Friday, March 11, 2011

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday March 13, 2011

(We must begin to choose leaders based on GOD’s standards)
(1 Timothy 3:1-13 & 5:17-22)

The Apostle Paul’s two known letters to Timothy, along with the letters to Titus and Philemon, are unique among letters in the New Testament, by virtue of the fact that, they were written to individuals, rather than to churches. The letters to Timothy and Titus are categorized as “Pastoral Letters” in biblical literature, while the letter to Philemon is a private and personal epistle. The letter to Philemon is doubly unique because it is the only private letter of the Apostle Paul’s that can be accounted for by us today.
The letters to Timothy and Titus are actually written instructions to the young pastors, detailing how they can best carry out their ministerial assignments, which Paul had given them. As young promising leaders, dedicated to the standards of CHRIST JESUS, they had been charged with the task of helping plant, organize, and stabilize Churches, during the infancy of the Christian movement.
It is rather clear from some of the references in these letters, as well as from the testimony of history itself, that, these letters date from a time near the end, of what we now call, “The Apostolic Age”. In fact, only the letters of the Apostle John seem to post-date these four aforementioned epistles. We see too, reflected in these pastoral letters, a growing hostility from many within the Roman Empire toward the Christian Church, and also, we see the dangers to the workers and promoters of Christianity, that were associated with those hostilities.
Here in this first letter to Timothy, Paul sought not only to encourage his young protégé, during this stressful period, but also to remind him of the bigger picture that GOD had in mind for the struggling church at Ephesus. Paul also included in his letter, certain instructions and regulations that needed to be followed regarding the election and selection of church leaders. He also stressed the importance of “right belief”, and “right behavior”, and, of knowing and defending the Gospel truth against the false teaching that had already cropped up in the church.
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul begins by advising Timothy of some of the basic guidelines, or qualifications that one must satisfy, if they desire to hold the lofty office of “Elder”, or, “Bishop” in the Christian Church. In the Greek the word used for “Elder” is “Presbuteros” (Pres-boo-ter-os) and it is, by definition, “An older man”, or, “A wise and experienced person”. On the other hand, the word translated “Bishop” from the original Greek is “Episkopos” (Ep-is-kop-os), and it is, by definition, “A superintendent, an officer in charge, or, an overseer. In the biblical sense, they are one and the same person. However, one term, “Presbuteros”, describes the person, and the other term, “Episkopos”, describes their function, or role, in the church.
This particular passage (and also 1 Timothy 5:17-22) is very informative, as Paul enlightens us on the standards by which these appointments to church leadership are assessed. First, these men are “set apart” for their office. In other words, they are men of “good reputation”, both in, and outside, the church (1 Tim. 3:1-5). Secondly, if we can take a quick look at 1 Timothy chapter 5, we see in verse 18 that, the church that chooses these men for duty, must provide the means for them to live. In verses 19-22, we can see that these men would be liable to censure, being made accountable to answer for their stewardship. They must be answerable first to GOD, and then to the people over which they are given the task of overseeing.
The church overseer has the duty of presiding over the Christian assembly, and also the duty of teaching the congregation (1 Timothy 3:2 & 5:17). Therefore, they have the duel responsibility of both “administration”, and “instruction”. Last, but certainly not least, the man chosen to be Bishop or Elder must not be a “recent convert”, or, “Baby Christian” (1 Timothy 3:6), because the new Christian, in particular, is under heavy assault from satan, who is trying very hard to discourage them, during their most vulnerable period of faith. It is also a time when they can most easily be overcome by pride and a newly found sense of their own self-importance.
Whenever a Christian allows themselves to be overcome by the wiles of satan, they can be pointed to by the anti-CHRIST component, and used as an example, as to why people shouldn’t get involved in the Christian Faith. It is especially harmful to the Christian cause when such misfortunes occur in the upper echelons of the Christian Church.
Yet and still, it was the duty of men like Timothy, and even Titus, to ordain Elders in every church (Titus 1:5), and, it was the duty of the congregation to choose these men for duty (Acts 6:3-6), using the standards GOD had already set before them. Those same standards and criteria must also apply to us in the church today, lest we be in danger of falling away from GOD’s holy plan.
Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 that church deacons, in the Greek, “diakonos” (dee-ak-on-os), are also chosen by similar standards. However, there are two basic differences, first, the Elder, or Bishop, is to “preach and teach the word”, whereas, the deacon is to, more or less, just “exemplify” the word (1 Timothy 3:8-9). Secondly, an Elder, or Bishop cannot be a new Christian, whereas there is no such standard set for a deacon. Deacons only need to go through a period of testing, by way of performing other church responsibilities and duties, before they can serve in the role of deacon in the church (1 Timothy 3:10).
Peter C. Craigie once wrote, “When people cease to care, then religion, morality, social customs, and values, all cease to function as mortar, that holds together a society, and maintain ancient faith”. Modern-day Christian churches fail in moral structure, because they have subtly, over the years, moved away from GOD’s standards for governing HIS Church Body. If anything, we seem to be more concerned about how we can conform GOD’s church to be more like the world, than we are about conforming the world to GOD’s plan, through the work of the church. We have considerably reduced our efforts towards meeting GOD’s standard, and are now replacing those standards with our own “denominationally biased criteria”.
In the biblical Greek the word used for “consider” is “katanoeo” (kat-an-o-eh-o), which means “to focus one’s attention on, until one can grasp complete understanding of what GOD is trying to show one through HIS examples”. Let us now focus on our own deteriorating, unstructured existence, and then, let us “consider” GOD’s wonderful standards, that are so vividly described by Paul here in these passages, and then, let us consider responding to GOD in the right way, not in our own personal corrupted way.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

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