Month: May 2022
The Glorious Minimum
In Isaiah 45:22 our God says, “Look to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth: For I am God, and there is none else.“
Take note of how simple the way of salvation is. One word. Four letters: Look. Too many people are fond of intricate worship; worship so complex they don’t understand what’s happening. They want not a pastor, but a priest. Not a man in normal dress, but a white-robed saint. Not a communion table, but an altar. And what was once a cup, becomes a chalice. The more complicated the ceremonies become, the better they like them, and in the end, they have a religion they love, but cannot comprehend.
We, on the other hand, are committed to the glorious minimum. Our God tells us the way of salvation is plain. It is simple, and we don’t want to overcomplicate it. God is Holy. Man is sinful. Christ has made redemption possible through his cross and resurrection. Therefore, look to Christ, and be saved, all the ends of the earth. And we seek to embody all of that gospel in our weekly worship.
Some of you will say, “But our services are far more complicated than the one’s I grew up with.” That’s true for me too. And that’s because while a portion of the church has added requirements to God’s Word, most of the evangelical church has forsaken the bare minimum. They have preached a God without wrath, who welcomes men and women without sin, into a kingdom without laws, through a Christ without a cross.
We want to proclaim all of God’s truth as simply and plainly as God himself proclaims it. And so, we say, “Look to Christ, all the ends of the earth, and be saved. For he is God, and there is none else.”
This reminds us of our need to confess our own sin, so let’s pray now.
We come to you acknowledging that you alone are God. There is none other. And we acknowledge that your salvation is plain and simple. You have given us your Christ as the propitiation for our sins, and not ours only—but the whole world. And all you have commanded us to do is to look upon Christ with faith.
Father, we confess that we’ve tried, in our own ways, to earn our salvation. We often act as if we could win your approval through our own good works. We have mistakenly believed that more repenting earns us more merit, and we have feared that our doubting has caused us to lose your love.
Father, in so many ways, we have looked to ourselves. We have looked to our own goodness for our security. We have compared ourselves to others to give us confidence. We have looked to our church attendance, our tithing, and even our receiving of baptism and Communion as if there was power within them to wash away our sin, instead of looking through them by faith to see the pierced hands and shed blood of the savior.
Lord God, in this moment of humility before your Word, we confess, that we have overcomplicated your saving work – we have not looked to Christ as we ought. We confess that this is sin, and we ask that you would forgive us according to your steadfast love.
And we know that many other sins are lurking in our hearts, so Father, give us the grace to confess our individual sins to you now in silence.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON – Isaiah 54:8; 43:25; 44:22
In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer.
I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.
The Generosity of the Church (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
A survey of the Bible’s teaching on wealth would take considerably more time than we have this morning. So, let me hit the tops of the waves for you.
In the beginning, God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the entire earth. They were the king and queen of the planet, acting as God’s vice regents. (Genesis 1, 2)
When God delivered Israel out of Egypt, he gave them Canaan and promised to bless the nations of the earth through them so long as they maintained covenant faithfulness which included radical generosity to the poor. (Exodus-Deuteronomy)
Because the leaders of Israel abused and oppressed the poor and did not keep the laws of God, the nation was stripped of their Deuteronomic blessings and exiled in Babylon. (Prophets)
The New Testament is bristling with commentary on money: “don’t lay-up treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19); “give and it will be given back to you” (Luke 6:38); “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed” (Romans 13:7)
And, in the consummation of all things, the true Israel of God, the church, receives not Canaan as a possession. We inherit the new heavens and earth. Through Christ, all things become ours. (Revelation 21) The end of history is not an overpopulated and underfed earth, but a marriage supper in the New Jerusalem.
So, how should we summarize the Biblical teaching on wealth? What does God think about money? A good starting point is Proverbs 30:8-9
give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me,lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
“God, you know how much is too much or too little for our vainglorious and doubting hearts. So, make us humble enough to increase our earning without increasing our pride.”
And so, we must situate Paul’s message to us in today’s passage within this broader context:
Our text for today is 1 Timothy 6:17-19. These are God’s Words.
17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Turning from the poor who desire to be rich, Paul now instructs the rich of the present age who need to think more about the age to come. (v. 17-19) They aren’t to be haughty, or high minded. Their wealth doesn’t legitimize despising their neighbor or throwing their weight around like they own the place. Nor are they to trust in their wealth. Christ warned that possessions could be wiped out by moths, rust, and burglars in Matthew 6. To that list we could add the instability of global supply lines, the volatility of markets, and the greedy hand of government. Instead, the way to truly enjoy wealth is to see it for what it is: a gift from a loving God. (v. 17)
They are to obey God’s revealed moral will with their money. That is what Paul meant by, “They are to do good.” Their portfolio ought to be filled with investments of good works. They jump at the occasion to share their money, their time, their lives with those who have needs. No one has to twist their arm to get them to share. (v. 18)
The payoff of honoring God with wealth is not less security, but more; not less life and joy, but deeper joys and richer lives regardless of one’s net worth. The true security, only hinted at in worldly wealth, is found as you lay a foundation for the age to come. True life, of which worldly wealth only shadows, comes by stewarding both your wealth and your heart by faith in Christ and imitating his generosity. (v. 19)
NEITHER MATERIALISM NOR ACETICISM
Ephesus, where Timothy has been left to pastor, was one of the wealthiest cities in the Roman empire, and because ours is a nation abundant in material wealth, evangelical Christians are constantly warned, like these Ephesians, of the dangers of materialism. 99% of the sermons you’ve heard on money basically sound like this: we all have too money much and should give more away. Alongside these sermons, we now live in a culture confused in matters of justice, and this has led many Christians to the false conclusion that simply being born in a nation like ours is a great sin. God, however, will not hold you responsible for the nation/parents/century you were born into. He will hold you responsible for what you do with what he has given you.
