Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Apostasy -1st Timothy 4:1-5

"But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in 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 gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer." (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
In speaking of the coming apostasy, Paul does not say, "in the last days" but rather "in later times." Apostasy is always a concern. Even after great revivals in the church, their end often seems to be apostasy, sometimes including that of those who founded and lead the revival. Paul identifies two main sources leading to our apostasy. The first is deceiving spirits. Not everything spiritual is godly. In our quest to understand and live in the spiritual, we must be careful which spirits we commune with. People who seek the spiritual, rather than seeking God and His kingdom, may find the spiritual not as friendly a place as they imagined. The second source of deceptions include the teaching of false gods. Most of these gods are associated with some form of idol or temple worship. Their teaching, while in some areas aligning with the teachings of faith, are derived from daemon spirits and are constructed to lead us away from the one true God rather than lead us closer to Him.

The word "Apostasy" simply means to "depart from." However, as a believer, there are somethings we are to depart from and others we are to adhere to. The central thing that we are to adhere to and for which, our departure from defines our apostasy, is "the faith." However, this faith is more than a mere system of beliefs and teachings, is also is a canon of godliness by which we are called to live. It not only teaches us the truth but also calls us to live the truth we have learned. Any departure, whether in belief or behavior, is apostasy from the faith. Often this apostasy takes one of two directions; either towards licentiousness or towards legalism.

Paul writes of those, "who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness." (Ephesians 4:19 NKJV) To Timothy, he describes them as having been "seared in their conscience." Our conscience, when still preserved by innocence, is an instrument of God to either offend or affirm us depending on our behavior. Guilt, the offending of our conscience because of our sin, is a useful emotion. It tells us that we have done wrong and calls us to action; to find remedy and forgiveness for our sin. However, for some, by willful and repetitive sinning, they have silenced their inner conscience so sin no longer offends them. These are those whom Peter says, in reference to their teaching, "who live in error, promising them [others] freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption." (2 Peter 2:18-19) These are those who would seek to draw us away from the faith to a life lived for pleasure. Paul will later warn Timothy, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NKJV)

While some will be drawn away by pleasure, others will be seduced by the law. Paul warns us, "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?" (Colossians 2:20-22) Apostasy to the law is just as dangerous as apostasy to pleasures. After coming to Christ by faith, the law can seem to be a shortcut to righteousness; giving us enumerated steps and behaviors by which we may appear to be righteous. However, the law is a dead end as far as righteousness is concerned. Paul warns the Galatians, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." (Galatians 5:4) The law not only burdens us with rules and regulations, but also alienates us from God and the power of His grace. This alienation is not imply any animosity on God's part, rather it is our willful removal of ourselves from the love, care, provision, and power of God on our behalf.

Whatever the source and what ever the means of apostasy, we must always be vigilant and live circumspectly, let we too should fall should away from the faith we have in Jesus Christ.

David Robison

Monday, April 28, 2014

Great is the mystery - 1st Timothy 3:14-16

"I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory." (1 Timothy 3:14-16)
Often, when we read this scripture, we read it with a negative connotation as if Paul is rebuking us and trying to correct us for our behavior in church. However, the word used here "to conduct" can also be translated "to busy oneself" or to "live." Paul is instructing us, not necessarily rebuking us, in how we aught to live and busy ourselves in the house of God which is His church. These are issues we all face from time to time as we try to find our place and purpose in the body of Christ and, while Paul's discussion of these issues in his letter to Timothy do not represent and exhaustive treatment of these concerns, it does provide us with a good starting point.

What is of keen interest is that most of what Paul writes to Timothy about is in reference to our relationships with one another. His "how we aught to" is less about chores and more about choices; choices we make in our relationships with one another; choices to prefer, honor, and submit to one another as we share life together in the household of God. Praying together, having respect for order and decency, living in moderation and temperance, preferring others over ourselves, all belong to the "aught to" of our life within the church.

In many places, people are leaving churches in large numbers because they have become discontented with what passes for "the church" today. To a large degree I understand and agree with them. It is my belief that organized religion, at least as is practiced in many countries, has done much to obscure the truth of what Jesus came to establish upon the Earth. Many have become disenchanted with today's churches, and rightly so, as they fail to be the Body of Christ that Jesus intended the church to be.

 To Paul, and the other apostles, the Church was special. In their mind there was no separation between being a believer and being a member of the church universal. The church was the representation of God on the Earth; His very Body left behind to live and minister to a world in need. The church was also that "city set on a hill" (Matthew 5:14) whose light shown forth the truth of God to a people steeped in darkness. To be a believer was to be the church and to be the church was to be God's image on the Earth. It is my belief that if we could once again learn how we aught to live in the house of God then once again the church would be the representation of Christ that she was always meant to be.

All of this is a great mystery. To be the church and to live like Christ requires us to become godlike and to appropriate for ourselves godliness; godliness in our thoughts, intentions, and actions. But how does one become godlike? What is the secret to godliness? What is the answer to the greatest mystery of all? Jesus! To know Jesus is to know the mysteries of life; to know Jesus is to become part of His Kingdom; and to know Jesus is to become like Jesus. The answer to this mystery is Christ Himself. Maybe it's time we stop running and seek for the one who has all the answers, both for our live as well as the world around us!

David Robison

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Character to server - 1st Timothy 3:8-13

"Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 3:8-13)
Paul presents three qualifications for deacons that are particularly interesting. First he states that they must not be "double-tongued." When people function in a way that brings them into personal, and often private, contact with people in the church, they must be careful to let their speech be true and consistent before all. Those who would say one thing to one person and anther to someone else can sow discord and even seed sedition and division within the church. Much harm can be, and has been, done by double-tongued people within the Body of Christ. Consider the case of Absalom. Absalom had committed a crime against his dad, King David, and against his family. For this reason he was banished from Jerusalem. After a while, Absalom sought to win the Kingdom for himself.
"Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way to the gate; and when any man had a suit to come to the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, 'From what city are you?' And he would say, 'Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.' Then Absalom would say to him, 'See, your claims are good and right, but no man listens to you on the part of the king.' Moreover, Absalom would say, 'Oh that one would appoint me judge in the land, then every man who has any suit or cause could come to me and I would give him justice.'" (2 Samuel 15:2-4)
After a short while, Absalom ruled the kingdom and King David was forced to flee. I have seen this same thing happen in the church. There are those who speak publicly of their support and trust in those leading the church, to only back-bite and slander in private. I have had those come up to me and say, "Why doesn't the Pastor let you minister more? He should be letting you do this and that on a regular basis." Spinning words of false flattery to gain advantage over people and to draw people over to their side. Their goal is the stealing away of God's people after their own ambitious desires.Such people are like a cancers in a church and Paul was wise to warn Timothy to pass over such in appointing deacons at Ephesus.

