HONOUR TRUE WIDOWS

Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 5:3-16; Ephesians 6:1-3

From the beginning the church had a concern for believing widows [see Acts 6:1; 9:39]. God’s special concern for widows is a recurring theme of the Old Testament [see Deuteronomy 14:29; Psalm 94:6; Malachi 3:5]. James says,

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” [James 1:27].

One of the difficulties in interpreting Scripture is that it was written in a culture and generation that is different to our present culture. We therefore need to discern what specific details applied to the generation and culture in which it was written and what divine principles and practices are relevant to us in our day and culture.

In many cultures today, the position of widows is very different to what it was in Ephesus and in Paul’s day. Although not always the case, many widows are well taken care of financially, but in Paul’s day that was not the case. On the other hand Paul did not have the problem of homes for the elderly making excessive charges for their services.

The early church made provision for widows but this was open to abuse by some widows [and their families] who demanded church support. The issue of entitlement was as much an issue in those days as it is today! This is what Paul had to address.

The first principle that Paul laid down was that the family of a widow should take care of her [verse 4,8,16]. It may not be palatable in some circles but children are responsible to repay the investment that parents have made in their children [verse 4]. God’s commandment is to honour your father and your mother [Exodus 20:12]. That is not conditional on whether they have been good parents or not good parents.

The second principle that Paul laid down was that it was not intended that the church should be responsible for all widows. It should not be the responsibility of the church to care for widows who are under sixty years of age and able to work. The caring ministry of the church should not encourage idleness [v.13].

If a church did enrol a widow on the list of supported widows it should be ones who are alone, over 60 years of age, live a godly life [verse 5,10], have no means of support and are fully committed to serving Christ. Every pastor knows the value of godly widows who spend time in prayer and intercession.

Questions:

Why do you think that God places so much importance on caring for widows and for elderly people?

What does it mean to “honour your father and your mother” [Ephesians 6:2]?

Do you think that there is a place for certain widows and elderly people to still be cared for by the church today?

RELATIONSHIPS ARE IMPORTANT

Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 5:1-6:2

“Don’t be harsh or impatient with an older man. Talk to him as you would your own father, and to the younger men as your brothers. Reverently honour an older woman as you would your mother, and the younger women as sisters” [1 Timothy 5:1-2 The Message].

Having given clear instructions about elders, deacons, the church and what it means to be a good servant of Jesus Christ, Paul now turns to the important issue of relationships in the church. Many years ago, I heard Tom Marshall from New Zealand speak about relationships. He said that every relationship stands on four pillars. The first pillar is love, the most enduring of qualities. The second pillar is trust, which is the most fragile of qualities. The third pillar is honour or respect, which is the least spoken of, whilst the fourth pillar understanding, is the quality that takes the longest time to develop.

As Paul writes to Timothy about relationships the emphasis is on honour and respect. It is not just Timothy’s place as a pastor to honour people, but we are all called to honour others. We are to honour those who are older [5:1-2], faithful widows [5:3-16], church elders [5:17-25] and employees [6:1-2].

A definition of honour is “to esteem,” “to value,” “to prize highly,” “to show respect”. A culture of honour values each person, seeks to encourage each person, and places great emphasis on serving others. There is no ageism in a culture of honour, because everyone is honoured. We never honour sin but always honour people, whether they are rich or poor, migrants or citizens. Paul sees the church as a family [1 Timothy 5:1-2], and as in all families there are older and younger members. Each member has a special place in God’s family.

We hear too many stories of the elderly being abused and rejected in today’s society but this should not be the case in God’s family. It is easy to be impatient with older people because they often do not understand this digital age. They are slowing down, and often cannot think as fast as a younger person, and certainly not move as fast, but they are of great value, and will often have great wisdom when given the opportunity to share. If an older person has to be corrected it should be with grace and encouragement.

Some years ago, I heard someone say, “I used to struggle with older people, but the older I get the more I like them.” Let’s honour senior citizens in God’s family, and pray for them that they will also have the grace and maturity to be a blessing to a younger generation whose culture they may not always understand.

Questions:

How can we develop a culture of honour within a church?

Read Leviticus 19:32. Why do you think that God puts such a strong emphasis of respecting those who are elderly?

A GOOD MINISTER OF JESUS CHRIST – PART 5

Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 4:12-16; Ephesians 4:7-16

In order to be a good minister of Jesus Christ, Timothy should warn people of danger, train himself in godliness, set an example that others can follow, devote himself to God’s Word, and fifthly, he should use the gifts that God has given to him.