And there are two opposite, yet equally abhorrent ways to treat God’s material blessings: the first is to take them all in hand and refuse to give thanks. But it is equally offensive, when God in his grace, births you or brings you to a nation of opportunity, and you throw those blessings on the ground and refuse to receive them at all.
Materialism is sinful because it hoards excess wealth to the neglect of the poor. But asceticism, the refusal of the wealth God is giving, is worse because it creates more poverty. This is why Paul called it demonic (1 Tim. 4:1-4).
The warning: God, in his grace, has given you the wealth you will be tempted put in his place. And the only obedient response to this is to accept the gracious gifts of God while keeping them in their proper creaturely place. You do this by remembering two things:
First, God could have just as easily given these blessings to anyone else instead of you. He was under no obligation to put you here, and now, with this family, in this nation, in this economy. Regardless of how hard you have worked, every cent you own came to you by grace.
Second, you must daily remind yourself how uncertain and tenuous your money is. “Don’t love the world,” says the Apostle John (1 John 2:15-17) Why? Because it’s passing away. It’s transient, vaporous, and fleeting. Jeremiah said the same to Israel (Jeremiah 2:13).
Buy a five-gallon bucket, scribble the word “joy” on the side, drill holes in the bottom, and try to keep it full of water. This is what it’s like to put your hope in your wealth. No matter how full the bucket is right now, you know it’s leaking. You can’t rest for a single moment.
ENJOY GOD & HIS MONEY
The corrective is to enjoy God and his money. We are to set our hope on God who “richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (v. 17) Before we’re ever told to be generous, we’re told to hope and enjoy.
Christ, who was rich became poor. He left splendor for squalor. He left the praise of angels for the mockery of men. The one who owned the cattle on a thousand hills and calls the ancient stars by name gave them all up and was nailed to a cross of wood. Why? So that he could redeem you from your sin and make you his treasured possession. Not so you could buy the house of your dreams or retire in ease— but so that you could, with him, inherit the earth! So, the message isn’t, “Your desires are too big, but far too small. You are far too easily pleased.”
Those who know the inheritance of the life to come are freed to be radically generous today. But what does radical generosity look like? We could withdraw all the cash from our bank accounts, ride down highway 49 and throw bills out the window, but would God consider that generous, or boneheaded?
We’re told to be generous in such a way that we store up for the future. Obviously, Paul has in mind the age to come, but I believe he’s giving a principle we can apply to our lives today: be generous today in ways that will allow you to be generous tomorrow, next month, in a decade, three generations from now, and even into the coming kingdom. In other words, a faithful Christian spends, saves, and gives with foresight. God wants you to steward your money in such a way that you can help neighbor who can’t make rent today and leave a legacy to the great-great-grandchildren you’ll never meet. “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” (Proverbs 13:22)
“The Contentment & Charge of the Church” 1 Timothy 6:3-16
THE CONTENTMENT &
CHARGE OF THE CHURCH
The Household of God
1 Timothy 6:3-16
Our text for today is 1 Timothy 5:1-16. These are God’s Words.
3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
The text roughly breaks down into three sections. First, Paul identifies the characteristics of false teachers in verses 3-5. In contrast, Paul instructs Timothy in godly contentment in verses 6-10. This is one of Paul’s recurring themes throughout his writings. The passage ends by telling Timothy what he is to run after as he runs away from the character and doctrine of the false teachers (v. 11-13) And all of this is to be done in the sight of and for the glory of God.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Twisted Doctrine (v. 3, 4)
Different doctrine than Christ (heterodox). Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed. These are great summaries of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, and ought to be the focus of our teaching—not fringe doctrines. Those who go after different doctrines, Paul says, are pompous ignoramuses. They think they are the theologically advanced, when in fact, they are the deceived dupes
Twisted Relationships (v. 4, 5)
In verses 4, 5 Paul reminds us that doctrinal diversions lead to relational eruptions. False teachers are described as envious (the resent the blessings of others), rivalries, slander, suspicions, and friction (they’re always ready for an argument)
Twisted Affections (v. 5)
Ultimately, twisted doctrines and twisted relationships find their root in twisted affections. Rather than loving God and people, they use a veneer of godliness to get what they really love: money. A focus on true doctrine, and Biblical ethics would undermine their pursuit of their true god: money.
Godliness with Contentment
In contrast to the temporal perspective of these false teachers, Timothy, and the church he leads are to develop an eternal perspective on their life. Our life is a brief pilgrimage between two moments of nakedness, says Paul. We came into the world with nothing and that’s the way we’ll leave it. (v. 6, 7)
Paul has been taking courses in the school of contentment, and one of the chief lessons is how little a Christian needs in order for their heart to be at rest: food and shelter. With that, and Christ, Paul says we can find contentment. (v. 8)
The problem isn’t with the material things, the problem is with our desires. Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation. Notice, that Paul’s warning in this passage isn’t geared primarily to the rich, but rather to those who are poor and want to be rich. (v. 9)
Then there’s that famous verse: the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. We have to note, here again, that the verse does not say that money is the root, but rather the love of money. And, it does not say that it is the root of all evil, but of all kinds of evil. (v. 10)
Man of God
In the final section Paul charges Timothy to take 4 actions: flee, pursue, fight, and keep.
