Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 23 January 2019

Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.  1 Timothy 5:19-20 (NIV).

God keeps it real.   There’s a real temptation to think of the Bible as a bunch of quaint and helpful ancient stories but not applicable in our time.  Check that temptation at the door, my friend.   Your God, your Savior Jesus, is real.   He’s in your face and heart  He deals with contemporary problems in our day and time the same as He did in His own day and time in 1st Century Judea (indeed, all the way back to Eden).   It’s impossible to think that Jesus’ Spirit lives and works through us and not accept that He’s dealing with the issues we’re dealing with as we deal with them.

One of those is that some of our church leaders – indeed, our leaders in any group – are sinners like me and you.   Some of them (us) have done some pretty awful things.

There’s the teacher who’s having an affair.   There’s the treasurer who occasionally dips into the till because bills are tight in their home.   There’s the pious elder who’s a model of propriety but gives the single-finger salute to that guy in the left lane.  There’s the leader who teaches Sunday School but is also known for some pretty colorful language with their ‘posse’ or online.  Could be you, could be me; could also be the people we’ve entrusted to run our churches, projects, and other endeavors.   Sometimes truly destructive behavior intersects with our lives.

How does Paul remind us to deal with that?  Matthew 18:  go to them privately and confront them with what’s on your heart.   If they won’t listen, then gradually escalate, yet do so with the heart of wanting to be Jesus’ representative.   In all this, we are to act in love, in respect.   We can despise what someone does without disrespecting them.   There’s usually a side or story we don’t fully know.

For these times, God gives us those instructions (from Jesus Himself) in Matthew 18.   Speak privately, take a witness, and if there’s no repentance (or worse), go public.   Again, do it all with caring, no other motivation.

Allah wouldn’t do that.   Buddha would have you ignore it.  Many churches would say it isn’t enough.  But God gives us practical ways to deal with delicate situations while doing so through the love of His Son in His Spirit.  Got skin?  Got sin; we sinners do some wicked things.  Jesus loves us anyway, then moves our hearts so we may change.   How real is it, too, that He doesn’t simply smite us but offers us a path home instead?

For further reading: Matthew 18:15-17, 2 Timothy 4:2, Acts 11:30, Titus 1:13, Deuteronomy 13:11, 1 Timothy 5:21.

My Lord, You are worthy of praise for giving us ways to deal with each other!

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 22 January 2019

 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”  1 Timothy 5:18 (NIV).

It’s important to note that Paul says these words in the context of honoring elders, especially church workers; let’s not lose sight of that as we look at other ways to apply this.  Paul was quoting Jesus when he said “the worker deserves his wages.”  In the context of talking about elders and people who serve others, what do you think that means?

Perhaps it means that the ‘payment’ due to those who serve the others is respect.   Jesus earned that payment for us.  The concept of “dissing” someone comes from the 90s hip-hop culture in urban America.   “Don’t disrespect me, or my posse.”  Yet the mavens of pop culture don’t recognize that they are simply observing the same advice Paul gave here, namely to respect those who are older and wiser because Jesus made it so their lives of service merit respect.   Even more, Paul is really extending the concept of the Fifth Commandment to honor our parents.  Respect isn’t something you earn because of the bling, the Mercedes, or the fancy clothes.   It’s earned by exhibiting God’s wisdom.

Years ago, one of my old bosses used to say that we should ‘listen to the graybeards.’   In fact, all throughout the military, the enlisted ranks culture of learning from the senior NCOs goes back generations.   It’s one of the things that sets the military apart from civilian ventures:  an institutionalized system of formal respect for those who have advanced before and over your ranks.   Most times, those senior NCOs earned their positions through merit and hard work.   In my experience, a young guy could learn a lot from watching what a master sergeant did.  Those old guys were wise to the ways of the world.

So it is with our church elders.  They (usually) volunteer to serve because years of experience have taught them the value of serving Jesus in serving others.   Shouldn’t we respect that?

Last, what did Paul mean by saying “do not muzzle and ox while it is treading out the grain?”   That’s taken directly from Moses’ reiterated commands of the law in Deuteronomy.   In Paul’s context, he’s talking about ministers who ‘farm’ a field of believers.   Some bear bountiful crops; others not so much.   Yet we should do what we can to make sure they aren’t held back.   Most church staff members aren’t paid (or aren’t paid much).  So, when they’re enthusiastic (as most are), we should feed that enthusiasm by encouragement, prayer, and support.

Next time you see someone serving in your church – or even in any group – thank them for what they do.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 25:4, Luke 10:7, 1 Corinthians 9:7-9, Exodus 20:12, 1 Timothy 5:19.

My Lord, thank You for elders who you put in my path today.   Help me to learn from them, and to respect them.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 21 January 2019

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.  1 Timothy 5:17 (NIV).

Respect your elders:   we’ve all learned this maxim.   It’s Biblically based; this you can see for yourself.   Yet it’s probably the best common sense advice we could learn apart from “Love the Lord your God.”

