I was going to include this in the Random Thoughts post I just did, but I found this one so good I had to set it off to itself.
Melinda at Stand to Reason writes that It’s Not All About Us:
Most preaching in church these days is focused on personal application. That’s been the trend since about the 70s, which was probably a needed balance to the lack of it before. But I’m concerned that we have developed a habit and mentality that leads us to look for personal application all the time. In other words, we’re thinking about ourselves rather than God. There’s something to learn from every bit of the Bible, but sometimes it’s about God, not us.
That’s a wonderful point. We could go crazy if we try to think of a personal “application” for a verse like this:
But not only does it teach us something about God, there actually is a personal application there. Do you see it?
Here it comes…
The thing to take away from a verse like this, the real practical application for your life, is that you should bow down and worship your amazing creator God who was and is and is to come. That’s the application. Apply it to worship. Apply it to your fear of God. Apply it to your understanding of who God is, who you are, and what all the implications of that are. Praise God.
A few Sundays ago, June 10th to be exact, I had the privilege of teaching the Adult Sunday School class at our church.
I taught on the following passage:
I’ve been meaning to post the audio and put together a transcript, but I’ve been so swamped that the transcript will have to wait.
In the meantime, you can download the audio here.
Preparation for teaching is always at the same time a wonderful and troubling experience. Wonderful because there is nothing better than digging deeply in God’s truth; troubling because it’s always very convicting and magnifies my own sin and negligence at the same time.
The summary version of the lesson was this:
Learn the Gospel and learn to be a disciple, and teach others. It’s the only way to sustain the church, and to grow God’s kingdom. Otherwise, we fall away from His truth and rely instead on our own ideas, instead of His.
24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. (ESV)
1 Corinthians 15:1-4
15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (ESV)
26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (ESV)
In his book, How to Help People Change, Jay Adams uses the term “radical amputation” to describe what Jesus taught in passages such as Matthew 5:29-30:
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (ESV)
The basic point of the teaching is this: take radical measures to safeguard against sin. And given that the stakes are so high, we ought to be willing to do anything to avoid eternal punishment.
As John Piper writes in What Jesus Demands of the World:
The point is not that inward desires can be controlled by external maiming. The point is how enormous the stakes are. They are so great, we must do what we have to do to defeat the bondage of sinful desire. It is astonishing how many people deal with their sin casually. Jesus demands otherwise.
Our desire to deal with sin must be so strong that “radical amputation” is not out of the question. Whether we are amputating ourselves from the desires of the flesh, or amputating ourselves from our worldly riches, like the rich young man of Matthew 19:16-26, we ought to be so willing to follow Christ that we will give up anything that draws us toward sin and away from Him.
Don’t misunderstand – it is not sinful to have two eyes, two hands, or even money and possessions. These things are sinful when they prevent us from following Him.
So how are we doing? Are we taking extreme measures to purge sin from our life? Are we radically amputating the temptations of flesh and worldliness?
Note: The following post is an exposition of 1 Timothy 5:17-25, based on a small group study I had the privilege to lead recently.
1 Timothy 5:17-25
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. (ESV)
In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul outlines for Timothy the qualifications necessary for men to hold the position of “elder” (or overseer) in the Church. Indeed, most of the pastoral epistles outline the responsibilities for, logically, pastors, but also for elders and other teachers. But what of the responsibilities toward the elders?
1. Honor the Elders
The first responsibility Paul commands is to honor the elders. Indeed, those who rule well are to be “considered worthy of double honor.” I don’t think “double honor” necessarily indicates a specific level of honor or remuneration, but instead, is simply a command to a higher level. And it is indeed a command - the imperative mood of the original Greek makes this neither a suggestion nor a guideline.
This honor is to be extended especially to “those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Preaching and teaching is, of course, a basic emphasis of Paul’s to Timothy. In 1 Timothy 4:13, he had exhorted Timothy to devote himself to the “public reading of the Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” Indeed, teaching itself is at the center of our Lord’s great commission in Matthew 28:18-20.
It is this teaching and preaching that Timothy and the other elders are to labor in, and not just labor in the sense of “work at it,” as we might expect. No, the exhortation is to labor to the point of fatigue or exhaustion. The weary work that accompanies arduous travel, such as that which caused our Lord to pause for rest at Jacob’s well in John 4:6. The fatigue that the Lord himself promises us respite from in Matthew 11:28. This is the labor to which Paul refers.
To support his argument, Paul, as he frequently does, appeals to the Word of God. First, to the Law – “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” which is, of course, Deuteronomy 25:4. This same passage he appeals to in his own defense in 1 Corinthians 9:8-11, and he makes the same point another way to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:6.
Paul’s other appeal to Scripture is amazing not only because of the content, which serves his point well, but because of its source. “The laborer deserves his wages.” From whence does Paul draw this argument? From the Mosaic Law, given his background as a Pharisee? From the Psalter, perhaps? No, it is from the Gospel of Luke. This may seem minor to us – of course Luke’s Gospel is Scripture – but keep in mind this: Paul, a strict Pharisee, former persecutor of the Christians, and former slave to the Law – is referring to a book written (most likely ) a scant 2-4 years before this letter as Scripture. A book written by a friend of his. (Nor is Paul the only one to recognize this early that these writings were the Word of God – Peter does the same with Paul’s own writings in 2 Peter 3:15-16 – notice the reference to Paul’s letters and the reference to “other Scriptures,” placing Paul’s letters on equal footing).