What qualifies a person for the work of the ministry is a gift from God. Every believer has a spiritual gift [Ephesians 4:7]. These gifts may be natural abilities but the Holy Spirit quickens them and they become spiritual. It is important that we know what our gifts are, and minister within the boundaries of the gifts that God has given us. One of the saddest things that can happen to a church is the effect of someone ministering outside of their gifting, and without the enabling or anointing of the Holy Spirit for that ministry.

God had equipped Timothy for the particular ministry that Paul was encouraging him to exercise. There may have been a natural ability but Paul reminds Timothy that the gift came both by prophecy and impartation through the laying on of hands of the elders [1 Timothy 1:18; 4:14]. One of the elders who laid hands on Timothy was the apostle Paul [2 Timothy 1:6]. Clearly God had called Timothy into the ministry and had equipped him for that ministry. We do not know exactly what the gift was that was imparted to Timothy, but it seems logical that it related to pastoring and leading the church at Ephesus and was probably the gift of pastor/teacher [see Ephesians 4:11]. Clearly spiritual gifts can be transmitted from person to person. I have often thought that many churches are missing something here that is fundamental. The “laying on of hands” was one of the six foundational doctrines referred to in Hebrews 6:1-2.

A gift can be imparted but it still needs to be developed and cultivated. Timothy had neglected to cultivate this gift that was clearly necessary to his spiritual progress and ministry. Andrew Wommack has rightly commented that, “more ministries and personal lives have been destroyed by neglect than by rebellion.” If God has given you a gift, it should not be neglected but should be stirred up and cultivated by reading, meditation and prayer.

Here is a lesson to learn. Prophetic words can be the basis for faith and hope. We should never despise or reject such ministry [see 1 Thessalonians 5:20]. These utterances can encourage us to endure ferocious and demanding battles as we carry out the Lord’s will. Heed confirmed prophetic utterances. Recognise their value in spiritual warfare and maintaining positive faith. Know that faith and a good conscience keep you from spiritual disaster. Stir up whatever gift God has put within you!

Questions:

Why is it important that we know the gift or gifts that God has given us, and function within that framework?

Why is natural ability alone insufficient in Christian ministry? How can we stir up the gift that God has given to us?

A GOOD MINISTER OF JESUS CHRIST – PART 4

Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 4:12-16

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” [2 Timothy 3:16-17]

We are continuing to look at the five principles that Paul says would make Timothy a good minister of Jesus Christ.

Fourthly, he should devote himself to the Word of God [verse 13]. There is nothing more powerful in ministry than God’s Word together with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The entrance of God’s word brings light [Psalm 119:130] and keeps us from sin [Psalm 119:9,11]. Someone once wrote in the front of my Bible, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” Paul specifically mentions three areas in which Timothy should devote himself to God’s Word:

¨ The Public Reading of Scripture [verse 13]. In New Testament times the public reading of Scripture was especially important because not everyone could read. Jews followed the practice of reading and memorizing the Scriptures in their synagogues, using a teacher to help them, and Christians then adopted this practice in the early church. There is something very powerful about the spoken word both in private and in public. Joshua was told not to let God’s Word depart from his mouth – not his thoughts, but his mouth [Joshua 1:8]. There was a remarkable impact on the children of Israel as Ezra read publically God’s Word [Nehemiah 8:1-12]

¨ Preaching [verse 13]. The word “exhortation” is ‘paraklesei’ [Greek] and includes different kinds of preaching, including expository preaching [expounding a passage of Scripture], topical preaching on Biblical subjects, and the preaching of the gospel. There is a massive difference between just speaking and preaching. Perhaps genuine preaching is a missing element in much of the Western church in this generation. It was a command to Timothy to preach, ‘Kērussō’ [Grk] meaning, “to proclaim” [see 2 Timothy 4:1].

¨ Teaching [verse 13]. The Greek word is ‘katecheo’ from which we get the English word “catechise,” meaning to teach in a systematic way by means of questions and answers. Teaching is a more formal, specific process than preaching because it involves carefully and more fully explaining key doctrines of Scripture. This kind of teaching requires much in-depth study of God’s Word. It is hardly surprising that Paul places such a strong emphasis on God’s Word, encouraging Timothy to “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” [2 Timothy 3:16-17 KJV]

Questions:

Why is it so important that Christians should prioritise having a thorough knowledge of God’s Word? In what way does God’s Word keep us from sin?

