Questions: How should we serve our masters? Why? How does it reflect on our doctrine? What happens if we depart from it? How are we tempted? What should we flee? What should we pursue? How long? In what should we trust? WIth what are we entrusted? Can it keep us from error?
“Read More” to pursue answers from First Timothy.
Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence
And fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I would know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.
This is a difficult verse — one many critics interpret as endorsing slavery. And to be sure, there is an element of resignation and submission to the status quo.
But, the more interesting thing to me is his rationale for why: to avoid blaspheming God! That is, he is asking slaves to be more concerned about the reputation of the gospel than their own liberty.
On the one hand, this could be interpreted as politically motivated and self-serving; i.e., Paul is trying to avoid trouble with the authorities. But on the other hand, maybe Paul actually knew what he was doing. Perhaps he truly believed that i) it was more important for slaves to manifest godly character than win their freedom by subterfuge, and ii) that the spread the gospel was a better way to cure society that to foment revolution.
This tension is even more evident when it is believer vs. believer:
And they that have believing masters, let them not despise [them], because they are brethren; but rather do [them] service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.
I am struck by the parallel with his charge to leaders: Paul really seems far more concerned with character than abstract notions of justice or holiness. It is almost scandalous, yet it is entirely consistent.
Moreover, Paul is deadly serious about this:
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, [even] the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
Ouch. This hits close to home. I continually find myself thinking “Well, clearly God must mean this, and therefore I am justified in believing and wanting that.” Which takes my focus off of humble submission to God and His spirit — and the need to cultivate godly character — as I obsess about obstacles to implementing my will.
Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
Huh. This may be another reason Paul “condoned” slavery: he didn’t want people to treat Christianity as merely a way to get what they want (e.g., freedom), and substitute external achievement for godly character. Rather, he truly believed that the riches of the gospel — and the benefits of godly character — were far more important than any external status.
But godliness with contentment is great gain.
In fact — though he clearly wanted the the church to focus on good works — he seems supremely indifferent to worldly accomplishment:
For we brought nothing into [this] world, [and it is] certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
In fact, he sees being rich as more hassle than it is worth:
But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and [into] many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
Again, I don’t think this is really about money (I am periodically amazed by people who misquote this as “money is the root of all evil”). Rather, it gets back to the desire to be our own god, to be in control of our circumstances by accumulating the power to control the world around us.
Rather than submitting to the God-given circumstances in order to develop godly character:
But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
Not that this is in any way a passive activity:
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
The key, though, is to remember what (and Who) we are fighting for:
I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and [before] Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;
and Who is waiting for us:
That thou keep [this] commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:
That is, we are merely placeholders, seeking to manifest Christ’s character on His behalf until he comes to make it fully manifest:
Which in his times he shall shew, [who is] the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom [be] honour and power everlasting. Amen.
Yow! If that is our true hope, what in the world should we be doing now?
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
Intriguingly, he treats being rich not as a “curse”, but as a “responsibility” — one that it is dangerous not to fulfill, but a blessed privilege if they do. The key, as usual, is to trust in God, not in their riches (or themselves).
O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane [and] vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace [be] with thee. Amen.
I must confess, I was a bit shocked to see the word “science” here! Of course science as a discipline didn’t really exist back then, and at any rate he’s warning against “false knowledge” — what we might call pseudo-science. Alas, it is all too easy a trap for the church to fall into.
For some reason we seem to be willing to spend enormous amounts of time and energy debating fine points of doctrine or attacking conventional wisdom. Yet, while those things may have their place, why are we not even more passionate about — and known for — “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness”?
Could it be that Paul was right after all, that if we kept his charge to pursue godliness above all else that we could (and would) avoid many dead-end controversies?
God, I am struck again and again by the difference between your perspective and mine. I always want to fix my situation, but you want to fix me. Forgive me, O Lord, for the many ways I’ve screwed things up by trying to take charge — or running away. Teach me to submit to your Spirit, and surrender myself to you in a way that allows me to fight the good fight — and the right fights. I ask this in Jesus name, and by His Grace, Amen.