policies for who they will financially help and how. Church member should give generously to their communities so that goods can be distributed to those with need. But none of this should replace the real relationships that meet our greatest needs. We are brothers and sisters. Those seeking help from the church should receive more than a food basket or cheque. What we really offer is family, belonging, a home. This starts with the families that make up the church. We take care of each other.

1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV)
 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

We should read this verse remembering that Paul began the chapter by instructing us to treat each other in the church as immediate family.

1 Timothy 5:17-18 (ESV)
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain”, and, “The labourer deserves his wages.”

Put simply, those that preach and teach in the church should be paid for what they do, especially those who put in as many hours as one would a job. Preaching and pastoring are very hard work, and do take a lot of time. A healthy church has many people sharing the load of pastoring, but it is not wrong for a church to have paid staff that are supported by the community to do the work they do.

Paul continues about elders by instructing Timothy in how to deal with accusations about them. His advice is the same as Timothy's cultural tradition. Elders are to be accused of wrongdoing based on two witnesses or more, just like anyone else. Elders are people, too. Even if we follow the instructions for choosing elders based on good character as 1 Timothy 3 says, elders can still fail. Let us learn to discipline and restore well those in the church who have fallen. Let us not abide injustice, but let us show much grace to those who fail. Let us forgive and redeem. This demonstrates the gospel.

1 Timothy 5:22, 24-25 (ESV)
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.  24 The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.

Paul is reminding Timothy here again to let people be tested before they take on ministry roles. Take the time needed to know someone before giving them service roles in the church. We're all on a journey.

I will end with the parenthetical practical advice Paul inserts at the end of the chapter. I was, in fact, given this advice when I first began preaching on a regular basis in 2002. At that time, I was so nervous to speak in front of people that I would always throw up before I began. My pastor suggested I have half a glass of wine an hour before I next addressed the church. I did, and never threw up again. I often wonder how close my situation matched the notoriously timid Timothy's, and whether Paul's advice was for the same reason.

1 Timothy 5:22 (ESV)
(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)

Read 1 Timothy 5

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