Secondly, Paul says that deacons should not be "addicted to much wine" while for elders he says that they must not "linger long over wine." For one the caution is over "wine" and for the other a caution over "much wine". It appears to me that the greater a persons responsibility and authority, so must be their greater temperance over wine. This applies to all positions of leadership and authority, not just ecclesiastical. It is a shame for someone in authority to be drunker than those who they lead; to have a greater "addiction" to wine than those they are responsible for. However, not only is it a shame but it also poses great danger. When a worker in an organization is drunk, their work may suffer, but when a leader or one in authority is drunk, they can place the whole organization at danger. Therefore, this principal is at work in the church as well as the market place: as one increases in authority and leadership, so should their temperance for strong drink increase.

Finally, Paul speaks of "sordid gain" with the key ideas of being "greedy" and "sordid". It is unclear if the concern was for deacons taking bribes to influence their distribution of food (someone paying extra to get a greater share for their family) or if his concern was for their behavior in the marketplace. Either way, Paul tells us that "love of money is a root of all sorts of evil." (1 Timothy 6:10) If such greed is left unchecked in a persons heart then their end will not end well. These people are like shipwrecks waiting to happen and it is a danger to place them in positions of authority and public service in the church. This may have also been the root cause of Paul's experience with Alexander. "Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm." (2 Timothy 4:14) What ever we do in the church, our character is of chief importance. Deficiencies in our ability to minister may lead to ineffectiveness in our service, but deficiencies in our character can lead to disaster in our own lives and in the life of our church.

David Robison

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ready to serve? 1st Timothy 3:8-13

"Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 3:8-13)
Deacons serve an interesting function within the Church of Christ. We first see them in the book of Acts where a contentious issue arose within the church. "Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food." (Acts 6:1) Love feasts were not uncommon, even before the rise of Christianity. It was the tradition, at least in Christian circles, at the end of the feast, to take the remaining food to those who were sick, shut-in, or aged and could not come to the feast. There was an accusation against those who distributed the food that preference was being given to the native Jews over the Hellenistic (or Greek) Jews. The Apostles, knowing it was not for them to oversee this task, asked the people to select for themselves who should oversee this distribution of food. "Select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task." (Acts 6:3) These people were, in the classical sense of the word, "Deacons", or "waiters on tables". Deacons were those, both inside and outside the church, who helped with the service of an event, like a love feast. Here they not only helped with the serving of the food but also oversaw the feast; managing the necessary tasks of and serving those who attended.

There has been some disagreement as to whether Paul, when speaking of the "women," meant the deacon's wives or women deacons. It is my belief that Paul was referring to women deacons rather than the wives for several reasons. First, it would seem odd that Paul would add a qualification for a deacon's wife when he placed no such qualification on an elder's wife. If the behavior of their wives was of such great concern, I would have expected Paul to mention them when talking about elders, but he never does. Secondly, Paul does say that deacons should be the husband of one wife, but it is conceivable, in a male dominated society, that women deacons, in practice, were either unmarried or wives serving with their husbands so there was no need for a separate qualification for women. Finally, Paul writes of Phebe, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea." (Romans 16:1) Here using the same word for "deacon" that is here translated as "servant." I believe that she was a female deacon.

So why is wait staff so important and why does Paul require that they first be tested and promise a reward of high standing and great confidence for those who serve well? Deacons served during a time of great conflict in the church and they served with grace, character, and equity. They were able to serve people without prejudiced; seeing people not as who they appeared to be but as who God confessed them to be. In the end, the crisis was quelled by their gracious and confident service. It also appears that they were not just stewards but also managers; organizing and leading other servants (i.e. ministers) under them. While their tasks may not have been "spiritual" they brought order and, in their care for necessary things, served to fostered an environment where the spiritual could flourish. They freed people from the worry of the natural so that they could participate in the spiritual. Paul is right that those who lay down their lives for the service of others, not seeking their own interests but the interests of others, are worthy of high standing in the body and have no reason to doubt their worth even compared to others who might seem "more spiritual."

David Robison

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Character to lead - 1st Timothy 3:2-7

"An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
Character is one of the chief identifiers of a person's qualification to lead. Today, we tend to under valuate character in a person's life. Many church leaders are the product of seminaries whose main focus is the education of christian leaders. However, education can never replace the need for character. A person may know the things of the Kingdom but not exhibit the things of the Kingdom in and through their lives. The adoption of character in an attempt to be like Christ is a process that takes time; time knowing and walking with God. Jeremiah, speaking of the kings, said, "'Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?' Declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 22:15-16) In other words, to know God is to be like God. The more we come to know God the more we become like Him. This is a process that often takes longer than four years of seminary. Ignatius writes of Onesimus, Bishop of Ephesus, "Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love." (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 1) Oh, that this might be said about us and those we choose to lead the church today.

Some translations speak of one who "rules" his household well. The Greek word used here also means to superintend or preside over. In fact, in some early church, the leader of the church was simply called the President of the assembly, as one who presided over their meetings. This word is of a different sense from the classical idea of rule where a sovereign king rules over his dominion and dispenses his personal will and justice as he sees fit. This term applies more to the function of an overseer or manager who watches what goes on under him and provides guidance, help, correction, and leadership as required. He is the one who orchestrates activities so that each member is free to function at peak performance and according to their unique function and purpose. Some men, accepting that they are the head of their household, seek to make all the decisions and hold all the authority in the home. However, this is not what God intended for the family nor for His church.

