Category Archives: Monday Exposition

1 Timothy 6:6-10 – On the love of money

The Bible allows no room for ambiguity on the dangers of money. Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24). Elsewhere, Jesus says “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24). No ifs, no buts, no maybes. No excuses or get out clauses. Jesus is refreshingly frank. Here in 1 Timothy 6, Paul reiterates Jesus’ teaching by saying, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (vv.9-10)”

Wealth can become a god, an idol that ensnares us. To get more money, we can fall into the trap of doing things that are harmful to our families, our friends, ourselves, and, most importantly of all, our relationship with God. When we start focussing on money, we stop focussing on God.

Looking around my city of Norwich, wealth (and spending it) is certainly the most prominent and publicly worshipped god. On a Sunday morning on my way to church, I drive past the long queue of cars waiting to get their place in Chapel Field Shopping Centre. In the city’s many supermarkets, there are mountains – literally – of sweets and treats stacked to the ceilings as you walk through the doors, and aisle-upon-aisle of goods that we simply don’t need.  I often wonder what these places must feel like to those who have little or nothing. What would an Indian Dalit or starving African child make of our extravagance and gluttony? We earn more money to spend more money to accumulate more things that we don’t need. Last year, £594 million of Christmas presents were unwanted (not to mention those that weren’t needed!). 1.5 million new items were listed on eBay on Boxing Day. What a ridiculous world we live in!

As Christians, it’s easy to get sucked in to the greed and consumerism of our society. I admit that I struggle. It happens almost naturally. Who – if they’re totally honest – doesn’t want to live as comfortably and as well as possible? Who doesn’t want the same gadgets and lifestyle as everyone else around them?

We need a regular reality check. We need to hold one another to account. We need to stop, stand back, and ask ourselves the difficult questions:

  • What really drives us in life? Is it really God and our faith in Christ?
  • What do we really want, and what, by contrast, do we really need in our lives?
  • How is God asking us to use our money?

Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, reminds us that “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (vv.6-8).

‘Contentment’ – ‘autarkeia’ in Greek – is the key word. This was a great watchword of the Stoic philosophers that meant ‘self-sufficiency.’ They meant a frame of mind which was completely independent of outward things, completely satisfied with what it already had and not ‘needing’ anything else.

How do we get this contentment? Quite simply, from God, through Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we are focussed on God, our meaning for life is found in Him. We realise that this life is only a test for the next one. Jesus is all that matters; everything else is fluff that gets in the way.

As the Westminster Shorter Catechism so brilliantly puts it: “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” You don’t need an iPad, a flashy car, a big house, a higher bank balance or a larger pension to do that. All you need – this Christmas and throughout the year – is the one who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

Advertisements

On how not to be a schismatic – 1 Timothy 6:3-4

Think about what we hear in many URC circles about the evangelical position. It’s divisive, contentious, looking for arguments over unimportant issues, uneducated, simple.
That’s what I thought, anyway. Surely progressive Christianity was the way forward? Unfortunately, the Bible gave no encouragement in that belief. In fact, quite the opposite. Scripture teaches that Christianity is ultimately a conservative religion, concerned with handing on a message from one generation to the next and that those who seek to change that message are the real schismatics.
Paul couldn’t be clearer in this passage. “If anyone teaches a different doctrine…he is puffed up and understands nothing.”
This passage teaches us that there is a pattern of teaching which must be preached and adhered to. This passage teaches that this doctrine is linked to the Lord Jesus. This passage teaches us that there is a teaching that corresponds to godliness.
The question we must ask then is: Are we teaching that pattern of sound words? Or do we think we know better?
Think of how things have gone in the 20th century. Was that a century of clinging to old doctrine? Or was it, on the whole, a century when words like atonement, salvation, Gospel, were redefined to suit modern sensibilities?
If you’ve ever attempted to show how clever you are by questioning the message of Paul then he has some news for you. You’re the one dividing the church. You’re the disillusioned one. You’re the one who is using the church to make a name for yourself.
There’s still time to change. There’s still time to repent and come back to sound doctrine. God did this for me, he can do it for you too.
You don’t want to be a schismatic do you?

