Let Your Actions Speak

 

Read: 1 Timothy 4:11-16

When I was a kid, I was a major thrill-seeker. I loved the scariest roller coasters and exciting activities, but I was rarely allowed to do them. First of all, most theme parks have an age requirement to go on the extra scary roller coasters. Once I finally reached the age I needed to be, I still wasn’t tall enough! I missed on the age and height requirements, only to become much more grounded and less interested in thrills by the time I was tall enough and old enough. There was a narrow window when I was interested and allowed. That is not at all what leadership is like…there is no age requirement! There is no height or weight requirement! There is not even an educational requirement to be a leader! Leadership has its basis in the God-given gifts you already possess.

When Paul was writing to Timothy exhorting him to stay strong in his faith and in his leadership of the church, he reminds him that it doesn’t matter that he is young! Paul’s answer to young leaders is actually to set an example for older believers, because followers follow because of actions, not qualifications.

Paul goes on to say, “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.” What Paul is referring to here is a spiritual gift. Timothy had the gift of leadership and teaching, among other things. During that time, and even in some churches today, the elders would lay hands on someone and pray over them, “commissioning” them into their role. We do this in the Presbyterian church when we ordain someone or when we send them out on mission. But Paul is talking about doing this to “commission” them to use their spiritual gifts. What a cool way to build each other up in the faith!

Spiritual gifts are not talked about a lot. But I think they are very important for building up of the body of believers. The thing is, maybe not all of us are leaders naturally, but all of us are gifted in different ways and can build up the church with the gifts we have. In some of Paul’s other letters he writes that the gifts include: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, ministering, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, compassion, apostleship, evangelism, and pastoring.

What are your gifts? Use them to better the body. As Paul told Timothy, you don’t need to be a certain height, or age, or ability, or education level to use your gifts. Just set an example to others by using them well with your actions.

One of the most beautiful ways I have seen spiritual gifts at work was working with a young woman who was developmentally delayed. It seems that all of the clutter and pride and ambition to strive to be like others was cleared away for this person. She knew that she had the gift of compassion, so she would assist adult leaders with younger kids each week in the nursery. She showed compassion to the little ones better than I have seen with many more “qualified” adults. It was a beautiful image of a spiritual gift at work: regardless of age, ability, or education level, she shared her gift of compassion and worked as an example to others.

Questions:

  1. Do you ever feel like you are not taken seriously because of your age or abilities?
  2. How does Paul say to react to that?
  3. What spiritual gifts do you identify in your own life? Spend some time with your family or a close friend sharing your spiritual gifts with each other.
  4. What are some ways you could use your spiritual gifts to better your church community?

Discipline Yourself

Read 1 Timothy 4:1-10

Paul uses a lot of words throughout 1 Timothy that lend well to an analogy of training for a race or a fight. Have you ever run a long-distance race before? Perhaps you have run a marathon, a half marathon, or a 10 km race. I am much more of a sprinter than a long-distance type. But when I was 13, I ran a 5 km race, which was the one-and-only time I have run that far…and I really cannot dignify it as a run.

The problem is that long-distance running takes immense discipline in training and in pacing yourself. I did neither. The day of the race, I woke up, ate a good breakfast, and showed up—the entire extent of my preparation for it. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out. I was off quickly at the fire of the gun, sprinting toward the lead with the best of them, but after about two kilometers I was walking. You know how the story goes…

Paul advocates for training, because ministry leadership, like running, is a long-game, not a sprint. And it takes a lot of training to build up the right sorts of tools. Sure, you can jump right in and probably do fine for the short-term, but you will burn out. Paul knew this, and wanted Timothy to learn this lesson as well!

Paul, mentoring Timothy, wisely writes, “Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” He knew that Timothy could easily be overcome by many of the temptations he would face toward false doctrines and the popular cultural paradigms of thinking, so he needed continual training in godliness. Paul also points out that physical training is valuable in our bodily form, but that training in godliness will not only help us now, but also in the long run—even eternally.

So, if you are a leader in any way, this one is pretty important! Leadership, just like running a long-distance race, requires training to do well. Otherwise, you might be “off to the races,” but quickly will lose ground. Luckily, you can start training early in life.

Training begins with faith—having faith in God, and learning to live that out. Training comes in many forms: reading scripture, spending time with Jesus in prayer, and growing in your spiritual gifts as you act obediently to God’s word. It’s not about asceticism or following the rules, but more about working toward a continually stronger relationship with God.

Training ultimately requires time. If occasional Sundays at church are the only “training” you are doing spiritually, consider other ways you could spend time with God, growing your relationship with him.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How can you strike a balance between faithful spiritual discipline and asceticism?
  2. What do you currently practice to “train yourself in godliness?”
  3. What practices might be helpful to start doing?
  4. What lifestyle changes would be required to do this well?

Share the Load

Read 1 Timothy 3:1-16

When I read 1 Timothy 3, I feel a bit overwhelmed… “Now a bishop (overseer) must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money…Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons.” I have two questions here: One, can leaders have any fun at all? And two: who is then qualified for leadership? This sounds like an impossible task!