First, he is to flee the love of money, the conceit, the envy, the slander, and the quarrelling of the false teachers. He is not called to parlay with sin—he is told to run from it. (v. 11)
Second, he is to fight the good fight of faith. The Christian life is the good struggle, the good boxing match, the good race. Timothy had made the good confession—either in his baptism or ordination before the church, scholars argue about which event Paul is referencing here. (v. 12)
Paul calls upon the witness of both God the Father and Jesus Christ who made the good confession before Pilate: Timothy is to keep the commandment unstained. In other words, Paul is binding Timothy to the instructions of the letter. The letter isn’t a list of helpful suggestions from Uncle Paul. It’s binding Scripture from the Apostle of Christ himself. (v. 14)
All of this culminates in a doxology—a praise of God’s infinite and immutable character:
He is the only sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of Lords. In other words, no one delegated authority to God. He is the one who delegates authority to every earthly ruler. (v. 15)
He is self-existent, the source of all life. And he is inaccessible—he’s beyond the reach of people stained by sin. He dwells in light so bright that anything tinged with the darkness of sin cannot come near to him. (v. 16)
THE LOCATION OF SIN
Two years ago medical professionals were trying to locate what they called “Patient Zero” Where did the virus originate? Can we trace it back to ground zero? And we have to do the same with sin. As we live in a world of false teachers, as we try to discern out own lives and struggles with temptation we have to ask, “Where is the sin located? Where did it start?”
Notice, at the end of Paul’s warning against false teachers, beneath their doctrine, beneath their behaviors, what’s at the bottom? They imagine that Godliness is a means of gain. Translation: There’s something they wanted more than anything. Ok. Hold on to that thought. Now, come to verse 9 and notice a trend: “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation.” And verse 10, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils.”
What’s the commonality? Desire. The commonality is desire. Where does sin originate? Ultimately in our desires. Another Biblical way of answering the question is: Sin comes from our hearts.
Jesus, in Matthew 15 said:
18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person.
God created us as worshippers. We were made with a God shaped vacuum at the center of our being. And sin occurs when we try to put anything other than God in that place—when we desire what God has made more than God himself.
David Foster Wallace, who was not a Christian, once wrote:
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life… There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.
We have, as one pastor said, a perennial temptation to locate sin as resident in the stuff: in the money, in the house, in the clothes, in the job.
This is the kind of bad reasoning that led Francis of Assisi to sell all his worldly possession and walk around naked.
But this passage is showing us from several angles, that the problem isn’t in the stuff, it’s found in the way we relate to the stuff. It’s found in our desires. Money isn’t sinful. (If money was sinful, it would be ironic that God commands us to give it to poor people as a way of blessing.)
Money isn’t sinful, but a love and desire for money that crowds out a desire for God and godly uses of money is. So, how do we combat the love of money? Or the idolatry of wealth?
THE RARE JEWEL
The answer is cultivation of contentment. This is a common theme for the Apostle Paul:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
In the 1600s, as England was shaken by civil war, Jeremiah Burroughs preached a sermon series on Christian contentment. The series is not published as a book called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.
In our own time there are plenty of disciplines that you must learn as a Christian:
- Daily Bible reading & prayer
- Courage to stand for truth.
- Giving your child a Christian education.
- Hospitality to church members & unbelieving neighbors.
We live in a tumultuous time—and you must also learn the Christian discipline of contentment. Here’s how Burroughs defines it:
“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”
You could paraphrase it like this:
We may define contentment as a steady, quiet, and submissive heart that delights in God’s fatherly disposal of every circumstance.
Of course, there are plenty of places in Scripture where the righteous plead with God to change their circumstances, they wrestle with God, they lay their petitions before God—and we are called to do this as well. Contentment is not apathy. It is not resignation. Contentment is not settling for the status quo. But all of our petitions to the Lord—all our laments must also be matched with joyful, “but Thy will be done.”
It’s important to note that when Christ prayed those words in the garden—that prayer of submission is what put him on the path to obey and honor God.
So, contentment is compatible with asking God to change your circumstances, to change your heart, your home, your school, your city, your state, and your nation. But, contentment is not compatible with fussing, complaining, moping, fretting, cursing, and bitterness.
- Do you want God to change the circumstances of your marriage? Then crucify the sin of fussing and complaining.
- Do you want God to change the circumstances of your work? Then go to Christ and ask him to mortify your bitterness.
- Do you want God to change the direction of the nation? He isn’t working through your snarky social media posts.
We often tell our children: there’s no situation so bad that your attitude can’t make it worse. Bitterness and fussing puts you in the best possible position to miss things, confuse things, and harm things.
So, how can our hearts be at rest—how can they be steady and quiet and submissive to our Father even as we are asking him to change our circumstances?
And the answer is Christ. Godliness with contentment is great gain. Christ with food and clothing is great gain. Jesus plus survival is great gain. Paul says that Chris is of such inestimable worth, that if you had him and the bare essentials for life you could learn contentment.
So, the source of contentment isn’t self-sufficiency, it is Christ-sufficiency.
What if Jesus kept you right where you are today for the rest of your earthly life? Would he be enough? Would his love be enough for you? Would his forgiveness of sin be enough? Would his sovereign disposal of all things be enough? Could your heart rest in him?
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
- The Lord gives jobs and the Lord takes them away: blessed be the name of the Lord.
- The Lord gives marriages and the Lord takes them away: blessed be the name of the Lord.
- The Lord gives nations and the Lord takes them away: blessed be the name of the Lord.
When you are resting in Christ as your contentment—you have taken the first step that leads to more obedience, more faithfulness.
THE GOOD CONFESSION
But I can’t do this… I can’t beat bitterness. No. You can’t.
