Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reflections and Celebrations

I love the month of December.

December makes most people either smile or cringe. I realize that the season is difficult for many, but it also reminds us of some very important truths.

First, I love December because of the obvious: It is the season of Christmas, the continual recognition that God came down to earth to be with us and save us. For this most incredible reason alone, this season is a glorious one.

Another reason I love this month is for all the Holidaypalooza around the season—with all the music and parties and decorations. The period of Thanksgiving through Christmas and then New Year is full of great celebrations. If you can wade through all the commercialization, it’s a really sweet time.

Finally, the end of the year marks a time of reflection. This year, like any other, brought many hardships and joys for our church family. We have been stretched. That’s why December can be so hard for some. But we grow through that process also. With the change of season comes an opportunity to remember all that God has done—even the hard things. And at the same time, it gives us an opportunity to refuel and start thinking about days ahead, and the plans God has for us. There is great hope for the coming year.

So I pray that you and I can both reflect and celebrate as we share this season together.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Maintaining Trustworthy Elders

Being a pastor can be interesting. Pastors are either loved or hated. Some are given too much credit while others aren’t given enough. As we said earlier in the series, pastors aren’t supposed to be superhuman, but they are required to have proven character.

In this section of his letter, after speaking about caring for church members as a family, in 1 Timothy 5.17-25, Paul addresses the way we care for our church leaders. Perhaps in speaking about how we should honor (financially support) widows, he is reminded about how he wants to address honoring and financially supporting pastors, since that is how this section begins. In any case, he speaks concerning how we care about the principle of a trustworthy, honorable eldership by maintaining a healthy process for graciously holding these leaders accountable—which in turn helps keep us accountable. So how can we best care for, and care about, our church leaders? In each of the three sections, it seems the tone is reasonableness.

We ensure that our church leaders are given a reasonable compensation. (vv. 17-18)

It’s always odd as a pastor addressing this issue, but when you are teaching straight through a book of the Bible, you have to address it as it comes! God’s Word addresses this, so I am. Paul says here that pastors who lead well are worthy of double honor, meaning among other things that in order to receive reasonable compensation, church leaders should work hard at serving well. He says that reasonable support ought to be especially true for those whose specific task is preaching and teaching. To prove his point, he then quotes from Deuteronomy (25.4) and Luke (10.7). (As a side note, it is significant that Paul quotes Luke’s Gospel alongside the Hebrew Scripture book of Deuteronomy. In doing so to his pre-New Testament-era readers, he is affirming a contemporary, first century piece of writing as Holy Scripture, giving it the same weight as ancient texts.)

We ensure that our church leaders are granted a reasonable doubt. (with regard to accusations; vv. 19-21)

Since Paul just spoke of provision for those leaders who are serving well, he now makes provision for those who are accused of not serving or living well. He explains that, just like everyone else, reasonable doubt should be granted when someone is in a leadership role. Crowds will often jump to conclusions when a leader has been accused, and Paul reminds them that pastors should be granted the same biblical due process that Mosaic Law stated and that Jesus reaffirmed. Here is Paul’s basis:

One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19.15, HCSB)

If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. (16) But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. (17) If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. (Matthew 18.15-17, HCSB, emphasis reflects OT quote)

After giving a reasonable doubt, however, if the church leader in question has been proven to be continuing in sin, he says that the rebuke should be public. This is so that church members as well as other pastors will be reminded of the serious nature of sin: “…that the rest also may fear.” He says these principles should be applied consistently, without prejudice or favoritism.

We ensure that our church leaders are examined with reasonable scrutiny. (vv. 22-25)

Finally in this section, we are given the approach we should take in approving and installing new church leaders. Paul already gave us the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3.2-7. Now, he reminds readers of the care and the deliberate attitude with which we must perform this process. No one should be placed in a leadership role too quickly; to do so is to share in their sins when they become evident. In this regard, he explains that whether a person is sinful or well qualified, it will show up. It may be immediately obvious, or it may show up later, but it will show up at some point, so it’s better to do the testing and approving on the front end and save everyone the trouble. In an interesting aside directed to Timothy, Paul tells him that it’s okay to use a little wine as medicine for his stomach without fear that he will be disqualified if he does.

With reasonable consideration, we can ensure that our church leaders are taken care of, and granted the proper amount of attention. Too much or too little attention to church leaders can be disastrous.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]