Posts Tagged 'pastoral theology'

The Master Multiplier, Part 6

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17 | TNIV)

I’ve come to the end of another series, and, as they say, I saved the best for last. Throughout this series, we discovered that God is a giver. He’s the greatest giver ever. God gives His people:

• Abundant grace – more grace than enough!
• Life – and He sustains all life
• Victory – over death, hell, and the grave
• Wisdom – in the midst of all of life’s difficulties, God gives us perspective
• Gifts – and the ability to use them in His service

God is simply amazing, and He gives us so much. The final gift I want to look at is the most amazing gift all: He gives us everything for our enjoyment! It doesn’t get better than EVERYTHING, does it?!

Paul wrote this verse to a young pastor. I was a young pastor once, and I can tell you it wasn’t easy. If I was told that God could give me “everything for my enjoyment,” I’d wonder when He was going to get around to it! Barely scraping by in small churches, living paycheck to paycheck is hardly enjoyable! There were lots of things I could have used to make my life more enjoyable that I never got – from God or anybody else, for that matter.

So, what was Paul getting at when he made that statement? Let’s take a look.

Letters to pastors

Paul was a prolific letter-writer. Had be been active in our time, he likely would have been the kind of person who is constantly checking his email, responding to emails, sending out text messages or tweeting all day long. We have only a fraction – a small fraction – of his letters, preserved for us in the Bible. Almost all of the letters we have were written by Paul were written to various churches, with the exception of Philemon, which was written to person, and a small group of letters that have come be known as “the Pastorals.” They were written to pastors, whose names are forever a part of our Bible theology: Timothy and Titus.

Paul’s letters were meant to be read aloud to the congregations they were sent to, and even Philemon, addressed to a man, was to be read out loud to the congregation that met in his home. And even these personal letters written to pastors were obviously copied and circulated since we have them collected in our Bible. Paul probably wrote letters to other pastors and church leaders. We could easily imagine the apostle scribbling out a letter or two to Barnabas and Luke, Mark and Apollos. We don’t have those letters, but we do have these letters written to Timothy and Titus. The Holy Spirit thought enough of what Paul wrote to these men in these letters that He supernaturally preserved them for us. That means that we should take special note of his advice. You may or may not be a pastor or church worker, but his advice and counsel is timeless and of great import for all believers.

The Pastorals were written by Paul late in his career, probably after his first Roman imprisonment, around 61 or 62 AD. Tradition tells us that Paul was martyred in the late 60’s, so we’re reading things that were on the great apostle’s mind near the end of his life. Most scholars think that Paul wrote 1 Timothy, followed by his letter to Titus, and then a second letter to Timothy.

Who was Timothy?

To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2 | TNIV)

That’s how this letter is addressed. Timothy was Paul’s “true son in the faith.” Naturally Timothy wasn’t Paul’s real son. He didn’t have children as far as we know. Timothy was his “son in the faith,” or his “spiritual son,” meaning that Paul was instrumental in leading this young man to the Lord and then disciplining him in the faith.

The first mention of Timothy is all the way back in the book of Acts, a history of the early church:

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:1 – 3 | TNIV)

This chapter tells the story of Paul’s second visit to Derbe and Lystry, and it’s not unreasonable to think that he was directly responsible for leading Timothy’s mother (Eunice) and grandmother (Lois) to the Lord. If you know your Bible, then you know that it was here in Lystra that Paul faced some bitter opposition and persecution and it was in the home of Eunice that he likely found solace and safety.

Timothy was around 17 years of age when all this happened, so assuming he was led to the Lord during this period, then he would have been in his mid-30’s when Paul wrote his first letter to him. But in the years inbetween, Timothy traveled with Paul and others as they took the Gospel to the known world.

It’s evident that this young man was special to Paul and to his ministry. Timothy was fiercely loyal to Paul and to the work of the ministry and devoted to believers in all churches. Here’s Paul’s appraisal of this young man’s worth:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. (Philippians 2:19 – 22 | TNIV)

The pastor’s potential problem

We get the impression that all early Christians were poor – unemployed, persecuted, world-weary men and women who had virtually no resources of their own. That’s just not true. There were many converts to Christianity who were had been wealthy, influential people who gave up some or all to follow Christ, but they didn’t stay that way. There were poor and down-trodden Christians to be sure, but there were church members who were middle class, upper middle class, and wealthy people. All kinds of people were reached and transformed by the Gospel. And that’s why Paul wrote this piece of advice to Pastor Timothy:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17 | TNIV)

It seems clear that Timothy had some of “those who are rich” in his church. This verse occurs in the midst of a very important issue: How people in the various strata of society ought to live out their faith in the world.