I’m in my early fifties now, so the realization that I have probably lived most of my life has finally hit my radar.   Statistically speaking, I won’t be here fifty-two years from now.   That realization is making me take stock of what older people have to offer.  Not long ago I read that, when an old person dies, a library of priceless information dies with them; I believe I may have shared that not long ago.

Previously shared or not, it’s true.   Just in life experiences, our world’s most valuable resource may just be those who have lived in it for a long time.  Doesn’t it make sense, then, that we should respect them?   Sure, there are may older folks who say and do things that aren’t worthy of respect; see “US government.”   Yet the vast majority of older people have lived honorable lives, learned valuable lessons, seen and done things that the younger generations would be wise to learn while they still have these rugged senior citizens available.

Consider this:   most churches are staffed by folks who have been around the block.   The church councils, session boards, or committees are, in most cases, staffed by people with experience.   More often than not, those people are senior citizens, mainly because they have the time and commitment to serve.   Those are things many younger families usually don’t have in abundance.   This is also true for election workers, members of the VFW and American Legion, the Ladies’ Auxilliary, the Rotary and Lions and Kiwanis and Knights of Columbus organizations.

If the (largely) elder people who staff these civic organizations that keep our communities running do so successfully, shouldn’t that mean that we should give them the respect they are due?   That’s what Paul is saying.   The people who step up to keep the church running by performing vital organization tasks are worthy of double respect, double honor.  The people who work to keep civic organizations operating are worthy of respect, honor, and deference.   Your grandparents, the old guy who won’t get out of the left lane, that woman with a walker:   God asks us to respect them because gray hair is a crown of glory.

In a world focused on worshipping the ideas and actions of the young (especially in pop culture and politics), it’s good to remember Paul’s reminder that young people don’t grow older without usually becoming wiser.

For further reading: Proverbs 16:31, 1 Timothy 5:18.

Lord Jesus, thank You for older people, for people who have lived to become wiser.   Show me ways today that I can honor them and their knowledge and experience.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 18 January 2019

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.  As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.  So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.  1 Timothy 5:9-15 (NIV).

This was obviously quite a problem for the early church:  how to care for widows.  Life expectancy in first century Judea was little better than it had ever been.   A man or woman in decent health could reasonably expect to live into their late TWENTIES.   Yes, you read that right.   If you lived beyond that age, you had access to sanitation, decent food, shelter, and you were the clear exception.   In Rome, people reasonably lived into their thirties or forties (mainly because many Romans had those basic needs satisfied).  Imagine how people would have viewed you if you were old, like in your seventies or eighties.  In a patriarchal society like Judea (like all societies of that time actually) it would make sense that caring for widows of all ages would, then, have been of paramount concern.  Due to that short life expectancy, there would have been many.

Cue in on that last verse, though, because it matters for all of us today.   “Give the enemy no opportunity for slander.”   Satan is a coward who doesn’t attack us in our strong places.  That’s how he operated in Jesus’ time; it’s how he works now.  Satan slanders us, weakens us, angers us, uses our emotions against us.  Folks who lose loved ones are especially vulnerable to falling away from the faith.   The enemy attacks us in our weak spots at such opportune times, so it’s especially important that we support those who have suffered loss.

It’s our mission in life to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves.   One way to do that is to care for each other when we’re in need, when we’re vulnerable.  People die around us every day.   Let’s each work today to do what we can to help our neighbors and loved ones when that happens.

For further reading: 1 Timothy 5:16.

Lord, show me someone today who I can help in Your good name.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 17 January 2019

Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.  1 Timothy 5:7-8 (NIV).

Paul continues his advice to Timothy concerning widows; this actually continues through verse 16.   Yet here is his most plainspoken advice on how said advice also applies to how we interact with others (in addition to those widowed).

I grew up in a family of four.  My parents were good, middle-class parents, themselves from modest backgrounds (his in the family of a Philadelphia civil servant with four children, hers in a small, Minnesota farm-town family of five).  My sister and I were the only kids, and while we didn’t live extravagantly, we did live well.   We always had a house, even if it was hopelessly cluttered (my parents loved collectibles).   We always had food on the table, the bills paid (though sometimes barely so), reliable transportation, and church.   We took vacations to see the sights, traveling more of the country than most of my peers.  And we were supported in school; my parents cared deeply about education.  Most importantly, my sister and I can say that we were loved.   Sometimes it was chilly love and sometimes we struggled just to hold together as a family, but we always knew we were loved.

In fact, that could be put on my parents’ gravestone up in Oklahoma:  Mom and Dad did the best they could.  They did what they could with the talents and resources God gave them.   They provided for us everything they could, even when it seemed out of step.  I look around at so many broken families today and I sometimes forget to say “thank you” again to God that mine never ended up that way.   It wasn’t easy; there were times Mom and Dad could have cashed it in, but they didn’t.  They believed in each other; they believed in us; they believed in God (at least on Sundays, or when the music was particularly good.  Mom and Dad both loved good choral and church music).