Timothy 6:1-2: Has Christ set us free?

In Galatians 5:1 after comparing the descendents of the authentic Jewish line of Abraham and his wife Sarah and the somewhat dubious line of Abraham and the slave girl Hagar, Paul declares that it was ‘for freedom that Christ has set us free’.  In Romans, Paul makes it clear on more than one occassion that in Christ there is no distinction  between slave and free.  So how are we to work with these verse from Timothy?

Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed.

Has Paul changed his mind?  Is he so ahead of his time that context is everything, and Timothy in Ephesus requires a different interpretation of the gospel of Christ to that which would be suitable for the Galatians or the Romans?

No.

As the message of freedom in Christ came to the towns and cities across the Roman empire, you can envisage a slave population being called to rebellion, subordination, and uprising.  These words from Paul would be a hard message for Timothy to preach to the slaves in his congregation.  But the message is a balanced one, Paul is under no illusion that slavery is anything but a heavy ‘yoke’ and this challenge to regard their masters as worthy of all honour, is in keeping with the challenging gospel that Paul upholds to be crucified with Christ.

What is clear though is that freedom in Christ from sin (as in Galatians and Romans) does not give an automatic imperative to demand freedom from all authority in our lives.  When you become a Christian, generally, you are to still honour your mother and father.  When you become a Christian, generally, you are to still respect the leaders and politicians in the land.  When young people become Christians, generally, they are to still respect the authority of their teachers, when old folk become Christians, generally, they are to still respect the authority of the elders and ministers of the church.  And so Paul says, when slaves become Christians, generally, you are to still respect your masters (even if they are believers too, v.2).  Now that doesn’t mean that these relationships involving authority are never abused or are exactly the plan that God had for the flourishing of life in all its fullness.  What it does mean though is that Christ is not a ticket to escape the society, culture, role and position you have in society, but instead the Gospel is the liberating news that in Christ, and through his grace, as God’s redeemed, he promises to be with you in our society, culture, helping to shape our positions, giving us strength for his work, and guiding our roles.  For some that will be standing against injustice, and seeking the end of slavery, for others it will be respecting their masters and influencing others.  For some it will be to use the authority they have with great care and diligence, as God himself does.

Slave or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile, whoever you are, through Christ’s saving grace, you are called to live for God’s glory in this world, by his strength.

Christ has set us free.

 

1 Timothy 5:17-25 – Payment and discipline of elders

It is difficult to talk and write about this subject because as a teaching elder to talk about the importance of honouring and supporting our teaching elders may appear conceited. I find that many ministers feel embarrassed and compromised when talking about the honour given to the role and the financial support offered to enable them to carry it out.

In Philippians 2:4 we are told that we should ‘look not to our own interests but to the interests of others’, but I do believe that it is in the interests of the Church to have a well-trained, well-supported and respected group of teaching elders. It is important because the Scripture teaches this in a number of places:

‘And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the labourer deserves his wages.’ Luke 10:7a

‘In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.’ 1 Corinthians 9:14

‘One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.’ Galatians 6:6

It is also important because our support for local preachers and ministers indicates the value we place upon the teaching of God’s Word. I believe church history has shown that set apart, trained and dedicated teaching elders have strengthened the church (safe guarding it from error and furthering the cause of the gospel).

Note that those who ‘rule well’ are worthy of double honour. It is not simply a matter of wearing the symbols of such an office, but it is rather a matter of carrying out the duties of a teaching elder with diligence (particularly when it comes to the preaching of God’s Word). Elders are not above the discipline of the church, but complaints against elders must be substantiated by the evidence seen by at least two witnesses.

