Friday, March 02, 2012
Scripture reading: 1 Timothy 3:1-16
Personally (before we get started with the text) I find it ironic that my first and middle names come from pietistic epistles that are troublesome to me (Timothy and James). The author of the book of James seems like, a pompous sycophant and the author of the Pastoral Epistles (who I think was pseudonymously posing as Paul) is a product of his hierarchal-sexist times. But, I digress; for, God’s grace is sufficient.
The passage of “The Overseer” (v.1) has been one I’ve lived in tension with for years. Two words fascinate me, make me cringe, and cause controversy: “above reproach” (v. 2). What does this pastoral instruction even mean? Is it a call to perfection or something else? The English dictionary defines reproach as blame (among other things). However, the Greek word that we translate to reproach (anepilēmptos) appears to have a more specific meaning than blame – apprehension.
Context is everything. When we interpret scripture without context we can seriously distort its contextual meaning. For one to be, “above reproach” (in the first century Church) this term had legal implications (vv. 3-5).
First, having one wife; not a harem. Second, temperate; not enraged. Third, sensible; not stupid. Fourth, respectable; not disgraceful. There’s more but, for the sake of time, what might the legal implications of reproach be? In the first century, it was not quite safe to be a follower of Jesus the Christ. If one had a harem of wives, it likely drew attention they didn’t need. Keeping one’s temper was and is a good way to avoid undue trouble. Sensibility might keep a person from losing his head (literally). If people respected Church leaders it might dissuade apprehension (vv. 3-7).
Bishops, Deacons, Overseers, Pastors, etc., had a different role in the Early Church – survival of believers and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. There was great concern over false-teaching and blaspheme (possibly Gnosticism, depending on the date of composition, ch. 1). The piety in 1 Timothy, like other scriptures, was meant to set God’s people apart from idolatry and/or heresy.
What does this all mean for us (and our Church leaders)? One who is “above reproach,” in the Church today is one who does not bring ill fate to God’s people or the Church. Instead, proclaim the truth of Christ, “He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory” (v. 16).
Lord, God, you are holy and your majesty is revealed in Christ. The grace of the cross, in death and resurrection, has justified us. Who you are and what you’ve done continues to be proclaimed and believed throughout the world. No human being is blameless in what we do, but may our blame be met with grace and not reprehension. May you free your captive servants around the world, who face death and persecution because of your name and may we – who freely express the work of your cross – pray for those who persecute our brothers and sisters. In your name O Lord: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.