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Setting Hopes on God? or Riches?

Read: 1 Timothy 6:17-21

In the fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the shores of the East Coast of North America, wreaking havoc on much of the mainland Carolinas, New Jersey, and New York. At the time, Grant and I were living in Princeton, New Jersey (about an hour from the shore), and I was working at a church in a beach community, just minutes from the shore. Sandy changed the landscape of New Jersey forever in many places, but it also changed lives.

We saw, first hand, the discrepancy between care for the rich and the poor, lines often drawn on racial bounds. While I, living down the street from the Governor in Princeton, got power back in about three days; much of Trenton, particularly black and Latino neighbourhoods, were out power for almost a month. At the end of autumn, nearing the snowy season, this impacted people in devastating ways. And yet, the people I met who were the most “shaken” by the storm were not the poor, or middle classes, but the wealthy—those who had set their hopes on riches.

I distinctly remember serving dinner with friends at a makeshift storm shelter with the Red Cross just days after the Hurricane. We were dishing up spaghetti for those who had fled their homes and were living in a high school gym on cots. Women with perfectly manicured nails, Juicy Couture tops, and Coach purses came through the food line with their husbands in work attire, and wealthy kids. It was a different brand of greed than I had ever seen, people demanding larger portions, or extra bread. Entitlement in its purest form. I saw a grown man cut in front of a kid to get his food first. It was the ugliness of humankind with a heart set on the wrong things.

Meanwhile, we spent a weekend at a poor, Latino church community. The church had sat in twelve feet of standing water for about a week after the hurricane. Rot and mold ate through much of the structure, but they continued to worship in it anyway. At one point, the ceiling beams had been so badly damaged that Grant fell through the ceiling. As we worked alongside believers at that church who had lost so much, including homes, livelihoods, and their church; they happily worked, and worshipped, and shared stories about God’s faithfulness in the midst of it all. Their hearts were set on God, not wealth.

This is a sharp dichotomy between rich and poor, class systems, and racial divides. And I want to make clear that we also saw everything in between. We witnessed the rich opening their homes to the poor, the poor sharing food with the rich, and every combination therein. The point is not that riches are bad. But those who had their hearts set on riches were utterly devastated by the storm. They didn’t readily bounce back. Many couldn’t bounce back at all. Those who had their hearts set on God (whether they had a lot or had a little) bounced back quite easily.

Paul talks about the “uncertainty of riches,” which we witnessed first-hand. He also talks about a “God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” These are some of the best memories I have from New Jersey, seeing the goodness of God work in people’s lives who had lost almost everything feel the provision of Christ’s love amidst it all.

Questions:

  1. Is wealth bad? Why or why not?
  2. What does it look like to live richly?
  3. What do you need to guard yourself from being drawn away from the faith?

Where Are You Weakest?

By Grant Vissers

Read: 6:11-16

This passage begins Paul’s final instructions to Timothy, where Paul once again speaks over Timothy’s life and straight to his identity in Jesus. I remember the first time someone spoke the word leader over my life. It was a powerful experience and I remember it to this day. That’s the influence an older leader can have over a younger leader. That is the influence you can have over someone in your life. You have the ability and influence to speak words of truth into someone’s life. Maybe it’s not the word “leadership” but maybe it’s; “child of God,” “beloved,” “daughter,” “son,” or even simply, “loved.” See even though we might not all be leaders, we all have influence. I believe that God puts people into your life so you can speak into their life. Sometimes altering the course of their life forever.

Here are the words Paul speaks over Timothy:

“But you, Timothy, are a man of God: so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. 13 And I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you obey this command without wavering. Then no one can find fault with you from now until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.”

We’ve titled this week’s section, “Where are You Weakest?” but the more I think about it, the more I think a better title would be, “Where You Are Strongest.” Did you notice some familiarity with the qualities Paul names for Timothy? Faith, love perseverance, and gentleness? They sound very similar to the fruits of the Spirit that Paul names in Galatians; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentle-ness and self control. You see, what I think Paul is reminding Timothy is that he is at his strongest when he is rooted in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Timothy’s strongest place in life and in leadership is rooted in Christ.

The same is true for you and for me, our strongest place in life and in leadership is being rooted in Jesus Christ.

  1. What does it mean to be rooted in Jesus?
  2. What words (good or bad) have been spoken over your life recently?
  3. Who might be in your life right now whose life you could speak into? What word would you speak?

 

 

Be Content With Who You Are

Read: 1 Timothy 6:1-10

In Desiderata of Love, Max Ehrmann writes, “Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.” In this poem, he speaks of quiet contentment. This is not to say never change jobs or explore career options. But it is to say that God can use you and is using you (if you let him) in whatever position in life you are in. Being content with who you are and your position goes beyond career into all aspects of life. But it starts with understanding whose you are not what you do as your identity.

When your identity is rooted in Christ and you live that out in whatever arena you work in, it matters very little then what you do. One person I heard speak counselled young people not to become pastors in churches, because we have enough pastors in churches. He said we need more pastors in corporations, and hospitals, and schools, and in government positions. This might not be a mainstream opinion, but the point is congruent with what Paul is saying here, that you shouldn’t change positions because you become a believer, you should use your identity as rooted in Christ regardless of your position.

What Paul talks about in 1 Timothy 6:1-10 is a group of people in Timothy’s church who were trying to use the Gospel to gain themselves higher positions and riches. Not only does this not work out for most people, but it is counter to the Gospel which they were trying to purport. Jesus says, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” He doesn’t say, “You will get rich quick if you follow me.” He was no pyramid schemer!