Finally, an elder aught to be "apt to teach." I knew an elder who once said he was "apt to do just about anything!" It is interesting that the only ministry qualification that Paul describes is teaching. There are many gifted men and even many men of power, but Paul is looking for elders who can convey the things of the Kingdom to people in a way they can understand and apply them to their lives. This is more than just teaching on a Sunday morning; it is also meeting one-on-one with people to instruct them and lead then in the way they should live. It is counseling people as to the truth of the Kingdom and how that truth can set them free and deliver them from the problems they are facing. It is an ability to not only explain the Kingdom of God but also make it real in a way that people can incorporate it into their lives. James write that we might "humility receive the word implanted." (James 1:21) This is the ministry of a teacher, to implant the Word of God into willing human hearts.

David Robison

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ready to Lead? 1st Timothy 3:2-7

"An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
Paul lists a number of qualifications for an elder; most of which are common sense, but a few that are still a bit controversial even today. Most of these qualifications apply to a candidate's character and preparation for ministry. Only one requirement, that they be "apt to teach", applies to their actual ministry. At the heart of these requirements is the requirements that an elder be blameless, ubrebukeable, and "above reproach." This is not only for the protection of the church but also for the protection of the person. Paul says that, for an elder to "fall into reproach," it is a "snare" from the devil. It is a lot easier to deal with your own issues when in obscurity than to try and defeat sin while you stand in the limelight. How many gifted men have been destroyed publicly because of sin and other issues in their lives that were not dealt with before they gained public exposure? All men fall, but those who fall publicly fall more spectacularly. If you desire to be an elder, deal with your stuff first, for the light of the office is very bright and probes very deep.

Understanding this will help us to understand Paul's requirement that an elder be the "husband of one wife." This requirement has caused some debate as to whether Paul meant to restrict having multiple wives concurrently or serially; either by polygamous or through divorce. My belief is that Paul was refereeing to those who had remarried while their divorced wife still lived. While some of the Greek kings did practice polygamy, it was not common among the people. There would be little reason to caution Timothy not to elevate a polygamist into eldership, since there most likely were few if any in Ephesus. I believe that Paul was referring to those with divorced wives, which was certainly an issue there and then as it is here and now. As a man's reputation outside the church could invite reproach and a "snare", imagine an unbelieving divorced wife and the accusation and reproach she could being to an elder and the church. Divorce is rarely a clean break, certainly not in the same way death is. A divorced man is most often tethered in someway to his divorced wife; child support, alimony, children, arguments, and even memories and lingering emotions. It is best to let such a one serve and minister as God would call him, as a member of the body, but not appoint him to oversight in the Body of Christ while his divorced wife is still living.

Finally, Paul says that an elder should not be a "new convert." The Greek word means, "Newly Planted." Paul's concern is that such a new believer would be conceited by their (in their mind) elevated position and fall into pride and condemnation; the same pride and condemnation that the devil experienced and fell from. It concerns me greatly when we promote young men and women to positions of ministry without consideration to their age and growth in Christ. They may be gifted or even called, but to we expose them to the temptation of pride while they lack the spiritual experience of age to properly deal with the increased weight of temptation and responsibilities. We also see men with young families appointed to positions of oversight, either as "elders" or "pastors." Men who often have young families which, rightly so, place a great demand on their time and attention. Finally, we promote men with young families that have not yet shown they know how to manage their own household since they are still at beginning of the process. Might not these be also considered as "novices?" Perhaps, at this stage in their lives, they need to spend their time and energies raising their family and learning to walk with God? I think we do them, and the church, a disservice by rushing them into a place of responsibility that they are not yet ready for Elder means "old man." Maybe we need more "old men" to lead us while the "young men" learn the grace, character, and skill requisite for overseeing.

David Robison

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Elders? What Elders? 1st Timothy 3:1

"It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do." (1 Timothy 3:1)
It appears that, while the church at Ephesus had been around for a while, it as yet had no formal leadership, otherwise there would be little reason for Paul to remind Timothy of the qualifications of an elder. Early on, the church at Ephesus, was just a collection of "some disciples." (Acts 19:1) It is very possible that this was part of the reason Paul left Timothy behind; to appoint elders for the church at Ephesus. We do know that this was part of Titus' ministry as he, like Timothy, was an extensions of Paul's apostolic ministry in Asia. "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you." (Titus 1:5) This also helps us understand further Paul's concern with women teaching in church, especially where there was as yet no established eldership to oversee the activity in a church.

What I find most interesting is that as Paul went around starting churches, these churches existed and thrived without any formal leadership. It was only later that Paul, and/or his team, would pass through and appoint elders as qualified men arose from within their midst. To do otherwise would violate on of his chief qualifications of an elder, that they be "not a new convert." (1 Timothy 3:6) This idea challenges some of the other church planting strategies that I have been apart of; where we first plant leadership and then try to form a church around them while Paul first called forth a church and then waited for leadership to arise. Perhaps our "new" ways needs to be challenged.

I have mentioned before that there is a difference between the position of an elder and the work of an elder. I once had a friend who said he used to be a writer until he realized that he liked being a writer more than writing. Many like the thought of the prestige and honor of being an elder, but are usually ignorant of the actual work involved. Over the years I have served as an elder in various churches I was a part of, each with their own particular style of "eldership." While most of the time is was a privilege and a joy to server, there were the other times; times when we were the focal point of people's complaints and blame for things going on in the church, most of the which I had nothing to do. This reality is, in part, why the writer of Hebrews said, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." (Hebrews 13:17

Eldership is an honor and a privilege, but it is not for everyone. Eldership should never been seen as something people are promoted into or as a reward for faithful service. Eldership is a calling and a service for those whom God has selected. Paul's process for selecting elders involved prayer and fasting to determine God's will and selection. "When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." (Acts 14:23) In the following posts we will look at some of the specific qualifications that Paul lays out for elders.

David Robison

Thursday, April 17, 2014

New Resource: Women in the Church

I have added a new resource to the resource page on my blog called, "Women in the Church." This teaching looks at the questions of whether a woman should be allowed to speak, teach, and have authority in a church. In this teaching I attempt to explain what I believe the scriptures teach on these issues and what my personal beliefs are. I hope you find this teaching both instructional and helpful. As always, I value any thought, comments, or criticisms you might have.