If an elder sins morally against the teaching of the church then they are to be disciplined publicly so that people see and respond by coming under the authority of God’s teaching. If the sin is a criminal matter then ‘let every person be subject to the governing authorities’ (Romans 13:1). If it is a matter of a civil disagreement between believers then you should try to reconcile it within the community of faith (1 Corinthians 6). In cases where an accusation is made it is vital that believers do not prejudge the situation but wait to hear the evidence, but when the evidence is heard show no favouritism to well-loved leaders.

I believe it is helpful to hear the warning in verse 22 we should not be hasty in the laying on of hands. I thank God for our elders who are dedicated to the service of the church but we must be careful not to set people apart simply because they offer to do the task (eldership is about more than willingness). It is about humility (character), commitment to the teaching of the church (integrity), and diligence in service and prayer (reputation).

All of Paul’s teaching in this section on the choosing, supporting and disciplining teaching elders is subject to the truth that some sins are obvious and judged in the present, and some sins are hidden but will be revealed and judged in the end. Just as some good deeds are obvious but all will be made known by Christ Jesus who knows all and sees all.

1 Timothy 5:1-16: ‘Honour’

Earlier in 1 Timothy, Paul addressed individual groups of Christians (and  Timothy himself) about how the Gospel should shape their lives and ministries. Now in chapter 5, Paul returns to this task, focussing on widows, elders and masters.

The theme of “Honour” connects them all in verses 9 (“Honour widows”), 17 (“Let the elders who rule be considered worthy of double honour”) and 6:1 (“Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honour…”), and the call increases from “Honour”, to “double honour”, and then to “all honour”.

Providing for widows was an important role for the church from its earliest days (see Acts 6). The concern here is to identify which widows should be provided for by the church. The key indicators are not having a family (v.4), godliness (v.5 and v.10), being over 60 (v.9), having been the wife of one husband (i.e. faithful in marriage) (v.9), and devoted to good work (i.e. who put faith into practice) (v.10) . The passage also draws out our need to provide for our families, especially parents (v.4). This builds on the command to honour our parents (Ex. 20:12), and if we fail to act upon it, Paul says that we are worse than unbelievers (v.8). “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

What does this mean for us today? With social security and pensions, is Paul’s teaching still relevant? I would argue a resounding ‘yes’! We may not need to support our parents financially (although we might do in coming years as the pensions crisis comes to a head), but this is not all of what it means to ‘Honour’ our mother and father and look after widows. Honour (Greek ‘timao’) is about valuing people and God. Just as we must honour (‘timao’) the Son in order to honour the Father (John 5:23), we must honour parents, widows, elders and masters. Do we truly value our parents?

Honour goes beyond financial considerations to encompass respect, esteem, reverence, and holding in high regard those who have brought us up.  It’s a message we must persist in remembering, and one that may mean different things to us at different stages of our lives. As children and teenagers, it might be about respecting our parents’ advice, boundaries and care for us. As young adults, it might be a consideration when we think about where we might live and how we keep in touch when we start to chart our own life paths. When we have families of our own, it might mean not taking our parents for granted and just using them as free babysitters, but honouring, giving thanks and celebrating them for who they are. As older adults, it might impact us when we think about how we best care for infirm or elderly parents.

Our faith must affect how we live, and like charity, it starts at home.

1 Timothy 4:11-16

The four authors of this group blog are all under-40 which in the context of the URC is a rare thing. One of the things that I’ve had to deal with in my ministry is the constant reference to my relative youth. It doesn’t matter how many times I reference the fact that I’m now around the age that Jesus was when he was crucified, or when John Calvin had written the first edition of the Institutes, or when George Whitefield was preaching to thousands, I’m still seen by some as a young lad.

I think Timothy must have experienced something of this. The qualifications for elders given in chapter three seem to indicate that being an older man is one of the pre-requisites for eldership. How can the church know if a man can manage his household, if he doesn’t have a household? And the church needs to have seen his life and example for some years to make the judgement as to whether he is qualified to lead God’s church. The very word “Elder” suggests someone who has a few grey hairs.