In what way are teaching and preaching different? Why are both necessary in the local church?

A GOOD MINISTER OF JESUS CHRIST – PART 3

Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 4:12-16; Titus 2:7-8

We have considered two aspects of what it means to be a good minister of Jesus Christ – he should warn people of danger and train himself in godliness. Thirdly, he should set a good example that others can follow [verse 12]. There was obviously a problem that some people in the church at Ephesus are critical of Timothy because of his youthfulness. Timothy was probably at least thirty years old and therefore he is considered to lack authority. The issue is not purely one of youthfulness – it is also an issue of maturity. This afternoon I watched a sixteen year old make his soccer debut in the Premier League, and couldn’t help notice how the commentators remarked on his maturity. Oswald Chambers once said, “Maturity is not so much an issue of age but of obedience to Jesus Christ.”

The way that Timothy lives will determine the respect that people will give to him, and for this reason Paul exhorts him to be an example to the believers. It is one thing to teach sound doctrine and correct false teaching but this has to be backed up by a life that is consistent and does not give cause for criticism. Matthew Henry says, “Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their lives, else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other.

In conclusion, let’s take a brief look at each area of Timothy’s life in which he must be an example:

Words – he must speak honestly and with love [Ephesians 4:15]. Our words are so powerful and our reputation can be seriously damaged in a moment of rash words. Our words have the power of life and death [Proverbs 18:21]

Conduct –good works. Timothy must “walk the talk.” We prove our faith by our actions.

Love – Our motivation is not for men’s applause, but love for God and people.

Spirit – here is the inner enthusiasm and excitement of a child of God. Never lose the sense of surprise and excitement at what God can do!

Faith – Trusting God in all things. Faith always leads to faithfulness

Purity –Too many Christians have been damaged, and too many churches have been destroyed by revelations of sexual immorality among leaders.

Billy Graham has not only been a remarkable evangelist but also an amazing example of godly living. He was always careful about money and I will never forget him saying that he has never sat in a car alone with any woman apart from his own wife and children. Legalistic – maybe! Necessary – certainly!

Questions:

Why do you think that maturity is dependent upon obedience to Christ and not on our personality or the number of years that we have lived?

How is it possible to grow in these six areas that Paul says we should be an example to other people?

Which of the six areas that Paul says we should be an example do you most struggle with personally? What are you doing to change in that area?

 

 

A GOOD MINISTER OF JESUS CHRIST – PART 2

Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 4:7-16

Don’t waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness” [1 Timothy 4:7 NLT]

Yesterday we saw that a good minister of Jesus Christ will warn his people against false teaching and teachers.

Secondly, he should train himself in godliness [verses 7-8]. The word variously translated as “train,” “exercise” and “discipline” [verse 7] is the Greek word ‘gumnazō’ from which we get the English word “gymnasium”. It is the picture of an athlete, disciplining himself to achieve success in the sporting arena. In a similar way, a good minister of Jesus Christ, disciplines himself or herself to gain spiritual victories. This requires avoiding being side tracked by things that are of no value. This is the discipline of saying “No!” to the things that will lessen the effectiveness of our service for Jesus, and includes avoiding arguments over godless ideas and listening to old wives tales. Keep focused!

Paul is not saying that we should not exercise our bodies [verse 8]. That is important because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, but of even greater importance is exercise in godliness and holiness that is profitable both now and for eternity. We must get the balance right and major on holiness.

This kind of training in godliness requires diligence [verse 15]. The one thing that you cannot afford if you are to serve Jesus effectively is laziness! The word “labour” is translated as “strive” in the NIV [verse 10a]. It is an athletic word from which we get the English word “agonize.” It is the picture of an athlete straining and giving everything he has got to win! A right balance between work, rest and play, but not laziness!

A part of this training is Paul’s word to Timothy to watch his life and doctrine [verse 16]. Peter writes, “Gird up the loins of your mind” [1 Peter 1:13 NKJV], This verse pictures the mind as if it were a long, flowing outer robe that a man usually wore, and which could easily get in the way when he was working. To “gird” means ‘to fasten a belt around’. In other words, he is saying that we are ‘to fasten a belt’ around our mind so that it will not hinder us. We must not let our mind wander idly from thought to thought, loose and open, but keep it alert and centred on the truth.

Questions:

Why do you think that many people find spiritual discipline more difficult to maintain than the discipline required to be successful in the world?