David Robison

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My view of women having authority in the church - 1 Timothy 2:11-15

This is the third post in my attempt to describe my personal beliefs regarding the role of women in the church. If you are interested you might want to read my first post on women being silent in church and my second post on women teaching in church.
"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
This struggle between the sexes for power and authority is an ancient one dating back to man's expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In pronouncing the curses due to their sin, God says to Eve, "Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." (Genesis 3:16) Prior to this, there was no since that Adam "ruled" over Eve, but after their sin things changed and, while Eve did desire her husband, at times, over the centuries, that desire in women for their husbands has become a desire for their husband's authority and his place as head of the family. This struggle to "be on top" has even extended into the church and in some churches has caused no little disturbance between those who favor male authority and those who seek reform.

It is my understanding, especially in the churches Paul founded, that authority within a church was vested in the elders. These churches were very "flat" in their organization and had few if any "programs" to attend to. The only "program" we find in the scriptures was the distribution of food. After the Agape feast, the deacons would take the left over food and distribute it to the sick and shut-ins so they too could enjoy the communion of the Agape. However, this appears to have been an activity that went on with little or no control or direction from the eldership. "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:3-4)

Some of our confusion regarding authority in the church comes from our lack of experience with the role of elders, especially in the west, and our adoption of authority structures that are inconsistent with those modeled in the scriptures. For the early Christians, elders, and elder rule, were understood concepts to them both intellectually and experimentally. However, most of us in the west have never lived in a tribal or national structure lead by elders. Possibly due to this disconnect with our ancient history, we have developed authority structures that are very "top down" and distributed where authority flows from the top to those underneath. For example, we have the Senior Pastor, Assistant Pastor, Ministry Leader, Team Leader, etc. Each step down representing a new layer of authority accountable only to the layers above it. However we do not see these layers of authority existing within the early church, we see only elders. Even given this, the role of the elders was limited and mostly supervisory, operating behind the scene; unnoticed until needed. In fact Paul rarely addresses any of his letters or commands directly to the elders. He simply speaks to the church of which they are a part of.

It is my belief that eldership is reserved for men. The word itself simply means, "old man" in both the Greek and Hebrew. Furthermore, in the scriptures, elders are always refereed to as men. When giving the qualifications of and elder, it is always men who are specified. Paul says. "An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife." (1 Timothy 3:2) "appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife." (Titus 1:5-6) In my opinion, the role of the elder in the early church was limited, especially as it relates to their exercise of authority. Their authority was not for control or dictatorial rule, nor were they the ones who made all the decisions. Their authority was for oversight; to provide for both the protection and correction of the church. They provided protection in identifying those who were among them as "sheep in wolves clothing" and in rebuking those who, as false teachers and prophets, attempted to lead others away from the Christ and His message. They also provided discipline and correction to the body for those who continued in sin with no regard to repentance. For example, the case Paul refers to when he says, "It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife." (1 Corinthians 5:1)

Paul writes, "if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do." (1 Timothy 3:1) Eldership is a work, not a position. I have had the privilege of serving as a elder is many of the churches I have been a part of and can attest that eldership is certainly a "work" not simply a "position". Its work is service and its goal is to free the people from the burden of oversight that they themselves might blossom into all that God has for them. Life in a church with a well functioning eldership is a blessing because you are simply free to be who God made you to be without worry about what might happen if things go wrong. The elders are always there, overseeing and watching, and willing to step in and set things right if things should ever get out of hand.

Having been an elder at many times in my church life it is hard to see why someone would want to be an elder unless they simply ignorant of the work or truly called to the service. I am also want to understand in what way women are "harmed" or lessened by not having a "seat at the table." The eldership exists for their freedom not their bondage. It is only when elders are functioning contrary to God's designs to them that people are harmed and diminished. However, for elders who openly desire and solicit the thoughts and opinions of all, even women, and those who are cognoscente that their authority is to benefit all, even women, not having to bear the burden of such authority is a blessing and not a curse. Jesus said, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant." (Luke 22:25-26) When this is the heart and service of the eldership then there will be none to begrudge them of their authority.

Finally, our problem with male authority, whether within the church or even in the family, is often a problem with a theory more than a problem with a practice. For example, there have been those who saw me as chauvinistic because I believe that husbands are to be the head of their family. However, if they ever realized how little I have had to exercise that authority they may see that the practice of male authority is often different from their fearful imaginations of what male authority might be. After almost thirty years of marriage there have only been a handful of times that I have had to assert my authority, holding firm to a decisions not shared by everyone in our family, because I truly believed was the best decision for us all. If we would take time to get to know the eldership in our church and to understand their hearts and motives, we might just find out that our issues with male/female authority is more abstract than our issues with the people who exercise such authority.

David Robison

Monday, April 14, 2014

My view of women teaching in church - 1st Timothy 2:11-15

This is a second post in my attempt to describe my personal beliefs regarding the role of women in the church. If you are interested you might want to read my first post on women being silent in church.
"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
It is difficult to properly understand the role of teaching in the early church and the means by which it took place. One thing is for certain, at least in my opinion, is that it was very different then than it is today. In most churches today teaching is done by a single person, often a lead pastor who is the head and pinnacle of authority in the church. While they may "share" their "pulpit" from time to time, teaching in the church is most often allocated primarily to one person. This does not seem to have been the case in the early church. It is unclear to me who exactly was teaching and whether or not such teaching always took place in the context of a corporate meeting. In some churches there were obviously multiple teachers. "at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers." (Acts 13:1) Paul also, speaking of the gifts God has placed within the church, always speaks of them in the plural, "And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles..." (1 Corinthians 12:28)

There was also among the churches some false teachers; teachers who taught contrary to the message of Christ. Peter even warns us that, as always, there will continue to be false teachers, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them." (2 Peter 2:1) Jesus even warned a specific church about a specific false teacher in their midst, "But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols." (Revelation 2:20) Finally, even this very letter to Timothy was to encourage him in his job of silencing those who were teaching falsehood and disturbing the faith of some. "As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines." (1 Timothy 1:3)

It is curious to me how so many teachers operated and even taught falsehood before the elders, and possibly even a bishop, so freely. It is doubtful to me that they all taught on a Sunday morning. Perhaps they also taught in smaller groups or even in homes. We know that even Paul taught, "in the temple and from house to house." (Acts 5:42)

Why do I say all this? It is because teaching then was different from teaching today. When someone teaches under the oversight of elders and other leaders who are able to judge and distinguish the word being taught, then it is very easy to correct error and deception before it infects the flock. Here I see little danger of women, or anyone, teaching in church. However, when teaching is being disseminated throughout the flock in private gatherings then it is harder to judge and oversee everything that is being taught. It also seems to me that Paul's concern with women teaching is combined with his concern with women usurping the authority within the church; women teaching (perhaps in private) in opposition to the elders or without any submission to their oversight and authority.