Yet, there were clearly exceptions, and Timothy is one. Paul tells him to “let no one despise your youth” (v.12). But how was he to do that?

One of the ways might have been to show his professional aptitude. He could have created a few new programmes for the church and organised them in a fantastic new way. He could have made a big fuss to the outside world to show how hip and trendy he was. But the advice that Paul gives is similar to what we hear time and time again in the New Testament. Keep your head down, carry on the essentials, persevere in the faith.

Timothy is to “set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (v.12). Rather than listen to the gripes about his age he is to continue walking in a godly manner. Everything that Timothy does must be conducted in love, faith and purity – not so easy to do when facing opposition.

He must also devote himself to “the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching” (v.13). This goes against the grain today as it did back in Timothy’s day. Christian worship is simple worship. There should be no fancy gimmicks. No focus on the praise band/organ/bagpipes. No stupid sketches, mime or liturgical dance. No staring at a stone until a candle burns to the end. No.

Have a minister read the scriptures, and then get him to preach on them.

There’s plenty of places to get the other stuff but nowhere where you’ll hear God’s Word unless ministers are doing their real job.

And Timothy is to persevere in the faith. He is to pay close attention to himself, ensuring that he is continuing to put his trust in Christ and no other. And we pray that we here at ReformationURC and other ministers wherever they are found, are not despised because of their youth but would be found faithful in the things which have been entrusted to us. The salvation of ourselves and others depends on it.

1 Timothy 4:6-10 – Words of wisdom and encouragement

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.
– 1 Timothy 4:6-10 ESV

I love this passage because it shows us Paul the man and Paul the mentor. The apostle Paul doesn’t only diagnose the heresy within the Ephesian Church and instruct Timothy to oppose it. He offers Timothy words of personal encouragement and support. I need to read this over and over again because it reminds me of my responsibility within the church: To set words of faith and good doctrine before the brethren as a servant of Jesus Christ. For those who oppose the teaching of Scripture are not fighting against me or rejecting my words, but they are fighting against and rejecting Jesus Christ.

In telling Timothy to ‘have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths’, Paul gives us a useful strategy for addressing false teaching: reject it! This might seem obvious to some, but so often we miss this. Not wanting to appear intolerant we enter into polite discussion and so allow those who are propagating false teaching to set the agenda. It seems that Paul is clear that our response to heresy is not to enter into ‘constructive’ dialogue but to reject it and continue to set before the brethren words of faith and good doctrine.

It is also important that we, as Christian leaders, guard our own hearts and train ourselves for godliness. There is a danger that we can get so caught up in responding to our critics prattle that we neglect our own rigorous pursuit of godliness. Comparing the pursuit of the holy to bodily exercise, Paul encourages Timothy to continue his spiritual exercises. Victor Pfitzner notes that this concept of spiritual exercise ‘is not restricted to a negative physical asceticism… but rather implies a positive developing of his strength nourished above all “by the words of faith”‘.

This analogy is really helpful to remember because we tend to expect our spiritual exercise to be of immediate benefit to us and then we are disappointed (or even give up) when it doesn’t result in an instant transformation of our lives and circumstances. This is like beginning a diet or setting up a daily exercise regime and giving up the next day because it hasn’t made a difference! Paul urges us, even as he urges Timothy, to commit ourselves to regular training in godliness that leads to growth in our faith and knowledge of God. For this training holds promise not only for the present life but also for the life to come.

To encourage this pursuit of godliness Paul shares with Timothy a third of three trustworthy sayings in the 1 Timothy (the first being 1 Tim. 1:15 and the second being 1 Tim. 3:1 ). This third saying (1 Tim. 3:10) urges Timothy to keep pursuing godliness,  ‘For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.’ It should remind us that the godliness we pursue is not a self-centred ascetic struggle for moral and religious perfection but a pursuit of God’s stated desire that ‘all people be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).