I can’t beat fear. No. You can’t. I can’t beat my sinful anger. No. You can’t. In and of yourself, you can’t. Paul gave Timothy an impossible task:
14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
There’s no way that Timothy, in his own strength could keep the commandment unstained. The strength of man could never keep all the Apostles instructions in this single letter, let alone the entire testimony of the Scriptures…
No one can keep the 10 Commandments. No one can love the Lord their God with heart soul mind and strength. No one can love their neighbor as they love themselves.
There is none righteous, no not one. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And that’s why Paul reminds Timothy of the testimony of Christ:
13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,
In one sense, there’s no possible way that Timothy could succeed. And yet, in another, there’s no way he could possibly fail.
How can you say to God, in the midst of a difficult marriage, a painful work environment, a nation gone crazy, how can you say in the moment of the trial, “Thy will be done Father. I rest in your disposal of every circumstance”?
Because when Christ was faced with a far more severe trial, the trial of gathering up all your sins, all your bitterness, all your envy, all your fear, and he said “Thy will be done,” and nailed your sin to the cross.
The Relationships of the Church Pt. 2 (1 Timothy 5:19-6:2)
THE RELATIONSHIPS OF THE CHURCH Pt. 2
The Household of God
1 Timothy 5:19-6:2
Our text for today is 1 Timothy 5:1-16. These are God’s Words.
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 people 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.
6 Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.
Our passage today concludes Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding various relationships within the congregation. These instructions began in verse 1 of chapter 5 with a general instruction on addressing the old and the young, men and women. They continued with instructions on the treatment of widows in the church. That’s verses 3-16. Verses 17-25 regard the elders of a church, and the first two verses of chapter 6 regards instructions for masters and servants.
Today we are considering the job performance workers of the church (elders), and the workers within the church. (masters & servants, or bosses and employees)
First, let’s walk back through the passage:
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Remember that Timothy had been left by Paul in the city of Ephesus while Paul prepared to preach the gospel in Spain. This was his final missionary journey.
1 Timothy 1:3
3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies
This assignment would not be walk in the park, and assuredly Timothy would have to weed through accusations against elders. “Can you believe he taught this in church on Sunday…?” “Well, publicly he preached the truth… but privately, I heard him say…” How will Timothy sort through it all?
First, notice that a charge is only to be brought upon the testimonies of multiple witnesses. (v. 19) In other words, the charge must have substantiation. This call for multiple witnesses was not a special protection for Elders that doesn’t apply to anyone else, rather it’s a continuation of God’s commands in the Mosaic Law.
Deuteronomy 19:15 says:
15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.
Paul gives the same admonition for all Christians in 2 Corinthians 13:1
13 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
If an accusation is confirmed by multiple credible and mature witnesses and the elder who is admonished privately refuses to repent, then Timothy is to rebuke that elder publicly in the church. (v. 20)
This echoes Christ’s command concerning church discipline in Matthew 18:
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.
When it comes to all matters of discipline in the church, not just that of pastors, public rebuke is always a last resort. The Biblical rule is that private sins are dealt with privately, and only become public after all patience and possibilities for private restoration have proved ineffective.
What is the purpose of church discipline? It is the restoration those who are not walking in accord with Christ and his law. We don’t want elders or ministers to persist in sin. And the public rebuke of those who persist in sin has the effect of producing holy fear in the church. (v. 21)
So, taken together, the message of verses 19, 20 is that Timothy must not take frivolous gossip about leaders as serious accusations, and Timothy must not refuse to treat substantiated accusations as mere gossip.
Paul invokes his own apostolic authority (I charge you) as well as the authority of the high heavens (along with God the Father, Christ Jesus, and the innumerable angelic beings) Timothy is to keep these rules: not tolerating gossip on the one hand, and the rebuke of guilty elders on the other, without any prejudice. He is to be a steady and patient judge in these matters, neither a hothead with a quick trigger finger nor a coward who refuses to have difficult conversations. (v. 21)
Rebuking an elder publicly will no doubt cause immense pain and sorrow in the life of the church, therefore, Timothy is to be slow to ordain elders. Don’t be hasty in laying hands on someone. True character bears out over time. Some candidates for elders are non-starters because their life clearly evidences immaturity. Others appear to be fit for the role upon first impression, but time will reveal disqualifying flaws in their character. (v. 22 & 24) As Timothy keeps his eyes on the elders around him, he is not to neglect his own personal health. He is to drink some wine for ailments. (v. 23)
Shifting from elders to masters and servants:
Paul says that bondservants are to regard their unbelieving masters as worthy of all honor— even if they aren’t. Even if they are cruel and worthy of dishonor, Paul says regard them as if they are worthy of honor. Why? For the purpose of evangelism. Treating their master better than they deserved will act as a profound testimony to the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. (ch. 6 v. 1)
For those bondservants who have believing masters Paul knows the temptation will be to despise their masters even more because they are Christian brothers. “I thought he loved Jesus… why won’t he release me from this servitude.” Instead, they are to serve even more diligently because they are serving a brother in Christ. (v. 2)
SLAVERY & THE BIBLE
Now, before we begin applying the text, let me give you a few comments on slavery and the Bible. This is bonus material. Stick with me.
First there is nothing demeaning about service when it is given voluntarily. Jesus himself washed the disciples’ feet even though he was their master. And he taught us that the greatest among the church would be the servant of all. Paul often introduced himself in his letters as a slave of Christ.
Second, scholars estimate that one our of every 3 people in Roman in Paul’s day were enslaved. The ancient Roman Empire did not have the same economic system we have today with bankruptcy and loan forgiveness, so often times when someone defaulted on their debts the only way to reconcile the debt was for that person to enter into servitude. Other slaves were criminals, and some were military prisoners. Now, if that seems like a strange ancient practice, just go about 5 years without paying your federal income taxes and see if you get to keep your freedom.
