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?
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.
Regular readers here will already know my penchant for singing Psalms in public worship. I hope that’s made a few of you think as to how to incorporate them into your services. My practice is to have at least one Psalm in every act of worship. This takes place in a section of the service where we listen to God’s Word read, we then sing God’s Word in a Psalm and then God’s Word is preached from the pulpit. My aim is to let the Word of God sink into the ears and hearts of God’s people. And there are very few better ways to get people to remember things than to sing them.
As I’ve gone on in my ministry a few Psalms have become firm favourites. Psalm 121 is one of those. You can find it at number 726 in Rejoice and Sing. It’s sung to the tune Dundee (French) which, in my opinion, fits the words beautifully.
I to the hills will lift mine eyes;
From whence doth come mine aid?
My safety cometh from the Lord,
who heaven and earth hath made.
Thy foot he’ll not let slide, nor will
he slumber that thee keeps.
Behold, he that keeps Israel,
he slumbers not nor sleeps.
The Lord thee keeps; the Lord thy shade
on thy right side doth stay.
The moon by night thee shall not smite
Nor yet the sun by day.
The Lord shall keep thy soul; he shall
preserve thee from all ill;
henceforth thy going out and in
God keep forever will.
We live in a time of great uncertainty for the church in this country. The old denominations (like ours) are dying. Government seems to be going out of its way to annoy people of Christian conviction for no good reason. The rock of Biblical authority has been chipped away at by those without and within the church. What might the future hold for my daughter as we seek to bring her up in the faith?
These things are nothing new. Every generation of the church will have had faithful people crying out for help and guidance from God. Thankfully, God has given us this Psalm to remind us of where our eyes should be looking and where our hope should rest.
This Psalm reminds us that God is a faithful God who has great power – he created all things! He is also a God who is always there – he’ll never be asleep on the job! When it comes to the safety and security of God’s people we can trust the covenant promises of God despite outward appearances.
I commend the singing of this Psalm to you. Try it without accompaniment like these folks:
Michael Reeves is the UCCF’s Head of Theology and his latest book ‘The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Spirit’ does exactly what it says on the cover. It gives us the theology we need to enjoy the triune God.
In the introduction, Reeves writes,
‘God is love’: those words could hardly be more bouncy. They seem lively, lovely, and as warming as a crackling fire. But ‘God is a Trinity’? No, hardly the same effect: that just sounds cold and stodgy. All quite understandable, but the aim of this book is to stop the madness. Yes, the Trinity can be presented as a fusty and irrelevant dogma, but the truth is that God is love because God is a Trinity.
It’s not surprising the church has struggled (and continues to struggle…) with heresy when people don’t understand who God is as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and what that means for us. The Trinity is a key part of what makes Christianity distinctive from other faiths. It’s not surprising people think all religions are the same, or ‘we all worship the same God’ when we don’t fully appreciate who God is in Biblical Christian thought and theology.
Reeves runs through the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, and explains (in very easy-to-understand language) what Athanasius, Sibbes, Augustine, Luther, Tyndale, Calvin, Owen and Chalmers have contributed to it. Reeves’ writing is meaty and thoroughly Biblical, but not without humour to lighten the tone and keep you engaged. More importantly, you sense Reeves’ passionate desire for us to discover who God is and to enjoy Him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to every Christian and will be using it myself as the inspiration for a sermon or two on the Trinity!
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.
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.
In his book, God the Holy Father (c.1897), the great Scottish Congregationalist P.T. Forsyth wrote,
holiness is the root of love, fatherhood, sacrifice, and redemption… The Church of today has gained greatly in its sense of the love of God. There are still greater things waiting when she has moved on as far again, to that holiness whose outward movement is love, which love is but the passion to impart. You can go behind love to holiness, but behind holiness you cannot go.
Surely, what was true of the church of P.T. Forsyth’s day is even more evident in our day of ‘love songs to Jesus’. Don’t get me wrong, I have some sympathy with the provocative and intimate language of love in worship (some of Charles Wesley’s hymns were accused of being too sensual for congregational worship), but there is always a balance to be struck between the intimate and immanent and the mighty and transcendent.
The hymn we will consider now is definitely one that helps to redress the balance and remind those who come to worship that they stand before a holy God. It was written by the Rev. Reginald Heber, an Anglican clergyman and missionary Bishop to Calcutta, in 1826. Sadly, he died quite suddenly, later that year, at the age of 42.
Rev. Reginald Heber entered ministry in Oxford on 24th May 1807. At that time he wrote to his friend John Thornton, ‘Pray for me, my dear friend, that I may have my eyes open to the truth … and if it please God that I persevere in his ministry I may undertake the charge with a quiet mind and a good conscience’. His biographer Arthur Montefiore notes that ‘Heber was a star whose lustre was as steady as it was clear’.
After marrying Amelia Shipley on 9th April 1809, Rev. Heber moved to Hodnet where he devoted himself to the pastoral work of the church and became a strong supporter of overseas missions. In 1814, he refused an appointment as Canon at Durham Cathedral preferring to commit himself to the quiet parish ministry, to his poetry and letters. However, in 1823 Rev. Reginald Heber was persuaded to take up the appointment of Bishop of Calcutta.
Reginald Heber’s two best known hymns are ‘Brightest and best of the sons of the morning’ and this one, ‘Holy, holy, holy!’ The poet laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson called it ‘the world’s greatest hymn’. It takes its inspiration from Isaiah 6:1-5, where the prophet sees Christ seated on the throne and the hem of his robe filling the temple, then Isaiah cries out: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
Today, we sing it in wonder at our thrice holy God who is both merciful and mighty, who in His power and love purifies us so that we can enter His glory. It is a wonderful hymn that addresses God with the grandeur He deserves:
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.
Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
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.
Of the last five years, I spent four in theological college and latest one in pastoral ministry. Whilst at college I enjoyed the engagement with scholarly material. Translating and grappling over textual issues and interpretations, reading commentary upon commentary, and using my findings to shed light on doctrine, pastoral conversations, and perhaps most prominently in preaching. Since beginning pastoral ministry, I have done less in depth study, partly because there are no essay deadlines looming, and partly because church management has a canny habit of taking over time used for study and reading. However I still feel that there is to be a balance between scholar and pastor in each Christian ministry. Why? Because we’re helping people to grow in faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the pastor and scholar extra-ordinaire. At the moment of Peter’s great revelation of that fact in John 6, “You have the words of eternal life.”, he quickly follows by “We have come to BELIEVE and KNOW that you are the Holy One of God.” Believing is to some extent encouraged by the role of a pastor sharing their heart, and knowing, encouraged by the role of scholar sharing wisdom.
To actually reflect the thesis of the book, while Piper writes from the heart, Carson, the Scholar and Pastor, writes a rigorous introduction that covers questioning the terms of the title, and, amongst other things, sharing a little of his journey to scholarship. The second part of his section, deals with frank observations and pitfalls for those in pastoral ministry whose heart, perhaps like mine, is driven by scholarly working. He talks of the warnings of becoming a mere knowledge supplier to the troops on the front line, the dangers of working for plaudits, and the danger of forgetting the people. He talks of how scholars need to recognise different gifts and above all remaining focussed on the gospel in the world.
Strangely I found both sections of the book insightful, challenging, and something of a reflection of what I hope and pray this ministry I’m called to may offer for God’s Kingdom. Perhaps that response reflects the conclusion of the book, that ministry involves both a pastor’s heart and a scholar’s mind – it’s just important to recognise which way round your ministry ticks. The book concludes with this paragraph:
So in charging pastors to be more serious about the life of the mind, and in challenging scholars to be more engaged with the life of the church, we conclude with this prayer, that all our thoughtful shepherding and all our pastoral scholarship may be to the great end of having the gospel message about Jesus dwell richly (Col. 3.16) both in us and in our people; that knowing Jesus would be the great end of all our pastoring and our scholarship; that we ourselves, in all our preaching, writing, and counselling, would continue to see ourselves as the great beneficiaries of his great grace; that into eternity we would be followers of Jesus more and more shaped, saturated, and transformed by his person and work. To Jesus, the great pastor-scholar, be the glory. Amen
I had the pleasure of attending one day of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit recently and it was really good to hear Bill Hybels (talking about the privilege of leadership), Condolezza Rice (on a life of leadership), William Ury (on negotiating conflict), Jim Collins (on being great by choice) and John Ortberg (talking about Jesus’ unimaginable influence). I came away with many brilliant tips on leadership, such as the idea of primarily managing my energy rather than my time, the importance of optimism and perspective, and the significance of separating people and their interests from the problem or the flash point of conflict.
All of these are great tips from a mix of political, religious and business leaders but whilst truth is the same whoever shares it, I did want to deepen my understanding of biblical, gospel-centred leadership. For that reason I picked up Steve Timmis’ book, Gospel Centred Leadership; Becoming the servant God wants you to be. This helped me to examine the cultural lenses through which I view leadership and to set leadership into a broader biblical perspective.
In the opening chapter Steve hit the nail on the head as he analysed our cultures desire for and cynicism towards elected leadership. From there he invites us to explore biblical leadership, looking first at the role of God as the leader both in the fine and precise details of His judgement and His shaping of human history. It is this revelation of God’s leadership that places our own exercise of leadership (as a pastor, bible study leader, elder, church administrator, etc.) into context.
Chapter two explores several (broken) examples of leadership. Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Nehemiah are all used to highlight the way that God rule is mediated through His servants, but also to point the need for another leader. Chapter three introduces us to Jesus’ leadership, challenges our prideful dependence on self, and encourages us to have a quiet confidence in Jesus’ power to rule through His Word, by His Spirit. Comment is passed about women’s ministry (throughout the New Testament), but also about headship being male. The arguments for or against this are not analysed in the book. Suffice to say Steve believes that if the way headship is exercised reflects the headship of Jesus then many of the objections to leadership in general and male leadership in particular become redundant.
Chapters four to ten explore several distinctive marks of Christian leadership, character, aptitude, wisdom, service, authority, style and leadership. Looking at each of these marks of leadership, Steve explores contemporary leadership quandaries and uses these as a way into looking at the biblical teaching on leadership. In each chapter he provides questions for biblical study and questions for personal reflection. Warning: do not read this if you are uncomfortable examining yourself and finding your own attitudes and actions challenged.
The final four chapters look at the practicalities of leadership, each chapter looks at a different principle for gospel leadership: decisions are to be made by Spirit-inspired consensus, idealism as the enemy of gospel ministry, leaders exist to serve others intentionally, and the importance of investing in leadership. I found myself cut to the heart by the chapter on idealism which highlighted the danger of despairing in the face of disaster (losing all perspective), echoing what everyone else is saying (entering a state of virtual paralysis), assassinating others who fail and threaten our idealised church (making the perpetrator into an enemy). I pray that God would grant me the strength and wisdom to dwell in and respond out of the resources of the gospel to all manner of crisis and disappointment.
Finally, I suspect many leaders in the U.R.C. will struggle to get past Steve’s view of women in positions of leadership. However, there is plenty apart from this that would be of value to us. I have to say that despite being just 125 pages, it was not an easy or quick read. It forced me to analyse my own leadership decisions over and over again, and to confess my own inadequacy, even as it led me to Jesus’ grace.