It also seems to me that there is a great difference between teaching, for an example, a Psalm and teaching on the nature of Christ. We must understand that during the early centuries of the church, much of what we call doctrine was still being defined. We have the advantage of two thousand years of teaching and writing to fall back upon, they had very little. What seems to me to have been Paul's concern was not women sharing from the scriptures but women trying to define "the faith" or redefining the apostolic message; trying to define the fundamental beliefs and doctrines of the Christian church while they were still being debated and solidified.

So what do I believe? I believe that when a woman seeks to instruct the church from outside the oversight and authority of the eldership or, when she usurps the eldership by asserting herself as the one to define both the message and the bounds and limits of our faith, then she has has gone beyond good judgment and wisdom and is rightly censured by the church. However, that being said, there still remains plenty of room within the church for women to preach, teach, and exhort the body of Christ to the glory of God.

David Robison

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My view of women being silent in church - 1 Timothy 2:11-15

"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
I believe that much of our problems in understanding these scriptures and in trying to apply them to our churches today stem from two main issues. First is the cultural differences between our world today and the world Paul lived in. Paul spoke and wrote to people in his day and, in many cases, did not feel it necessary to elaborate or clarify what he was saying because his audience instinctively understood what he meant. However, our lives are in many ways vastly different from life in the first century. We read Paul's writings but lack the innate cultural understanding of his hearers. It can leave us trying to figure out exactly what he meant and why he felt such commands were necessary. Secondly, much of what we call church today has little resemblance to the church of the first century. Many of our churches are operating in uncharted territory; devoid of a scriptural basis for their forms and customs. This can make it difficult to understand and apply Paul's apostolic traditions when our churches have become so dissimilar to his. Nevertheless, even with these two significant impediments to understanding and applying the words of Paul, I will do my best to explain what I believe. These are my personal beliefs and not those of any specific church I might be a part of.

Paul says that women should be quite in church. W.E. Vine defines this word as "indicates 'tranquillity arising from within,' causing no disturbance to others." This word is used elsewhere and translated as "quiet" as Vine says, "where it is associated with 'meek,' and is to characterize the spirit or disposition." (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words)

Thus it appears to me that Paul's instruction is not just for silence but for the cultivation of a character of soul that is peaceful, tranquil, and decorous. It is clear from other scriptures that Paul was not issuing a blanket statement that women should never talk or make a noise in church. For example, if women could not pray or prophesy in church then there would have been no reason for Paul to instruct them on how to do this. "But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head." (1 Corinthians 11:5) Certainly women are allowed to pray and prophesy in church provided she has "a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." (1 Corinthians 11:10) Moreover, there are other scriptures where Paul speaks to all those who are in the church. "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit..." (1 Corinthians 12:7) "But if all prophesy..." (1 Corinthians 14:24) "When you assemble, each one has..." (1 Corinthians 14:26) "For you can all prophesy one by one..." (1 Corinthians 14:31) I personally believe that when Paul spoke of "all" he was including both men and women.

So what is Paul trying to say? I don't believe that Paul is saying that a woman cannot speak, pray, prophesy, sing, read scripture, or even share from the inward witness of the Spirit within her. I believe that the early church was more interactive than our services today. Let's be honest, at least in most of the churches I've been a part of, everyone is to be silent while one is appointed as the head and the teacher. One teaches and the rest listen. However, I do not believe that was how the early church operated. Consider what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent." (1 Corinthians 14:30) Imagine if that happened in your church next Sunday!

I believe that Paul instructed women to be quite for two reasons. First for order and harmony. He was attempting to prevent unruly women from disrupting and disquieting the assembly with their continual comments and questions. Yes, men can be unruly too but women tend to be more verbal about it. Secondly, for honor. Paul wrote that if a woman prayed or prophesied with her head uncovered she, "dishonors his head." (1 Corinthians 11:4 NKJV) He also says of a wife, "If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church." (1 Corinthians 14:35) A woman who speaks presumptuously,or without restraint, can dishonor and disgrace her husband. Silence for the sake of order and honor is good an right in the sight of all. A wise woman will consider what she is going to say before she says it; not only to consider if it is the right time and place to speak, but also if in speaking she will be honoring or dishonoring her husband. It is the glory of a woman, in the interest of order, harmony, and honor, to remain silent.

David Robison

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A division of souls - 1st Timothy 2:11-15

"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
The second reason Paul commands women to be silent in church refers back to the Garden of Eden and the deception of Eve by the Devil. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul again makes reference of Eve's deception saying, "But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ." (2 Corinthians 11:3) In specific, this is why Paul refused to let a woman teach or to usurp male authority (most probably the elders and bishops) in church.

Much has been written about the original fall of mankind, some blaming this one and some blaming the other and, while it is true that Eve ate because she was deceived, it is written that that, Adam, "her husband [who was] with her" (Genesis 3:6), while fill knowledge, did also eat and did also sin. In fact, one early Christian writer wrote to defend Eve as the stronger of the two,
"And if thou sayest that it attacked her as being the weaker of the two, [I reply that], on the contrary, she was the stronger, since she appears to have been the helper of the man in the transgression of the commandment. For she did by herself alone resist the serpent, and it was after holding out for a while and making opposition that she ate of the tree, being circumvented by craft; whereas Adam, making no fight whatever, nor refusal, partook of the fruit handed to him by the woman, which is an indication of the utmost imbecility and effeminacy of mind." (Fragments from the Lost Writings of Ireaeus, Chapter 14)
What is important to understand is that men and women were not created equal, at least not equal in the sense of the make up of their bodies and their souls. Clement of Alexandria write, 
"Whatever smoothness and softness was in him He abstracted from his side when He formed the woman Eve, physically receptive, his partner in parentage, his help in household management, while he (for he had parted with all smoothness) remained a man, and shows himself man. And to him has been assigned action, as to her suffering" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
The implication here is that when God formed Eve out of the side of Adam, she was more than just a direct copy of Adam; God was not just making a photo copy of what He has previously made. In making Eve, God made a division of both flesh and soul; assigning fleshly and soulish characteristics to both Adam and Eve. They were different beings with different strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. These differences were seen in the temptation of man when the woman, though being deceived, had to be coaxed while Adam was willing to sin with full knowledge. 