So if you are a believer, let your identity be rooted first and foremost in Christ, regardless of what you do. And practice contentment in your place in life, not trying to gain wealth. Try amassing spiritual growth! How different would the Western world look if that were our goal?!

Question:

  1. What does contentment look like in your present position in life? Do you practice contentment now?
  2. How do riches and wealth lure/tempt you?
  3. What are some ways to avoid falling into these traps?
  4. How can we persevere in our faith amidst our present culture?

Guard Your Leaders

By Grant Vissers

Read: 1 Timothy 5:17-20

I feel a little awkward writing my thoughts on this particular passage. Especially when Paul writes, “Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching.” I don’t disagree with him, however, there have been far too many, “health, wealth, and prosperity gospel” preachers leverage Bible passages like this for personal gain. Pastors who do that drive me crazy and I don’t think they’re worth listening to. Some even have personal private jets that they’ve somehow worked into their, “philosophy of ministry.” (If a picture is worth a thousand words, just know that I’m doing air quotes around those words.) Like I said, if your pastor has a personal private jet, I might be looking for a new pastor.

And yet, Paul still wrote those words. Here’s the thing, I think Paul knew how hard ministry is. Paul traveled from town to town preaching the gospel and spreading the good news and in return he was booted out of cities, thrown into jail, beaten and stoned. In one instance he was stoned, drug out of the city and left for dead. All for preaching about Jesus. (Acts 14, check it out) Paul was acutely aware of the harsh realities preachers were up against and so Paul was adamant that churches should guard their leaders. While Paul went from church to church raising support so he could last even one more day, he wanted pastors and preachers to be freed up to do their most important task: preaching, without worrying about where their next meal was going to come from.

Equally as important is not to condemn a leader on a false accusation. “Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses.” How many leaders have we seen in our time lose their influence and leadership because of moral failure? In my estimation, too many to count. Both inside and outside the church, leaders seem to be disproportionately affected by scandals and failures. Perhaps its simply because leaders have a public role and so everything they do is examined by the court of public opinion, but I think there is more to it than that. I think the evil one knows how to bring down a leader. I think the evil one knows there is nothing more destructive for a church than false accusations. So again, Paul say, “Guard your leaders.”

Now, at this point you might be thinking, “Looks like leaders have it pretty good,” but there is a second warning in this section of Paul’s letter. This time it is directed at the leaders. “Those who sin should be reprimanded in front of the whole church; this will serve as a strong warning to others.” Leaders don’t get carte blanche when it comes to power, authority, decision making etc. Too many leaders have abused their authority and used it to do unspeakable things. To those leaders Paul’s warning is loud, reprimand them in front of the whole church. This is what you call accountability. In Paul’s economy leaders live public lives and are accountable in public ways. Anyone wishing to become a leader should first check their heart and ask themselves, “Am I willing to live an authentic life, bearing witness to the gospel, for all to see?”

Questions:

  1. Why does Paul urge the church to guard its leaders?
  2. If you’re a leader, have you ever felt like you’ve needed to be guarded? Have you ever felt left exposed?
  3. If you follow a leader, what do you think guarding your leader looks like for you personally? For some it may look like a commitment to pray for your leader.
  4. Why do you think leaders seem to be more susceptible to moral failure in the church? Do you think we’ve created a culture where people can be honest about their failures?
  5. What do you think authentic leadership looks like?

Family Matters

Read: 1 Timothy 5:1-16

Mother Teresa is known to have said, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” Peace begins in the home. If you think about it, this path to world peace has the greatest possibility of sustainability. If you act nice to outsiders, but don’t take care of your own, you perpetuate a cycle of brokenness in the world. It reminds me of the adage that dentist’s kids always have the worst teeth, or that pastor’s kids are always naughty…I’m really hoping this one isn’t true! People in the helping professions often give their greatest time and energy to others, sometimes forgetting the needs of their own. But Paul knew this proclivity and had something to say about it.

In 1 Timothy 5, Paul writes about how the community of believers is called to first and foremost care for their own families, so that the church isn’t caring for everyone. This happens earlier in Scripture when Jesus is talking to the Pharisees who make a point of giving to the temple, but don’t take care of their own families. Jesus didn’t like this, and neither does Paul. Paul talks about how important it is for believers to care for family members, and even says that those who don’t are worse than unbelievers!

This ideology is not only obviously good for families, it is good for the church, and sustainable for the world. Churches cannot care for all of those who are sick, dying, in need of money, etc. Paul explains that the church’s job is to help the truly in need: the actual widows and orphans who don’t have a family to take care of them. And it is up to the family firstly to care for their own.

This is a far cry from our current model of living. When these passages were written, it would be common for many generations to be living together under one roof: the young caring for the old and the old caring for the young. But today this is an extremely rare lifestyle in the Western world.

In the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, he actually talks about the “Rosetto Mystery,” a study done several decades ago where a small community of Italian immigrants in the United States was outliving everyone else around them. After sociological and scientific insights, researchers discovered that although the community had higher rates of obesity and even heart conditions, they lived longer than others because of a sense of community, a pace of life where many generations lived together and cared for each other. Work was not as big of a priority as caring for family and checking in on each other. It turns out, caring for our own is not only a more sustainable plan for the church, it is also healthier!

I’m not recommending that we all move in to multi-generational homes. But caring well can be done in many ways. As you go about your week, think about how you treat your family in relation to how you treat people outside of your family. Are there ways you could do a better job of loving your family well?

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do you care for your own well? Do you give your best time and energy to work, school, or even the church, instead of to loved ones?
  2. How could you better care for your family?
  3. What from this passage (1 Timothy 5:1-16) resonates with you? Does anything sound really counter-cultural?

 

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?