If you spend all your time worrying about doing all these things correctly and not messing up, you will never attain the role of a leader. But if you are sharing the load, focused on what you can do well, and allowing Christ to compensate for those weaknesses in your life, you can certainly lead well.

What Paul eventually says in this passage about aspiring leaders is that the mystery of our religion is great! The foundation of all these attitudes and good character traits is Christ himself—taken up in glory! We do not have to do it all on our own, because of the One who paid the ultimate price to live with us, to work in us. If you extend an analogy that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians, we are but “clay jars.” We are ordinary vessels who can allow God to work in our lives. We can accomplish a great deal because of Christ in us.

The other thing that this passage purports is that leaders ought to be held to a higher standard of living, and I agree with this. It affects the witness of the church if a leader acts counter to what the Gospel proclaims. But does this mean that leaders can’t make mistakes, or falter, or have a past? Certainly not!

Paul, himself, was one of the greatest leaders in the early church. He was also one of the worst persecutors the church had ever seen before he met Jesus. In Christ, though, he was able to uphold a different lifestyle. He was blameless because Christ made him so. Ultimately, when I read this passage, I see the fruits of the Spirit coming out in Paul’s language. If you have Christ in you, you will act respectably, hospitably, etcetera, because Jesus compensates in our weakness when we share the load with Him.

The other thing I see coming out in this passage is specific gifts that different positions in the church require. Bishops or overseers require that someone be a good teacher. Perhaps you are not a good teacher, but that doesn’t mean that you should not be a leader in some other capacity. Paul counsels Timothy in these things so that he might be able to share the burden of leadership with others and wisely discern who would be gifted in what role.

Sometimes we tend to take on too much, or try to do things all of our own accord, rather than depending on Christ to work through us. These are always the times when something goes awry! But we are at our best when we don’t go it alone, but yoke ourselves to Christ.

For farmers, this may sound oversimplified, but bear with me. When an animal isn’t quite strong enough to do something on their own, they are yoked to another animal who can help bear the load, and bring up the average strength. Just so with us. When we yoke ourselves to Christ, He brings up the average! We can do immeasurably more with His strength, and then these offices don’t sound nearly so impossible.

Questions:

  1. What leadership role(s) have you been called into in your life?
  2. Have you ever tried to do it all by yourself? How did that go?
  3. How might you “yoke yourself to Christ?” What would that look like in your life?

 

 

What?

By Grant Vissers

Read: 1 Timothy 2:8-15

Martin Luther, a German theologian, and one of the central figures in the Protestant Reformation is credited to have attempted to remove Hebrew, James, Jude and Revelation from the Bible. He had a couple of different reasons, but for starters he felt like they contradicted the doctrine of sola fide, which states that humans are saved by faith alone. James, according to Luther, treads too far over that line when talking about “works.” In the end, Luther’s contemporaries and followers dismissed his views and the Bible still includes those books. Fun fact: they are toward the end of the English Bible because Luther placed them right at the end of the German Bible. He thought that little of them.

If I (Grant) was allowed to remove a small number of verses from the Bible, I’d be hard pressed not to remove these verses. They have created so much controversy and division in the church and still do, to this day. It’s ironic because one of the first things Paul writes here is that he wants the church to be free from controversy. I find the controversy and disunity hard, especially when the Bible is so clear about the Church’s mandate for unity. For example, in Ephesians 4 we read this, “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.” The goal is unity.

Now, obviously we can’t remove verses from the Bible or even ignore them, but we can work hard to study and understand the context in which they were written and the spirit in which they were meant. Let me begin by stating the obvious, I’m married to a female pastor who I believe brings it when she preaches. I interpret these passages contextually.

In other letters, Paul commends women for their work in their local churches. Let me name a few; Prisca, Priscilla and Aquila, Junia, Nereus’ sister, Trophena, Triphosa, and Phoebe. Pheobe was a Deacon in the church and led in local congregations. Bart Ehrman, a theologian and professor, has written stating Paul praises Junia as an apostle and leader within the church. So, on the surface, Paul’s writing in 1 Timothy seems to run contrary to how he himself ran his own ministry.

Let me suggest one way forward. Paul’s instruction to Timothy was context specific. There has been a lot of debate about who the women were that Paul seems to be concerned about here. Many scholars seem to indicate that they were a specific sect or group of women who were particularly disruptive during worship. That may be. But look closely at Paul’s language. “I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve.” In the Greek, Paul uses the indicative tense and NOT the imperative. “I do not…” For this community, Paul is stating the way it is, he is not in fact dictating how things should be for all time. If he had intended to do that, I believe he would have used the imperative tense (command), as he does elsewhere in scripture. Therefore, this is not a once and for all command.

This passage is challenging, that’s why it’s entitled, “What?” It really gets people worked up. I don’t claim to know everything, but let me suggest this, nobody does. The best we can do, is to work to live together in love and unity, building up the body of believers and not tearing each other down.

Questions:

  1. How does this passage make you feel?
  2. Are there other interpretations of this passage that you have heard before?
  3. How can we reconcile the seeming “contradictions” that we see in different scripture passages?