Even today we see the differences between the sexes and, as much as we would like to treat them the same, they are not the same; men are not women and women are not men. Their differences are more than just physical, they are different on the inside as well. This is not to say one is better than the other, but simply to say they are different. Each has their strengths and weaknesses where, in any given situations, one may be better suited than the other in obtaining a favorable outcome. 

Paul's restriction on women teaching and usurping authority is based on what he believed to be a women's greater propensity towards deception than men. During the first several centuries of the church, there were many heresies and false doctrines floating around and there was a need for those who taught the apostolic message to the church to teach it with purity and full reason, without giving into the deception of the lies. For this reason, Paul, in the churches he founded, appointed such teaching to men. We may disagree with his reasoning, but we cannot fault his love and care for the churches he established.

David Robison

Friday, April 11, 2014

A created order - 1st Timothy 2:11-15

"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
One of Paul's reasons for his injunctions against women speaking in church is his belief in the created order of God. The recorded history of God's creation shows that God made man first then, finding it was not good for man to be alone, created woman. "Then the Lord God said, '... I will make him a helper suitable for him...' but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man." (Genesis 2:18-22) In creating woman from man God initiated order in His creation. All throughout creation we see the order of God. Of man it is said, "You have made him for a little while lower than the angels." (Hebrews 2:7) and to man was given to "rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." (Genesis 1:26) Mankind being made a little lower than the angels yet having dominion over the creatures of the earth.

More specifically, pertaining to men and women, Paul writes, "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:3) This structure is meant to provide the order through which those "over" would provide protection and care to those "under" them. "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body." (Ephesians 5:23) Christ is certainly our head, yet He came to server, to care for us, to deliver us from our burdens, and to save us from our enemies. This order is not only the structure through which authority flows, but also love. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word." (Ephesians 5:25-26) In God's created order there is no room for authority without love.

The goal of this created order, from a social and corporate standpoint, is harmony. Peter had just finished up teaching on submission; submission to government, submission to masters, and submission to husbands. He then concludes with these words: "To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing." (1 Peter 3:8-9) Submission can be hard to define and understand, especially in a culturally relevant way, but at least we know what submission is supposed to look like: harmony, humility, caring, and love. Submission that leads to strife, anger, and offense is not the submission that flows down from Christ but that which springs up from below. It is a submission that is required from the heart of self-centered people rather than a submission that is freely offered from people who have been set free to love and honor others.

What does this have to do with women in the church? Order and harmony! Everything has order and if we are to find harmony in life we must respect that order; not an order that is demanded, but an order that we freely yield to as free citizens of the Kingdom of God. Without order there is chaos, yet with order there is the structure for love and care to extends to all.

David Robison

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Let women be silent - 1st Timothy 2:11-15

"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
This is a difficult passage to deal with and one that is often presents a "Lose, Lose" propositions for any who teach it for no matter what you say, someone is going to be angry with you. However, being the fool I am, I'm going to give it a go. It is also a scripture that cannot be treated in my typical "write only what they can read in ten minutes" approach so this discussion may span multiple posts.

It is important to note that many of our present day churches bear little resemblance to the churches of the early centuries as pertains to their structure and practices. In many assemblies, opportunity was given to any who wish to participate in the meetings. Paul writes of the church at Corinth,
"What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted." (1 Corinthians 14:26-31)
It seems clear that Paul allowed for each member to share the things God had given them. Paul had just previously stated the benefits and reasons for allowing the free-flow of the Holy Spirit in their gatherings and the common participation of all their members, "But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you." (1 Corinthians 14:24-25) However, in permitting the full participation in their meetings, Paul reminds them that, "God is not a God of confusion but of peace" (1 Corinthians 14:32) therefore "all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner." (1 Corinthians 14:40) Paul's goal in instructing women to be silent in church was to promote decency, order, and decorum. You may disagree with his definition of decorum, but this goal was at the heart of what he commanded.

Some early churches also had times where the Bishop or one of the elders of the church would teach the scriptures and the apostolic message that had been handed down to them. Justin Martyr described church in this way,
"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen" (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 67)
I believe that when Paul wrote that women should not teach in church, it was this form of teaching, where the elder or Bishop would teach the scriptures and apostolic message in a way that was authoritative and binding. It was a form of teaching that shaped the faith and doctrine of believers and defined what it meant to be a Christian. It was a teaching that bore the authority of the Apostles since those who taught ti carried the apostolic succession on their shoulders.

Finally, it must be remembered that Paul was establishing the apostolic traditions that were to be followed in the churches he was establishing. Each church was unique and even the apostolic traditions handed down to them differed based on the apostle who founded the church. Paul here says "I do not allow" rather than "Christ does not allow." However, this does not diminish the fact that he believed these injunctions to be "the Lord's commandment." (1 Corinthians 14:38)

Next time we will look at Paul's reason for these injunctions.

David Robison

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Modesty and sobriety - 1st Timothy 2:9-10

"Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness." (1 Timothy 2:9-10)
The "likewise" Paul is referring to here is his command to men that they strive to be free from anger and argument. The "likewise" is a reference to the heart rather than to specific behaviors. However, while formerly he was encouraging men to allow their posture in prayer to reflect the peace and harmony in their hearts, here he is instructing women to allow their outward appearance to be a reflection of a modest and generous heart. Our outward displays mean nothing unless they are rendered from an inward reality of the heart. Peter concurs with Paul writing,
"Your adornment must not be merely external — braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear." (1 Peter 3:3-6)
The call of God is a call to an inward conformance to what is good and right in the sight of God and of man. What is good and right begins in the heart and then radiates out of us as we prove to be "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14) and a "city set on a hill" (Matthew 5:14)  that cannot be hidden.