Read 2 Corinthians 10:1-5. Have you noticed how our minds begin to wander idly from thought to thought when we come to pray and our thought-life hinders us from serving Jesus effectively? What can we do to overcome this?

It is good to exercise physically, but what is the proportion of your weekly spiritual exercise compared to physical exercise?

A GOOD MINISTER OF JESUS CHRIST – PART 1

Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 4:1-16

In this chapter, Paul is instructing Timothy on what it means to be a good minister of Jesus Christ [verse 6]. Over the next few days, we will look at five clear principles that Timothy must build into his life if he is to be a good minister and servant of Jesus.

Firstly, he should warn people of danger [verses 1-6]. The Spirit specifically warned that in the latter times that some Christian believers would depart from the faith because they chose to believe false doctrines that were taught by unscrupulous men under the influence of demons. This is relevant to us today because the phrase “latter times” refers to the period beginning with Christ’s resurrection and will continue until His return when He will set up His kingdom. God has no grandchildren, only children, and there is only one generation in Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of Jesus’ words to His disciples after telling them of the signs of His second coming, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” [Matthew 24:34].

Paul says four things about these false teachers:

  • They preach one thing but practice another – they are hypocrites [verse 2]
  • Their consciences are seared so that they can no longer recognise the difference between right and wrong [verse 2]
  • They explain away God’s Word by self-serving lies [verse 2]
  • They teach a false piety – that abstaining from marriage and certain foods will give them acceptance with God [verse 3].

These false teachers taught that the body is evil and that only the soul mattered. Because they believed that the body is evil they could not believe that Jesus was truly human. If He was not truly human, then He could not have been our sin-bearer. John, in his first epistle makes it clear that every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but the denial of this is an evidence of the antichrist [1 John 4:1-3]. Paul knew that their teachings, if left unchecked, would greatly distort Christian truth. There is a helpful note in the Life Application Bible that says, “It is not enough that a teacher appears to know what he is talking about, is disciplined and moral, or says that he is speaking for God. If his words contradict the Bible, his teaching is false. Like Timothy, we must guard any teaching that causes believers to dilute or reject any aspect of their faith. Such false teaching can be very direct or extremely subtle.

Questions:

Why is it important that a good minister of Jesus Christ should warn his people when there is a danger of false teaching?

What false teaching do you think might affect and hurt the church today?

Why do you think that James said, “we who teach will be judged more strictly” [James 3:1]?

THE CHURCH AND THE TRUTH

Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 3:14-16

Having taught about elders and deacons, whose responsibility it is to keep the church on the right path both doctrinally and practically, Paul now writes to Timothy about the nature of the church, and the truth that the church must maintain and proclaim.

The church is a family and a house. The phrase “the house of God” [verse 15] literally means the household or family of God. Those who have been born again of the Holy Spirit, have been redeemed and cleansed by the blood of Jesus, and adopted into God’s family. It is also a spiritual house and each believer is a living stone with a special place in this building of God. Families must have rules, and buildings must have regulations, and God’s family and building is no exception. Paul’s letter was probably to be read by the church as well as Timothy, and part of Paul’s purpose in writing this letter was to instruct believers on how to conduct themselves in God’s family [verse 15].

The church is also the ground of the truth and God has committed to the church the responsibility of upholding and maintaining truth. Using a hymn of the early church, Paul presents one of the most vital truths that the church must maintain. He calls it a mystery [verse 16a]. A mystery in the Bible is a previously unrevealed truth that was not fully revealed until the New Testament. The mystery that is revealed in this verse is that Jesus Christ is wholly man, and wholly God.

Here is the heart of the gospel and the way for us to become godly. “God appeared in a body” – Jesus was a man and His incarnation is the basis for our being right with God. “He was vindicated by the Spirit” – His resurrection showed that the Holy Spirit’s power was in Jesus [Romans 8:11]. He was seen by angels – angels ministered to Him at key moments in His earthly life. Jesus was preached among the Gentiles – this shows the scope of His ministry. Jesus died for all. In the words of Charles Wesley, “For all my Lord was crucified, for all, for all my Saviour died!” Jesus was “believed on in the world” – the only way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus “was taken up in glory.” Today, Jesus Christ is at the right hand of God, making intercession for those who through faith are trusting in Him.

Here is a vital truth to be maintained by the Church! It is an answer to the false teachers who denied the humanity of Christ and His resurrection! What depth of meaning there is in this hymn of faith!

Questions:

In what way can a church be likened and compared to a family?