God is the only living God. He is the only Saviour of all people (that is people from every tribe and tongue). He is the Saviour of those who believe. In the context of Ephesus many ancient inscriptions have been found honouring dead men as gods and saviours. Paul’s trustworthy saying reminds us that God is the only Saviour and that whilst in His common grace He saves all people from the worst excesses of depravity. He is the special Saviour of all who believe in Him for eternal life. For this reason we are to pursue godliness and keep setting before people the words of faith and good doctrine. I pray that God would give grace to us all in this pursuit.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 – Standing firm in a sea of false teaching

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of  liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”

In Chapter 3, Paul described the behaviour expected of the church and its leaders. Now, at the start of Chapter 4, Paul recognises that some will leave the community of faith. It’s not clear how “the Spirit expressly says that some will depart” (v.1), but it may have been a direct revelation or prophecy given to Paul.

The Church inherited from Judaism a belief that things would get worse before they get better. The present age is in the grip of evil powers, whilst the age to come will be perfect with a new heaven and a new earth. The coming day of the Lord would signal the shift between the two ages. The early church believed that the day of the Lord was coming imminently (we now know it wasn’t quite as imminent as they thought!) and so they expected persecution. Life in the Church wouldn’t be plain sailing as they came under increasing attack from demonic forces who would lead many astray by false teaching.

Today, we do not live as if the day of the Lord is imminent (although we should, as Paul says Jesus will return “like a thief in the night” in 1 Thessalonians 5:2), and we are not conditioned to think of demons infiltrating the Church. The reality, however, is that both God and Satan are looking for ordinary human beings to carry out their work. Who will we give our lives to? Are we nurturing our relationship with God and putting on the armour of God to protect us from the enemy’s lies?

Today, the false teaching infecting the Church may not be those affecting Ephesus – abstinence from particular foods or a forbidding of marriage (both considered to be part of Gnosticism) – but there is a gradual replacement of Biblical values by worldly ones. We suffer from a post-modern relativism, increasingly lax ethical standards (particularly when it comes to issues surrounding sex), and a desire to rationalise and water-down the miraculous and anything we cannot understand.

Paul wrote these words about the Church in Ephesus, where Timothy was working.  May we follow Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian Church given in his earlier letter:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:10-17)

1 Timothy 3:14-16

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.  Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
 
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed amongst the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

1 Tim. 3:14-16 (ESV)

Having taken us through the spiritual and practical c.v.’s required for those who are to serve the church as overseers (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13), Paul concludes this section talking about the nature of the church.  He’s hoping, longing even, to visit Timothy in Ephesus, but is likely to be delayed, and so the whole purpose of this letter is to describe how people are to behave in the church, whether minister like Timothy, elder, deacon, or member.  Collectively though, the behaviour of the people in the church are to reflect the three images Paul gives.

Firstly the church is the household of God.  The community of believers are a family.  They’re not just a collection of people, spectators at a football match, crowds queuing for some concert or museum, even a list of pastoral issues to chat through and aid.  The church is to be modelled on family.  We, in the church are to know people, not just stand next to them in worship.  We are to love one another, not tell them they;re sat in the wrong seat.  We are to respect everyone, long for the young to grow and develop in their faith, learn from the wisdom and experience of those who are older, work hard for each other, support each other in the work.  God doesn’t call individuals to himself and leave them by themselves, to fend for themselves, to grow by themselves, he places Christians in families, to support and love, encourage, and comfort each other.

Secondly the church is the church of the living God.  It is the best news that God is alive.  He’s not the dead and buried in a tomb, he’s not bogged down in endless religious ceremonies and regulations.  God is alive.  Today.  We are to be the church of the living God.  Where is this living God?  God declared to Joshua that the living God would be among the people of Israel, that he would be with them wherever they went (Joshua 1), and Paul elsewhere describes how with sanctification in the Holy Spirit, we ourselves become temples of the living God (2 Cor 6:16).  God dwells in us, when we meet together: in our worship, in the breaking of bread and sharing of wine, in the Word as it read and preached, in the family of God.