And so, we are commanded by Paul and the Scriptures to honor the elders; again, to consider them worthy of double honor, but does that mean that they are free to do whatever they please? That they may Lord it over the flock? Not exactly, because of our second responsibility to the elders:
2. Hold the Elders Accountable
Of course, this accountability comes through the normal process of church discipline. If your church does not have a specific rule for disciplining members and leaders, I would encourage you to take some time studying the process which our Lord instituted very clearly in Matthew 18:15-20:
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (ESV)
Paul, not surprisingly, advocates the same method of discipline here in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, though in slightly different words, and from a slightly different angle. He does not mention, for example, the initial “one-on-one” confrontation of sin from Matthew 18:15. Why? Because Paul is not describing to Timothy the method for himself to use in the process of discipline, but rather, describing Timothy’s role in the discipline of an elder.
For example, if a member were to catch an elder in sin, that member would first go to the elder privately and try to “gain his brother.” He should not, as a first step, go to his pastor. It is only if his brother rejects him, and he takes two or three witnesses, and his brother still rejects him, that he should take the matter to his pastor (Timothy, in this case) for referral to the entire church. If the member brings the accusation to the pastor before having the witnesses, the pastor should, as Paul counsels Timothy, not admit the charge. Of course, rather than an outright rejection, the member should be counseled to follow the proper course outlined in Matthew.
If, at this point, the elder persists in their sin, then like any other sin, they should be disciplined by the entire body. But in the case of elders, this serves a double purpose – that of instilling fear of sin into the rest of the elders, or indeed, even the rest of the church. And again, it should be emphasized that as in Matthew, the purpose of church discipline is not punishment – rather, it is to win back your wayward brother.
Knowing that discipline of leaders in the church could potentially be an intimidating prospect, Paul rather forcefully exhorts Timothy – “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.” This is reminder to Timothy to be impartial, yet bold.
Paul’s command to Timothy to deal with sin in the eldership does not merely extend to dealing with sin in existing elders. He also exhorts Timothy to be cautious in the selection of elders, so that hopefully, flagrant sin may not even be in issue.
3. Honestly Assess Elders and Elder Candidates
Avoiding sin in the leadership of the church starts with the selection of elders. This is a process which has great potential for introducing error into the church. Indeed, in Acts 20:28-30, Paul had warned the elders of this very church that “wolves” would come in, not sparing the flock, and even from among themselves, men would arise, speaking twisted things, drawing disciples away after them.
It is crucial, therefore, that potential elders be tested for their character and their qualifications for that role. Paul has already outlined those qualifications, again, in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, but here he cautions Timothy to not be hasty with “the laying on of hands,” in proclaiming new elders. The danger, of course, is that if Timothy were to name an elder who was not qualified or tested for the position, and that elder would later prove to be a false teacher or introduce other sin into the body, then Timothy himself would share in that elder’s sin. Paul urges Timothy, therefore, to keep himself pure.
He follows this exhortation with an interesting side note in v. 23. He tells Timothy to no longer only drink water, but to drink wine for his stomach. If Timothy had stomach problems, then wine indeed would have been a good choice, given the issues with water purity at that time. But why place this text here? It seems more of the type of personal note that Paul usually ends his epistles with (cf. Romans 16). So why insert it here?
The most reasonable explanation would be that he is tempering the warning about purity – he doesn’t want Timothy to fall into asceticism to the point of harming his health. He is certainly not advocating Timothy to sin – which drunkenness is, indeed, sin – but merely to not fall into the equally dangerous sin of legalism in his assessment of himself or of elder candidates.
Verses 24-25 remind of the reasons for honest assessment – that both sin and good works aren’t always immediately evident. For some men, they are. For others, they only appear later. Due diligence in assessing our elder candidates is necessary to reduce the possibility of introducing ungodly men into leadership positions, but it can never guarantee it. This is why, even after elders are installed, we must continue to assess them, for those sins which may appear later.
Paul’s purpose in writing Timothy is, as he tells us in 1 Timothy 3:14-15, “…so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” We likewise should look at Paul’s exhortations to Timothy and find the application for us so that we, too, may know how we ought to behave in the household of God.
So, with that in mind, let us assess ourselves on how we are doing in our relationships with our elders…
1. Are we honoring our church’s elders?
Do we truly consider our elders worthy of honor, let alone the double honor that Timothy commands? If so, what does this look like? Honor toward the elders can come in many forms. It can come in the form of an encouraging word. When is the last time you dropped a note or email to your pastor and said “I really appreciate your ministry.” (Note to self: Email pastor…) When did you take an elder to lunch, just to say “thank you”? (Note to self: Schedule lunch with an elder…) Our giving to the church certainly shows honor to the staff (vocational) elders, but don’t forget the other elders of your church, who may do this good work outside of their regular “job.” Encourage them, edify them, for they are indeed worthy of it.
2. Are we holding our elders accountable?
Of course, this implies, necessarily, that you are active and involved in the life of your church and in the lives of your elders. Are you watching their teaching? Are you watching their lives?
3. Are we honestly assessing elder candidates and elders?
Depending on the process for selecting elders in your church, you may or may not be asked to provide feedback or vote on candidates. If you are, are you providing an honest assessment? Are you approaching the task prayerfully? Are you assessing not only candidates, but continuing to keep watch over the elders of your church, and providing them graceful and truthful accountability as brothers in Christ? Are you doing so fairly, as Paul says, without prejudging or partiality?
The elders of our churches are responsible for shepherding the flock of God, watching over our very souls. We are called to submit to them and let them lead us with joy (Hebrews 13:17), and we are to consider them worthy of honor. Let us do so, and let us provide them with the accountability they need to be able to one day give a good account before the throne of the Lamb.