Christian slaves and Christian masters, 6:1, 2

The first two groups of people that made up Timothy’s congregation were slaves and slave owners. Here’s his advice to these two very disparate groups:

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. These are the things you are to teach and insist on.

Today’s Christian may cringe when they read the words “slave” and “master,” but they shouldn’t impose our 21st century values upon those living in the first century. Those “slaves” back then would be roughly equivalent to today’s employee or perhaps “household help,” and the “master” would be the “employer,” for the sake of making a reasonable application. Timothy was to teach and insist upon proper behavior from both employee and employer. Dr McGee summarizes the duty of the slave like this:

The Christian is to turn in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.

And if the slave owner – the boss – is a believer who employs fellow believers, he shouldn’t take advantage of them just because they have a common faith. As one scholar put it,

It must have called for an amazing degree of forbearance on the part of both parties to this relationship to make it work.

• False teachers, 6:3 – 5

If you know 1 Timothy, then you know that the young pastor must have been contending with false teaching and false teachers within his own congregation. False teachers are sometimes obvious about it, other times a false teacher may be an otherwise commendable member who has happened to glom onto a bit of false teaching, who then re-teaches it to other members of the church. He’s ignorant; he has no idea that what he’s doing is dangerous.

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions. (1 Timothy 6:3, 4 | TNIV)

Sounds like some people in your church? You know the type: To people like this, everything the church does is wrong – it’s wrong to put up a Christmas tree or sing Christmas carols; Easter is a pagan holiday; Sunday is a pagan day; Christians should only read the KJV; and the list goes on. These people think they know more than you do or more than the pastor does. Paul’s characterization of this type of person is picturesque to say the least: “a pompous ignoramus,” “a swollen headed idiot,” and a “conceited idiot.” The great Martin Luther, whose insults are as legendary as his “reform” theology, said this about such people:

I would not dream of judging or punishing you, except to say that you were born from the behind of the devil, are full of devils, lies, blasphemy, and idolatry; are the instigator of these things, God’s enemy, Antichrist, desolater of Christendom, and steward of Sodom.

And sometimes these false teachers equate monetary gain is a sign of God’s blessing:

who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. (1 Timothy 6:5b | TNIV)

The worst kind of false teacher is the one who makes money off of his bad teaching. And Paul’s advice to Pastor Timothy is classic:

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11 | TNIV)

Now we get a glimmer of a potential problem with Timothy, and it’s the common affliction of most young preachers, and maybe old ones, too. Often times there isn’t a lot of financial reward in preaching the Gospel. If the pastor of a church isn’t careful, he can start to resent the wealthy members of his church because of their wealth. It might be tempting to latch onto the popular preaching of the day – the pop psychology dressed up and baptized as Christian theology that is so popular nowadays – and make a few extra bucks. It’s tempting. And it’s tempting for the average Christian to grab hold of the kind of theology that promises easy blessings and a kind of faith that makes you rich.
Pastors and all true believers need to “flee from all this” and have nothing to do with false teachers and teachings. True faith may not pay rich dividends to those of us who are trying to practice it, but true faith does bring peace and satisfaction and contentment. And that’s why Paul wrote this famous verse that is often misquoted:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10 | TNIV)

Paul’s concern was not for the rich people in Timothy’s church necessarily, although he was told to teach those people to keep things in perspective. The apostle’s main concern was for young pastor Timothy; he’s the one in danger. It’s so easy for all Christians to look at what others have, especially other Chritians, and to become discouraged because they don’t seem to be as prosperous. People in that state of mind are ripe pickings for false teachers and fall pray to all manner of false teachings.  And people like that often accuse those prosperous Christians of sinful practices because, after all, only in doing something wrong or questionable can a person acquire so much  (that’s a sarcastic statement).

And this is why Paul told Timothy – and us – that God gives us everything for our enjoyment. God is the Great Provider; from Him all good things descend. Timothy’s church was in Ephesus, a place full of prosperous people; full of businesses, and he had lots of these people in his church. To those people, and to people like himself, Timothy was to drive home the point that ALL IS OF GOD, both wealth, the ability to acquire it, and the ability to enjoy it.

 

 

 


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