My childhood wasn’t glamorous or thrilling but it was good.   I always knew what “home” felt like, and I knew how to build a home when I built a family of my own.  I feel sorry for those who don’t, those whose parents didn’t provide, or didn’t care to.  I hope they know that there’s still a chance for them.   God counsels all of us that, even when our earthly families fail us, He never does.   Today’s verse reminds us that we need to care for each other, especially in our families.   Aside from loving God, it’s our primary mission on Earth.

For further reading: 2 Peter 2:1, Jude 4, 1 Timothy 5:9.

My Lord, thank You for my parents and my childhood family.   Thank You for inspiring them to do the best they could and to know You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 16 January 2019

The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.  1 Timothy 5:4-5 (NIV).

In our world, even one slip-up can be devastating.   It only takes a single one-night-stand to get a disease.   It only takes one rejection to have your hopes and dreams dashed during a vulnerable time.  The world is a tough place and jumping out into it is even tougher.  Keep our eyes on God and not the world around us.  Is this blog-post going to be full of platitudes and bland aphorisms?  No; I don’t like those either beyond them being reminders of truths we need to hear.   Yet there are things in those platitudes that matter because people are in real need all around us.

Losing someone you love is the most devastating thing on earth.  We can deal with almost anything but when the person on whom we rely most is gone, our entire foundation is destroyed.  “I can’t imagine losing your spouse and not having faith.”   My mom said those words to me about a year after my Dad died.  Mom had faith and was still the most independent-minded person I’ve ever known.   And while I don’t think she spent night and day praying and asking God for help, in her own way and time she did those things.   She told me that she prayed and talked with God when she was alone until, one day, she had the thought “Grace, you can do this.”   That was after about six months in the fog of grief.   And, for her, that was the start of getting better, of knowing that God had given her all she needed to keep moving forward in life.   She did for another 16 years.

In Ephesians, Paul reminds us to honor our parents.   That can be extended to assume he’s telling us to honor both our parents and our other forbears and elders.  Then, in Romans, he reminds us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may know the will of God.  I’ve never been completely alone, even during the times when it felt that way.  And I have dived deep into living for pleasure and gotten out of it worse.  In all these cases, it’s because I didn’t extend honor, either to God or to anyone involved.   I strayed from working to let God renew my heart and mind, and I’m not even a widow.

Imagine how much worse off things could have been if I had just lost my spouse.   In that light, Paul’s exhortations are common-sense Godly advice.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:1-2, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 3:5, 1 Timothy 5:6.

Lord, help me to give honor to my elders, to live for You in all I do today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 15 January 2019

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.  1 Timothy 5:3 (NIV).

This section of 1 Timothy talks about how to live with elders, slaves and widows.  Let’s extrapolate a little.   How about we pay attention to all people in need?  Yep:  going there.  As always, if this makes you feel guilty, stop reading.  Go talk with Jesus and get it off your heart.   Drill down as to specifically why you feel guilty.   After that, come back and start where you left off because Jesus is telling us here, through Paul, that we are supposed to look out for each other.

Especially widows.   When you consider that women in ancient Israel (and all over the Mediterranean actually) were treated as chattel, the exhortation to recognize and help widows in need is understandable.  A married woman would share much of the status of her husband, who would provide for her and care for her.   Yet when he died, especially if she had no other family, a widow could quickly become destitute.  She could find herself on the streets, selling herself or worse just to get by.   Starvation was (and is) real and a real possibility; it was a savage time.

Kind of like today, especially overseas.   But let’s not kid ourselves.   The need is real and acute here in the good old US of A.

My mom was a widow for 17 years.  When Dad died, he left her with enough income to live a good life.   Her home was paid off; her bills were small; her transportation was reliable.   Yet I still found myself feeling that I needed to provide for her because she was my mom and, well, because she was a widow.  I hadn’t even really absorbed verses like this one:  I simply knew it was something that I should do.

Flash forward to now.   Is your mom or sister or friend a widow?   Jesus tells us to help them, to recognize their predicament and, to preserve their dignity, help them.  If it means opening our homes, do it; if it means opening our wallets, do it.   If it’s praying, bringing food, listening, helping with work, anything:  do it.   Then let’s apply the lesson to the bigger picture.  Homeless on the street?  Help them.   Someone in prison who is despondent?   Visit and listen.  Neighbor loading a moving truck?  Pitch in.   Paul’s advice to help widows in Asia has much larger applications in our lives than just helping women whose husbands have died.   Remember Jesus’ command:   love the Lord God with all your heart, then love your neighbor as yourself.  What better way to live this out than to give help when & where it’s needed.

For further reading: Mark 12:30-31, 1 Timothy 5:4.

Father God, show me widows and others in my path today who I can help.