As believers in Christ, we are called to a life of modesty and sobriety; a life lived with greater regards for the treasures of the heart than for the fleeting treasures of material possessions. Possessions for show are a snare to a modest and temperate heart; desiring the praise and gaze of men more than the praise and favor of God. Jesus asked the Scribes and Paraphrases, "How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?" (John 5:44) The same is true with us. When we seek the praise and glory of men, we are diverted from our pursuit of God and we sacrifice the love from God for love from men.

We must ask ourselves, When we get up and get ready each morning, who are we preparing ourselves for? Are we grooming ourselves and dressing in a way to be seen by men? Or are we preparing our hearts to be seen and loved by God? Do we care more about how we are seen by others than we are seen by God? Do we confuse outward beauty for the true beauty that shines from within? God has promised through King David, "For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation." (Psalm 149:4) If we desire to be truly beautiful, let us seek for that salvation that comes from above, for nothing is as beautiful than a forgiven and reconciled soul.

David Robison

Monday, April 07, 2014

Prayer without anger - 1st Timothy 2:5-8

"For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension." (1 Timothy 2:5-8)
Paul is continuing his previous thought where he instructed us to pray for "all men" because God desires that "all men" would be saved and come to a knowledge of Him. As believers, it is easy to become isolated and cloistered, to focus all our attention upon ourselves and to see ourselves as separate from others in the world. However, the Gospel is all inclusive, it is for everyone, and the love and grace of God is accessible by all. The one mediator though which we pray is the very same mediator through which the world is invited to come and know God. Jesus did not come to save some, but He came to save all and to grant forgiveness and eternal life to all who would receive Him. If we are human, then we are one with the human race, and as such, aught to be willing to pray for all, not just ourselves.

Paul, writing to Timothy, instructing him what he should teach and command the church at Ephesus, says that "First of all" (1 Timothy 2:1) we should pray. God has said of His house, whose house we have become if we have received faith in Christ, "And [I will] make them joyful in My house of prayer... For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples." (Isaiah 56:7) In many of the churches I have been involved with over my lifetime, many of them could be called a house of worship (or at least singing), a house of teaching, or even a house of praying for people (in prayer lines etc.) but few that I would call a house of prayer. When we did pray corporately together, it was often in separate meetings attended mostly by women. It is interesting that Paul commands the men to pray, partly I believe because women are more naturally bent towards prayer and it was the men who needed to be challenged to prayer.

It seems to me that that we, or at least some of the churches I have attended, have lost the centrality and primacy of prayer in our gatherings. There is an aspect of prayer that is personal and individual, but there is also an aspect that is public and corporate. We should seek to find a way to return prayer to its "first of all" status, placing prayer ahead of our own desires for worship and teaching.

Our prayers aught also to be from a pure heart. Paul contrasts the lifting up of clean hands with the utterances of a filthy heart. In fact, not only in our prayers, but Paul also urges us to "Do all things without grumbling or disputing." (Philippians 2:14) Here he uses the same word for "disputing" as he does for "dissension". The idea of this Greek word are the thoughts and reasonings that rise up within us to disturb our soul and to provoke us to anger and wrath. Jesus used this same word, here translated "thoughts," when he said, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts." (Matthew 15:19) How can we pretend to life up holy hands when we have anger and malice in our hearts? Others may believe us to be pious, but God looks beyond our posture to see the contents of our hearts. Jesus told us to "first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also." (Matthew 23:26) Pure hands and a pure heart, that is what God desires.

David Robison

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The nature of government - 1st Timothy 2:1-4

"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
The term "Christian" differs in usage from that of "Jew" in that it refers to our religion rather than our national origin. The term "Jew" identifies someone both by their religion and the nation from which they descend. A "Jew" is both national and religious where a "Christian" is merely religious. As Christians, we live in the context of our own nation with its own political structures and systems. There is no such thing as a Christian nation, merely Christians that live within the boundaries of an existing nation. As such, Paul encourages Christians to pray for their nations and those who lead them that they might lead tranquil and quiet lives and serve God freely without fear or oppression.

I believe that, here, Paul provides the clearest plan and purpose of God for nations and those who rule them. I believe that, just as God created the institutions of marriage and the church, so He established nations and institutionalized governments. While each nation may have its own form of government, I believe that God established government to ensure the peaceful life of its citizens; that they may be able to freely pursue happiness and godliness as their conscience should direct them. As such, a nation and its government should 1) provide for the defense against enemies foreign and domestic 2) defend the rights and property of individuals and 3) provide for equity in justice. It is my belief that government is not to provide for the welfare of a nation or to enforce a moral code upon a nation, rather to provide the environment of peace and security where those who choose to, and according to their individual industry, might prosper and that everyone might be free, according to their own conscience, to pursue righteousness and godliness with all dignity and freedom.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, many governments have either forgotten or never understood their God given responsibilities or purposes and have either abdicated their roles or overreached to become the all-in-all for their nation. The state has taken over the role of the church and subjugated the role of the family in an attempt to become the savior of the nation; attempting to be to the nation what only God can be to a people. It is time for government to retreat to its God given limits and for believer to rise up and support their government through prayers, supplications, and thanksgiving. Paul makes it clear what we should pray for for our leaders, that they would come to a knowledge of the truth and to the blessings of salvation. In most countries today, we as individuals still have our individual civic responsibilities as it comes to the selection of our governors and the passing of legislative laws, but as believers, we also have the responsibility to pray for the spiritual salvation, health, and enlightenment of our leaders that, if God should so grant, we might be lead by godly and righteous men and women. Such prayer, along with thanksgiving for the leaders and country God has given us, is the portion and responsibility of all christian citizens of earthly nations.

David Robison

Saturday, April 05, 2014

A difficult task - 1st Timothy 1:18-20

"This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme." (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
Timothy had a daunting task. The peaceful order of the church at Ephesus had been disturbed by some who were teaching wild and strange doctrines; doctrines born out of idle speculation rather than from the word of truth. Men like Hymenaeus, whom we will later learn taught that "the resurrection has already taken place" (2 Timothy 2:18), and Alexander whom Paul says "vigorously opposed our teaching." (2 Timothy 4:15) Paul had already removed such men from the church, handing them over to Satan to be "disciplined" until they should return to their senses. However, it still remained for Timothy to restrengthen the faith of those who remained and to reestablish sound order and truth within the church; to rebuild the apostolic foundations of the church both in the minds and lives of those who were believers.