Every believer as a living stone needs to be a part of a local church fellowship. What is your place and what part do you play as a living stone in your local church?

Why is it so important that the church maintains the truth and does not get diverted away from it?

THE MINISTRY OF DEACONS

Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 2:8-13

Not only does Paul write to Timothy about elders but also about the appointment of deacons. The word deacon is translated from the Greek word ‘diakonos’ and is used in classical Greek for an attendant or a waiter at tables or other menial duties. The normal understanding in a Christian context is of one who serves.

Whilst the main function of elders is to concentrate on specific matters relating to teaching, doctrine, and the spiritual oversight of the local church, deacons function mainly in the realm of administration, visitation and practical help.

The qualifications to be a deacon are similar to that of an elder, with the major exception that an unlike elders, deacons are not necessarily able to teach, although they should have a clear understanding of God’s Word. It is important, however, to recognise that deacons should not be restricted to practical tasks. Two notable exceptions are Stephen and Philip who were appointed to serve at tables [Acts 6:1-7] but both had remarkable ministries and spiritual anointing [see Acts 6:8-10 and 8:4-8].

You might have noticed that when writing about elders I referred to them as “men”. This was deliberate because the Scriptural qualifications for elders can only refer to men, being a faithful husband where married, and being a respected manager and head of his household. This in no way takes away from the amazing missionary ladies who have gone overseas and planted remarkable churches. Whereas an elder is male, the Bible does speak of deaconesses and specifically mentions Phoebe by name as a deaconess [Romans 16:1 see NLT]. Paul makes it clear that before a person is appointed as a deacon, “… they should be given other responsibilities in the church as a test of their character and ability. If they do well they may serve as deacons” [1 Timothy 3:10 NLT].

How does this work in practice? In our home church in Berkshire, we have an eldership composed of several men, but we also have a senior leadership team, composed of both men and women, who make day-to-day decisions in practical matters, and thus function in the Biblical role of deacons and deaconesses. This team are responsible directly to the elders.

It is important to stress that the deacons are not second-class leaders, but leaders with a different function to elders. In my experience it is helpful when elders and deacons regularly meet together. It is also helpful that there are occasional meetings of elders and their wives together, in order to represent the interests, views and opinions of women in the local church.

Questions:

How important is it to have a Biblical structure of leadership in the local church?

Why are both elders and deacons equally important in local church leadership?

 

QUALIFICATIONS FOR ELDERSHIP

Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9

In his description of the qualities required to be an elder, Paul is not looking for someone who has perfect score on all the things mentioned, but neither should a person be badly deficient in any one area. There are four areas of the prospective elder’s life that need to be taken into consideration before appointing him as an elder:

His character must be “above reproach” [verse 2]. He must have an unquestionable integrity and be free from the taint of scandal and accusation. He must be well balanced, calm and sensible and not swayed by sudden impulses. Paul uses the word “hospitable” indicating availability to people. Do people go to this person for help, and do they feel that they can trust him?

His moderation should be evident to everyone [verse 3]. He may drink alcohol but should not be addicted to it. The New Living Translation says, “not a heavy drinker.” He should not be violent, argumentative or who is motivated by a love of money.

His family life should be above reproach. He should be faithful to his wife [verse 2]. This does not necessarily mean that he must be married, but if he is married then he must be faithful to one wife! He must be able to manage his family well [verse 4]. His children should respect and be submissive to him. Paul sums this up with the words, “If a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church” [verse 4b].

He should have an ability to teach others [verse 2]. This implies that he knows the truth and has an unwavering allegiance to it. It does not automatically mean that he is a preacher, but can clearly explain the truth of God’s Word to people on a one-to-one basis. This would have been necessary in Ephesus in order to refute false teaching [see Titus 1:9].

He should be a man of maturity. Paul says, ”Not a recent convert” [1 Timothy 3:6]. The Greek word translated as “recent” is ‘neophyte’ and means ‘a newly planted one’. The premature appointment of people to leadership has been a major cause of many church problems and is neither good for the church nor for the person appointed who could fall into pride and be snared by the devil.

Maturity should not just be judged in the context of the church but in the man’s everyday affairs in the world, and hence Paul’s words that he must have both a good testimony and be spoken of well outside the church [verse 7].

Questions:

Why is it so important that an elder should be so well qualified in both character and competence?

In what way does this list differ from the normal requirements for a secular post or job?

Why do you think that in choosing an elder a man’s reputation outside of the church is so important?