Thirdly the church is a pillar and buttress of the truth.  Buttresses support walls from the onslaught of wind and pressure.  They make sure a wall will not fall down due to sideways pressure.  The church is a buttress of the truth, making sure that the truth is not twisted or changed to humanity’s own needs, or infected with false doctrine, or even watered down so that the truth is simply as bland as no truth.  The church is a buttress of the truth and it is also a pillar.  A pillar supports the roof, literally holds it aloft.  The church is to hold the truth high, so that all may see and know the truth.  What is the great truth that the church is to buttress and loft high for all to see: that Jesus Christ was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, and taken up in glory (v.16)

The church of today faces the challenge that Timothy’s church did in Ephesus.  Can we be the household of God and the church of the living God and a pillar and buttress of the truth?  For it is easy for one or more of these to be lost from a local church or denomination.  A church that is simply the household of God, will be wonderful at looking out for each other, holding social events and welcoming everyone.  A church that is simply the church of the living God will only be concerned about meeting together to experience the holiness of God in its midst.  A church that is simply a pillar and buttress of the truth will be so concerned with knowledge and understanding that it fails to enlighten the spiritual life.  No, today’s church really must be the household of God, the church of the living God and a pillar and buttress of the truth.  Then it will be a church that is focussed on glorifying Christ in all its activity, and a church whose members will form a thriving community of people who are faithfully knowledgeable in the gospel and alive in the Spirit.

 

 

 

 

1 Timothy 3: 8-13

Last week Matt Stone introduced us to the qualifications of overseers or elders in the church, today we consider the qualifications of deacons. St Paul’s use of the word ‘likewise’ at the start of verse 8 ties the requirements of a deacon to those of an overseer. In the same way that an overseer must be above reproach so also a deacon must be ‘dignified’. They should not be ‘doubled-tongued’ which means that they must not be gossips but more than that it means that they must say what they mean and be consistent in what they say (they must not say one thing to one group of people and something different to another). This is, of course, a huge challenge to us all, as all too often we want to speak in a way that pleases people.

One of the tasks of a deacon would be to distribute alms to the poor so it is understandable that a deacon must not be ‘greedy for dishonest gain’. It is also clear that if a deacon is to be dignified and careful in his speech then he must also be restrained and not addicted to alcohol.

Just a few weeks ago Paul Robinson wrote about the strong link between faith and conscience, true belief and right practice. Clearly the lack of consistency between faith and practice in the Ephesian Church concerned St Paul so he makes it a requirement that all deacons ‘hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience’ (3:9). To ensure all of this a deacon must be tested and when they have been proved blameless they may serve.

Coming from a minister’s family verses 11 and 12 are real challenge to me. It is clear though, that a deacon does not minister in isolation from his family and consequently the behaviour of a wife or child has an impact upon his service. It is also clear that the behaviour of a deacon’s family reflects back on the way a deacon has raised his family. Still this is a very challenging for those in relationships and raising families.

Finally St Paul, in verse 13, gives us this encouraging promise that those who serve well as deacons will gain both ‘a good standing’ and also ‘great confidence in the faith’. Oswald Chambers, who wrote the devotional classic My Utmost For His Highest, described the relationship between revelation and obedience powerfully, when he wrote:

‘All God’s revelations are sealed until they are opened to us by obedience. You will never get them open by philosophy or thinking. Immediately you obey, a flash of light comes. Let God’s truth work in you by soaking in it, not by worrying into it. The only way you can get to know is to stop trying to find out and by being born again. Obey God in the thing He shows you, and instantly the next thing is opened up… The tiniest fragment of obedience, and heaven opens and the profoundest truths of God are yours straight away. God will never reveal more truth about Himself until you have obeyed what you know already. Beware of becoming “wise and prudent.”’

Let us therefore serve diligently that we may understand more the mystery of the faith and grow in the knowledge of God to His glory.