As difficult as this challenge was, Timothy had the additional challenge of being young in comparison to many of the bishops, elders, and teachers of the people. Paul understood this and, while giving Timothy the command, or charge, to remain and work with the church at Ephesus, he also encouraged Timothy in his work by reminding him of who he was and what God had called him to do. Timothy was not just another "rising star" in the church, he was a man gifted and called by God, equipped for the work he was being called to. We will read later where the the gifts that Timothy had were "bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery." (1 Timothy 4:14) In reminding Timothy of who he was and what he had received from the Holy Spirit, Paul exhorted him to use this revelation to press on and to fight through the difficulties and oppositions, knowing he was called and equipped for the challenge.

However, the fight that Timothy was fighting was not a war against the church or even against Hymenaeus and Alexander, but was a war within himself; a war against quitting, giving in, and surrendering his new life to the old life he once lived. The faith that Paul is referring to is not just a belief but is a way of life; a life lived in love and obedience to the word or truth. It is a life that is lived in such a way as to preserve our conscience clean from any guilt or shame. Paul is encouraging Timothy to fight the good fight to maintain the good life. It was through preserving himself that Timothy would find the courage and strength to finish the task Paul had left him.

We all face difficulties and challenges in our lives and, like the ancient Hebrews, we all face the decision of pressing on or returning to Egypt, but if we will stop to remember that we are not alone, that God is with us and has called us and equipped us for the life we are pressing towards, then we too will find the courage and strength for the tasks God has given us as well. We must remind ourselves of who we are and whose we are and press on to "keep the faith."

David Robison

Thursday, April 03, 2014

A sinners dream - 1st Timothy 1:12-17

"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." (1 Timothy 1:12-17)
There were many reasons why Jesus came to this Earth, but chief among them was the saving of sinners. Without salvation from sin there would be no reason to talk about the Kingdom of God, eternal life, healing, the church, and our adoption as sons. All that God has for us is opened up to us once we are converted, born again, and have been delivered "from the authority of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of the Son of his love." (Colossians 1:13 Darby) In fact, Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

The key to finding entrance into the Kingdom of God is in being convinced of our sin and our need for forgiveness and salvation. Unless we are able to acknowledge our sinfulness we will never avail ourselves to God's love, grace, and forgiveness. Jesus said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:12-13) Jesus was not saying the Pharisees were righteous, but rather that they saw themselves as righteous, even though they themselves did not understand or keep the law. Jesus has nothing to do with those who see themselves as righteous because they themselves see no need for a savior. Their refusal to acknowledge their need of Christ serves only to enslave them to their sin. "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains." (John 9:41) Jesus came to open the eyes of the blind that they may see their true condition and turn to Jesus for salvation. However, those who refuse to be given sight and claim their blindness as seeing, how blind indeed are they!

Paul also reminds us that our past does not dictate our future. Paul, a former blasphemer and violent opposer of the things of God, turned out to be an Apostle of Christ and one who's writings has had one of the greatest influences on Christianity throughout history. When we come to Christ we are made new in every respect. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (2 Corinthians 5:17) We have been given new life and our old life has been crucified to us. We no longer need to let our former life define us nor can the things of our past serve to disqualify us from the grace and callings of God. We have been made new and our future has also been made new. And if we have any doubt of God's ability to change us and give us a new life in Christ, we need only to look to the self-proclaimed chief of sinners, Paul. If God can do it for him, God can do it for us.

David Robison

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The lawful law - 1st Timothy 1:8-11

"But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted." (1 Timothy 1:8-11)
The law used to be the gold standard of righteousness. It clearly defined what a person must do, and how they must behave, to achieve righteousness. Unfortunately, no one was able to be justified by the law because no one could keep the law. Paul reminds us that, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) The law is good and holy, but no man can keep it. It is a dead end as far as righteousness is concerned. Fortunately, the scriptures, foreseeing this problem, also prophesied of a solution. "Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, 'The righteous man shall live by faith.'" (Galatians 3:11) The scriptures foretold of a time when men would no longer be justified by the law but rather through faith. This change has taken place with the coming of Jesus Christ. "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:4) Now, those who chose to believe in Christ, are no longer judged by the law but rather justified by faith.

Those who have been justified by faith are no longer under the law as the scriptures testifies, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." (Galatians 5:18) However, if we have been freed from the law and are no longer under the law, then to what purpose does the law remain? How can it have a lawful use if it has been replaced by faith? The law still remains for the benefit of those who have yet to find faith in Christ. Paul tells us of the law, "But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."(Galatians 3:23-25)

First, Paul tells us that the law guarded and protected, as in a garrison, the faith that was later to be revealed. The law to the Israelites was to provide some basic societal protections and safeguards as God moved to prepare the way for His Christ. Laws such as, don't steal, don't kill, don't commit adultery provided for a well ordered society with proper remedies for when such laws are broken. As long as Israel obeyed the laws, their nation thrived and prospered, but when they transgressed the law, their nation suffered. Laws, especially civil laws, provide for our safety and allow us to live in community with peace and order.

However, more than this, the Law is our tutor to lead us to Christ. The particular Greek word used here is for a paedagogue whose job it was to safely conduct school children from their homes to school. The law came to take us from one place to another, from sinfulness to righteousness, from lawlessness to the law of Christ. One of the ways the law does this is by showing us our need for a savior.Paul tells us that, "the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin." (Galatians 3:22) More than this, not only does it identify our sin but also shows us the force and nature of our sins. "so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful." (Romans 7:13) Not only are we sinners but our sin is sinful. It is only when we understand our sin, and the sinful nature of that sin, that can we begin to appreciate our need for a savior. If the law teaches us anything, it is that no one can keep the law; we need help, we need a savior who can free us from the law and our sin.
"I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:21-25)
Such is the lawful use of the law, not to condemn, but to bring to life, not to be the end in itself, but to be the beginning of a journey that leads us to Jesus.

David Robison