Third, the Scriptures are clear that forced slavery is an offense to God. To forcibly enslave another human being is to trample on inherent human dignity. 1 Timothy 1:10 mentions enslavers (or man-stealers) as enemies of God.
Fourth, in Ephesians, Paul makes it clear that slaves and masters stood on equal ground.“There is neither slave nor free, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In 1 Corinthians 7:21, Paul says that slaves who have chance to gain their freedom ought to take that opportunity. And in his letter to Philemon, Paul tells a Christian slave owner, Philemon, that the right thing to do would be to release his slaves.
Given all that, why, in 1 Timothy 6, does Paul tell bondservants to regard their masters as worthy of honor?
And the answer is that, instead of inciting a revolution, Paul laid the groundwork for a reformation. The ancient world considered servants to have an inherent lower social status—and Paul says that in Christ, masters and servants are on equal footing. Instead of going after the value of the economic system, Paul went after something far deeper: the value of a man or a woman, and it was this teaching that broke the back of slavery in the Roman world.
So, how do we apply this text? First, this passage teaches us that..
JUSTICE MUST BE THOROUGH
Alice Waters once famously said that our culture is addicted to velocity. For us, speed is a sign of efficiency and progress. Like the little boy with a bicycle and a grease gun, we’re always asking, “How can we make it go faster?” Faster transportation is better. Faster meals are better. Faster weight loss is better. And our culture has applied this lust of speed to matters of justice. “We want justice, and we want it yesterday.”
Combine that addiction to speed with technologies like social media which allow for instant public trials, and you find yourself in a world where someone an can accused in the morning and executed in the court of public opinion by the midday.
Everyone is pressured to immediately take a stand and signal which side they’re on, to change their profile picture to support a cause and if they don’t do it immediately, then they must hate evil.
Our culture has lost the classic virtue of restraint: the ability to withhold judgment for the sake of ascertaining the truth, the ability to bridle our passionate emotions and tongues for the sake of constructive discourse. And, without the recovery of this virtue, not only in the justice system, but in our own personal conversations and public institutions, our culture will continue to tear itself apart.
The requirement of multiple witnesses was a protection for the innocent. The goal of justice isn’t to get to a conviction, regardless of who we convict. The goal of justice is to honor God by ascertaining the truth regarding criminal and unlawful activity and applying commensurate punishment.
So, why multiple witnesses? Why must justice be slow and practice restraint. Why must we put measures in place to bridle our passions? First, because we are imperfect knowers. We are not omniscient. We are not all knowing. Only God is. And second because we are born with a bent towards evil. We are not born leaning towards righteousness. When the human race fell into sin, Romans 1 says our foolish hearts were darkened. Our rational capacities are corrupted by sin. Our affections are corrupted by sin. This means that many times we don’t see the truth, and other times we see it, but we don’t want it.
Therefore, God demands that justice be systematic, methodical, and thorough. And those qualities all take time.
Why multiple witnesses? Because it is preferable that a guilty man go free, than an innocent person be condemned. That’s the purpose of this requirement.
Accusations must be substantiated, and justice must be thorough. False accusations are to be punished because they damage reputations and livelihoods.
There were no surveillance cameras in the ancient world and very few paper trails. Most court cases were brought based on the accusations of a plaintiff. God therefore, gave this requirement as a protective barrier against baseless and malicious accusations. God hates smear campaigns, whether they come from the right or the left. He hates hands that are quick to shed innocent blood, whether they come from the right or the left.
I want to note here, that this requirement is not to be interpreted woodenly, but rather as a matter of principle. In other words, “We have one person accusing the pastor of stealing, and we have video evidence of the theft, and we have a paper trail of people counting and depositing money into the bank account but we don’t have multiple witnesses, so we can’t listen to the accusation.” That would be a wooden interpretation of the text. Rather, we should interpret and apply the principle the text is teaching us, and that principle is: accusations are to be substantiated.
One more word on restraint: social media has warped our understanding of communication. It is ground zero for lack of restraint. The entire system of social media rewards flammable speech… why? Because social media cares more about selling ads than it does about building community and having intelligent conversations. The more combustible your post can be, the more likes, shares, and retweets you can get, the more eyes see it, the more ads are sold. That’s how the game works.
If we are going to see any change in the rancor of our nation it must begin with Christians repenting of rancor and lack of restraint. It must begin by crying out to God for mercy. Then Christians must discipline themselves and practice the classic virtue of restraint. Controlling their passions. Measuring their words. Speaking with clarity, and under the authority of the risen Christ.
PASTORING BEGINS WITH PASTORING THE PASTOR
Apparently, Timothy suffered from some kind of physical ailment that Paul was aware of. Paul knew that a pastor can be so committed to the work of pastoring the people that he fails to pastor himself, so he charges Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach.
Charles Spurgeon, the preeminent pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London during the 19th century battled depression his entire life. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Spurgeon, you know that he was a rather large and jolly looking man. He was known for being outgoing cheerful, and a manly cigar-smoker.
When Spurgeon was twenty-two years old he pastored a church of thousands and had twin babies at home. At one of his worship services pranksters began yelling, “Fire,” causing a stampede in which 7 people died and 28 were severely injured. The event nearly broke Spurgeon mentally. Beyond that, Spurgeon suffered from kidney inflammation and gout.
Sadly, Spurgeon also overworked himself. On top of preaching, he wrote thousands of pages of Biblical commentary, helped run an orphanage, a seminary full of young preachers, and wrote nearly 500 pieces of correspondence every week.
This combination of depression, disease, and overwork often required Spurgeon to set his work aside for weeks or even months—and sadly, he passed away at 57 years of age.
Now – thank God for Spurgeon. The fact that he died at a young age doesn’t nullify his work. Few pastors in history have been as fruitful for the kingdom as Spurgeon. He ranks with the Apostle Paul and Calvin.
Nonetheless, it is a stern reminder that pastoring begins by pastoring the pastor. The first step in playing music is to tune the instrument. As our church desires to install more elders—they must be men who are pastoring themselves well before they can pastor anyone else.
As we look for God to raise up elders, we ought to look for men who demonstrate balance in their spiritual, work, family, and personal life.
This is why Timothy should not be hasty to lay hands on someone and ordain them. The bast way to avoid rebuking a pastor publicly, is to be slow in appointing them in the first place.
If Timothy rushes someone into leadership and they make a mess of things, Timothy is partly to blame for the mess. The mess didn’t begin when the appointed person had a meltdown, the mess began when Timothy didn’t take time to screen and vet the candidate. This is what it means for Timothy to not take part in the sins of others
Friends, people are like icebergs. 9/10 of their character is beneath the surface and only time will reveal it. Appointing elders is like navigating in the arctic. You don’t zoom at top speed.
This is why I’m having these men teach in Equipping hour and pray in our services. It’s so you can both hear their teaching and examine their lives.
Transitioning from the workers of the church (elders) to workers within the church (employers and employees)
COMPETENCE IS A CHRISTIAN VIRTUE
Our church is constantly promoting a Protestant work ethic. Everything we do is done before the face of God. The Reformers called this Coram Deo. We encourage entrepreneurial and capitalistic endeavors. New businesses, new products, innovations, new jobs, more wealth—all these things are immense blessings when done with faith and thanksgiving. God blesses and provides for the needs of the world through our work.
This means that Christian’s should be the best employers and employees in the city. Christian bosses should hold their employees accountable and invest in their employees so they might advance. Christian employees ought to welcome job evaluations so that they might mature and grow into better opportunities.
As one pastor said, “People who do not want public evaluation of the quality of their work are people who have no business being in business. They should just buy a shovel and dig where they are told to.”
Bosses, it is not a Christian grace to let bad work slide. Business owners, just because you own the company doesn’t give you the right to underpay your employees. Do you work for a brother or sister in Christ? That’s not an out for you to give sub-par work knowing they are obligated to forgive you.
Paul says, the fact that you report to a Christian ought to spur you on to more diligence, more joy in your work. Why? Because presumably, as Christians, you are laboring together in a way that honors Christ. You are producing something through the business that blesses people.
Contractors and consultants: don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Be honest about how much time the job will take, how much the materials will cost, and how much you need to make in order for the job to be worth your time.
Now, it may be that you’re thinking… I thought you said everything was grace… but now I’m hearing a lot about obedience and work. Well, that’s because the grace of God gives us a backbone.
Earlier in the service we considered Paul’s words in Ephesians 2, that we are saved by grace and not by our works. This is so that no one but God may boast of our salvation.
The Scriptures teach that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard. That the wages of sin is death. But the gospel is that Jesus Christ took the death our sin had earned. He was offered up by the Father, and he freely offered himself up to receive the just punishment for our sin.
And all we must do is look to him in faith to be forgiven. You say, “But I have fudged numbers at work!” Come and welcome to Jesus. “But I have reneged on my contracts!” Come and welcome to Jesus. “But I have lived a life of sexual sin.” Come and welcome to Jesus. “But I’ve had an abortion.” Come and welcome to Jesus. “But I have blasphemed God and mocked Christians.” Come, and welcome to Jesus. Turn from your sin, and trust in Christ today! We are saved by grace, not by works.
But never forget that although we are not saved by our works, we are saved unto good works.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The good works we have been saved unto certainly include helping old ladies cross the street and praying for the lost—but do these good works not also include arriving to work on time, balancing the ledgers accurately, and doing our algebra homework with all diligence?
Friends, Jesus Christ is the only Savior of sinners, and he is Lord of all. Lord of our church, and Lord of your business. He is Lord of your home, Lord of Lake Wylie, Lord of York and Mecklenburg County, Lord of our state, Lord of the North America, and Lord of the Universe. He is Lord down to the smallest atom, all the way up to the stars—and you are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which he has prepared for you to do.
Friends, if Jesus is Lord, then there are no small people. There are no small jobs. All of it matters. All of it is to be received with joy, and done with joy and given as worship to God.
We thank you for the blessing of this Word that we have heard. We ask now for the greater blessing of this Word shaping us by the power of your Spirit. We pray as well that the offerings we now give would come from hearts of joy and thanksgiving. We pray you would multiply our giving for the furtherance of your kingdom. In Jesus name we pray. And Amen.
All of Grace
The Christian life is all of grace. We never do the right thing apart from God’s grace. Our motives are never pure apart from God’s enabling grace. And you need to sink this truth deep into your repentance.
Oftentimes, when a Christian realizes they are ensnared by sin; be it bitterness, or anger, or fear, they know they need to repent of their sin, and yet they might wonder: “Am I truly repenting because I hate this sin, or am I repenting because I don’t like the way this sin makes me feel? You know, holding onto this bitterness exhausts me, so if I repent, I can feel better.” In those moments it’s important to do a few things:
First, confess the sin, because it is sin, and you know it to be so. Don’t allow the question of whether your motives are pure to keep you from confessing the truth.
Second, ask God to help you discern your motives and your heart. Even the darkness is light to him, so he is the only one who can look into our dark hearts with perfect acuity.
Third, remember that it’s all of grace. The fact that you see your sin; that’s of grace. And when you confessed that it is sin; that was grace too. If you wait to come to God and agree with him about your sin until all your motives are pure you will be lost. But if you will confess that even your best repentance is still mixed with impure motives, God will bless it in Christ.
This is what it truly means to walk by faith, and not by sight. This reminds us of our need to confess our sins, so let’s pray now.
All in All
CALL TO WORSHIP – Psalm 97:1-9
4 The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around.
4 His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
5 The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.
6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.
7 All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!
8 Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O Lord.
9 For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.
PRAYER OF ADORATION
Our greatest joy in life is enjoying your presence and gathering here to serve you with gladness. And there is no comfort in anything apart from you.
You are all in all. And you are infinitely wise and can do no wrong. Father, we praise you that all things concerning us are at your disposal. You number our days and the hairs on our head. Our lives, our homes, our families, and every circumstance surrounding us rests in your sovereign hand.
Father, the knowledge of your sovereignty in all things would terrify us, if we did not also know of your infinite goodness to us. We see your love put on full display in the cross of Christ, slain for us that we might receive your pardon, forgiveness, and welcome into your family.
Father, what can we do for you or give to you for everything you have given to us? What could we place into your hands that you had not first placed into ours. Even if we gave every breath we drew into our lungs, we would only be returning what already belongs to you.
You are the author and the perfector of our faith, and the whole work of redemption is yours alone. Even the good works we do is the result of your mercy and power working within us.
So, Father, all things are from you, and through you, and to you. We offer our praise this morning through the name of Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
One God in Three Persons, forever and ever. Amen.
“The Relationships of the Church” Pt. 1 1 Timothy 5:1-16
THE RELATIONSHIPS OF THE CHURCH
The Household of God
1 Timothy 5:1-16
Our text for today is 1 Timothy 5:1-16. These are God’s Words.
5 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.
3 Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Today’s text concerns Timothy’s relationships as a pastor to the various members of the church, and Paul begins with an overarching principle:
The pastor is not an overlord. Timothy is to treat the members of the church not as employees, not as servants, and not even as equals. He is to treat them like members of his own family. Older men as fathers, older women as mothers, younger men as brothers and younger women as sisters.
The correcting words of a pastor must have the kind of seasoning a son owes to a father or mother, or sister. Put another way, the rebuke of a pastor ought to feel more like warm encouragement to face sin than a stinging smack on the face. That’s verses 1 & 2.
Paul then gives specific instructions for the treatment of widows in the church in verses 3-16. This ensures that widows in Ephesus aren’t neglected on the one hand, and that they don’t take advantage of the church’s charity on the other.
Apparently, there were widows who needed genuine financial and physical assistance and there were others who selfishly wanted handouts they didn’t actually need.
A widow qualified to receive assistance is she had no family left to care for her, if she was exemplary in setting her hope on God, and vigilant in prayerfulness. Verse 5.
She must be at least 60 years of age. Presumably, younger women should be able to provide for their own needs. She also must have been faithful to her husband. In other words, the God who was faithful in her youth to give her a husband, is continuing his faithfulness in providing through the church in her later years. That’s verse 9.
Finally, she must have a reputation of good works and hospitality. The care of the church isn’t a universal right. It is a duty and responsibility to care for a beloved and treasured member of the flock. That’s verse 10.
A widow was disqualified if she had family who could support her.
Or, if she was living for pleasure. In other words, she has enough to be wasteful in her living.
The church is obligated to a widow who is in genuine need and meets certain qualifications, and those who abuse the charity of God’s people are already dead even while they live. Verse 6.
God keeps a record of those who neglect widows and he’s keeping a record of those who abuse the church, and his judgement will come without question.
Having laid out the treatment and care of older widows, Paul concludes with instructions to younger widows. His words have more of an edge in the original Greek than the English lets on. Literally, Paul says, “Younger widows? Forget about it.”
Do not put them on such a list. Apparently, younger widows in Ephesus were mooching off the church and spending their time gossiping and being idle rather than serving the body of Christ.
Paul ends with several encouragements to those younger widows in verses 14-16.
- First, be open to marriage.
- Second, have children, if God gives them to you.
- Third, manage your homes.
- Fourth, give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
- God has designed women to be producers in his world, not idle consumers.
The text ends with Paul telling us why the church must be careful about doling out charity: resources are limited, and the church has an obligation to help those who are truly in need, not just anyone who says they have a need. Verse 16.
THE OVERARCHING PRINCIPLE
If we go back to the beginning of the chapter, we see Paul’s overarching principle: we are not to treat everyone equally.
Now, I know that all your ears just perked up. And hear me: I’m not saying that some human beings are superior to others. I’m not suggesting that one gender is inferior to another.
What I am saying is that men and women are not interchangeable. Old and young are not interchangeable.
The DNA in our blood, our physical form, our smooth or wrinkled skin, our gray hair (which I gain more of each year) they are all there to help us distinguish and differentiate. Contrary to our culture, our biology isn’t inconsequential. It tells us who we are, and it even tells others how to approach and speak to us.
While all are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, while we owe respect to men and women, old and young alike, we are to remember that they are not the same thing.
Our God is a God who loves distinctions and differences. God is not us, and we are not God. There is a Creator/Creation distinction. I am not you, and you are not me. There is distinction between individual human persons. Male is not female, and female is not male. There is gender distinction. And old is not young and young is not old, there are even age distinctions.
And we honor one another, not by flattening distinctions, but by properly recognizing and giving the proper respect owing to each.
Timothy is to approach older men like he would a father, and older women like he would a mother. In other words, both gender and age inform how we are to behave around someone.
THE FAMILY AS BUILDING BLOCK
Moving on from the overarching principle to the treatment of widows brings us to a second application which is this: the family is the basic building block of healthy society.
When God create the earth, he did not begin with the government of the state, but of the family. He made a man and a woman and performed the first marriage in Eden. The creation of the state came later and is therefore less essential to human flourishing than the family.
Notice in our passage, that a widow cannot receive assistance if she has family. Why? Because God has made the family the basic unit of human flourishing and society, not the church.
And this means that social health and stability flows upstream, not downstream. The key to a healthy family is not the state. The key to a healthy state is healthy families.
God has not given the family or the church the power of the sword to punish criminals. And in the same way he has not created the state the primary provider of welfare. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be any agreed upon social safety nets in a city or a nation. It is to say that the most competent and efficient strategy for social stability is the family, not the government and not even the church.
We live in a culture that has spent trillions of dollars fighting poverty and building schools with little to show for it. We also live in a culture that believes school boards and administrators know better than parents what is good for children.
But God’s Word tells us the family is the basic unit of social stability and flourishing. You families: you have a divine obligation to the members of your family that you do not have to anyone else. I have an obligation to my family that I do not have to you.
And unless we set the family as a foundational institution upon which all other institutions are built, we are not honoring our Maker’s design.
Imagine owning ski-boat and rather than launching it into the lake, you tried to run it across Buster Boyd Bridge. First of all, you wouldn’t make it very far, and second of all, you’d tear off the gel coat, shred the prop, and end up with a pile of junk. Why? Because ski boats weren’t made for concrete bridges. You aren’t honoring the design of the maker.
A boat does not enjoy freedom when it is liberated from the constrains of the water. It only finds true freedom and purpose and accomplishment as it honors its design.
The same is true with the human societies. Until we honor the Maker’s design for the family, until we set the foundational institution properly in its place, we won’t be able to build anything else. It’s the basic building block of a healthy society. You are to train up your children, administer discipline, put food on the table, prepare for the future, and you are to do it all as a weighty assignment from the risen Christ.
We are to recover this eternal truth in our day: the family is the basic building block of social health.
THE DIGNITY OF WORK
We also have to recover the dignity of work. In order to qualify for the assistance of the church, a widow had to be truly unable to provide for herself, and she had to prove to be someone who served the church through good works, hospitality, prayer, and ministry.
The younger widows we encouraged to marry, have children, and run the household. In other words, God made human beings for work.
God worked. He created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. He established the pattern of work and rest for his creatures. He made Adam and put him in the garden to work and to keep it. This means that not only is work not beneath God, it’s integral to who and what he created us to be.
As Dorothy Sayers put it: “What is the Christian understanding of work?… [It] is that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties … the medium in which he offers himself to God.”
Sadly, because our world and the human beings in it are fallen, work comes with difficulty. In the last year several members of our church have run into the results of the Fall in their work.
Some of our members work in environments that strategically target their Christian beliefs. Others work alongside Christians who have treated them worse than non-believers. Perhaps you spent the last year navigating a painful transition in your career, or perhaps you spent it working a good job, but wondering if it’s your true calling in life.
The futility of working in a fallen world isn’t limited to the secular marketplace. That same futility is felt by those who work in the home, and even in the church.
You workers in the room, who are constantly crashing into the futility of working in a fallen world, hear me out: Work can be frustrating and exhausting. But work is not to be simply endured or avoided.
You retired workers in the room: We happen to live in an affluent area. Many of you moved here to return on the lake and you have several decades left. Just because your career is completed, does not mean your calling to be productive can be shelved. Who are you discipling, who are you counselling, who are you mentoring? Are you volunteering at a clinic, or a political organization?
Friends, we believe that God sovereignly sustains and provides for the world. And the number one way we see his providence is through work. The only way needy widows are provided for is through someone’s work. The only way that the poor is fed is through someone’s work and generosity.
In fact, so valued is work in this passage, that it’s one of the main qualifiers for receiving assistance. Those widows who were hospitable and served the church, in other words, those who showed a desire and will to be productive, are those who received the assistance. And those who widows who were idle and busybodies were left out of the distribution.
And one of the questions that you are sure to be asking yourself is this: I thought the Bible is all about charity! I thought Christians have a duty to help the poor and to help widows and to help orphans. Why all these qualifications? Why do some people receive help while others don’t?
And you’re right. The Bible does say the church is to care for the poor. But you can’t quote one part of the Bible and act like the rest doesn’t exist. The same Bible which tells us to give to those in need also says that God hates sloth. That a man who will not work ought not eat so that his hunger drives him to be a productive citizen.
Remember verse 8: Paul says those who don’t provide for the needs of their own family are worse than a non-Christian. Imagine that.
Having a big heart does not mean incentivizing sloth or trampling the boundaries and obligations God places on the family. One of the most dangerous things you can do is hand out charity without discernment.
HELPING THE HELPLESS
Finally, when you help the helpless you are showing that you have a right understanding of the Most High and of yourself. A chief sign that you understand God’s grace is that you are becoming a generous person.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.
The truth is that we are all lowly. Everything we have, we receive because of sheer grace. And those who give joyfully are those who know that grace. Those who let go of their belongings understand that, in truth, they were never their belongings. Everything is on loan from God. You may have worked a job to purchase a home, but your next breath does not belong to you. We serve a God who is utterly high. He is exalted. He is the Most High. Yet, he regards, or comes near to the lowly.
If you do not help the helpless, you are showing you believe yourself to be the Most High.