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Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 6:6-10

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and[a] we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.


Last week’s post discussed what false teachers do in their pride and arrogance: bringing about quarrels and fomenting discord.

Indeed, the churches in Ephesus and neighbouring towns had dangerous false teachers which had risen in their midst.

They also had people who were focussed on greed rather than contentment.

John MacArthur says:

Paul is correcting issues in the church at Ephesus where Timothy is now laboring. So when he brings up a subject, it is a subject that is being abused in the life of the church.

Paul tells Timothy that there is great gain to be had in godliness with contentment (verse 6).

Matthew Henry’s commentary gives us this interpretation (emphases mine):

if a man have but a little in this world, yet, if he have but enough to carry him through it, he needs desire no more, his godliness with that will be his great gain. For a little which a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked, Ps 37 16. We read it, godliness with contentment; godliness is itself great gain, it is profitable to all things; and, wherever there is true godliness, there will be contentment; but those have arrived at the highest pitch of contentment with their godliness are certainly the easiest happiest people in this world. Godliness with contentment, that is, Christian contentment (content must come from principles of godliness) is great gain; it is all the wealth in the world. He that is godly is sure to be happy in another world; and if withal he do by contentment accommodate himself to his condition in this world he has enough. Here we have, [1.] A Christian’s gain; it is godliness with contentment, this is the true way to gain, yea, it is gain itself. [2.] A Christian’s gain is great: it is not like the little gain of worldlings, who are so fond of a little worldly advantage. [3.] Godliness is ever accompanied with contentment in a great or less degree; all truly godly people have learned with Paul, in whatever state they are, to be therewith content, Phil 4 11. They are content with what God allots for them, well knowing that this is best for them. Let us all then endeavour after godliness with contentment.

MacArthur explains why Paul includes that thought in his letter to Timothy:

Well, Paul had just in verse 5 been talking about false teachers who are motivated by gain. He said they suppose that their kind of godliness, which is a fake godliness, is going to bring them material gain. That’s their motive. And then he transitions and says, “Well, godliness with contentment,” verse 6, “is great gain.” In other words, when I say that the false teacher who supposes that his godliness will bring gain is wrong, I don’t mean that true godliness isn’t great gain because it is. And that’s the transition and so he takes off in verse 6 to talk about it in a general sense and goes right on down to verse 10 to warn us all about the danger of loving money.

The false teachers and their inordinate love for money trigger the subject in a general sense from verses 6 to 10.

MacArthur says that even the great pagan thinkers of the day understood the value of contentment:

What is godliness? That’s that very familiar word used in the pastorals, eusebeia. It means reverence, piety, godliness, all those good things that I like to think of as God-likeness. Where there is true God-likeness with contentment, there is great gain. Now if all you want is money, you’ll never have that, because you’ll never be content. The genuine great gain comes from true godliness which is inseparably linked to contentment. The word autarkeias means self-sufficiency. It was used by the cynics and the stoics to speak of self-mastery, the person who was unflappable, the person who was not moved by circumstance, the person who lived immune to external distraction, oblivious to outside troubles, the person who had that most noble of human virtues, the ability not to control his environment but to properly react to it. That’s that idea of that word. It basically means to be sufficient, to seek nothing more, to be content with what you have. And it is a noble human trait, but Paul takes it further and takes that concept and that word and sanctifies it

The Greek philosopher Epicurus said “The secret of contentment is not to add to a man’s possessions but to take away from his desires.” That’s the issue. He is most rich who desires least. Right? You are rich when you are content. That’s riches. You have enough. Paul says it’s irrelevant to me. I know how to be abounding, that is to have an abundance; I know how to be abased, that is to have less than an abundance; I know how to be full; I know how to be empty; I know how to be rich and poor; and I don’t really care either way, because I am content to be in the will of God.

MacArthur refers to Matthew 6 in his sermon. These are our Lord’s words from the Sermon on the Mount which are relevant:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[f]

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Paul reminds Timothy that we came into this world with nothing and we cannot take anything out of it (verse 7).

This is the King James Version, which puts it better:

7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

The addition of ‘it is certain’ adds more emphasis.

Paul says that, if we have food and clothing, we will — should — be content (verse 8).

Of these two verses, Henry says:

We had our beings, our bodies, our lives (which are more than meat, and which are more than raiment), when we came into the world, though we came naked, and brought nothing with us; may we not then be content while our beings and lives are continued to us, though we have not every thing we would have? We brought nothing with us into this world, and yet God provided for us, care was taken of us, we have been fed all our lives long unto this day; and therefore, when we are reduced to the greatest straits, we cannot be poorer than when we came into this world, and yet then we were provided for; therefore let us trust in God for the remaining part of our pilgrimageA shroud, a coffin, and a grave, are all that the richest man in the world can have from his thousands. Therefore why should we covet much? Why should we not be content with a little, because, how much soever we have, we must leave it behind us? Eccl 5 15, 16.

Both commentators cite Proverbs 30:8, which are sometimes said to be Agur‘s because he compiled the wise sayings of Solomon that comprise Proverbs 30.

Henry says:

Observe, If God give us the necessary supports of life, we ought to be content therewith, though we have not the ornaments and delights of it. If nature should be content with a little, grace should be content with less; though we have not dainty food, though we have not costly raiment, if we have but food and raiment convenient for us we ought to be content. This was Agur’s prayer: Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me, Prov 30 8.

MacArthur says:

Proverbs 30 verse 8 says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the food that is my portion.” Give me exactly what You and Your sovereignty desire me to have. I don’t want too much; I don’t want too little. If I have too much I might be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I had too little, I might be in want and steal and profane the name of my God. So God, don’t give me too much and don’t give me too little. Give me what You want me to have with a contented heart. That’s riches. That’s riches. That’s the kind of godliness that makes a person rich because it produces satisfaction. True godliness and true gain is unrelated to how much you have. It is only related to how much you want. And if you are content with what God gives, you’re rich – you’re rich.

He cites a Spanish proverb about exiting this mortal coil:

Not one thing did you bring in and not one thing will you take out. As a friend of mine says, “You have never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul.” The Spanish proverb of past years was, “There are no pockets in a shroud.” Material possessions are bound by time and space.

He explains why Paul and Jesus say not to be anxious about material things, including money:

It obscures the simplicity of life. Verse 8 he says, “Having food and clothes” – and it’s possible the word for clothes could also embrace the idea of shelter. The word can refer to that. So if we take it in the broadest sense, having nourishment, clothing, shelter, the basic necessities of life – “let us be therewith satisfied.” Same word in the verb form used in verse 6. In other words, we need to be satisfied with the simplicity of life. Boy, life gets so complex. And the more money you have the more complex it gets. Right? And the less you can enjoy it because you sit around worrying all the time about what you’re going to do with all this money. Or you spend all your time racing around like a maniac from one place to another buying stuff you don’t need, stacking it on shelves and hang it in closets, putting it in the garage. It’s absolutely unbelievable how much we have that is useless. It doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t take us anywhere. It doesn’t provide anything. It’s just something to have. And it really is a barometer on the condition of the heart in so many cases.

Having enough money and possessions isn’t bad in itself, it’s our attitude towards both that is the issue.

MacArthur tells us:

it’s not that Paul’s condemning having possessions, he’s condemning the desire that rises out of discontent.

Nearly 40 years on from the time that MacArthur preached this sermon in 1987, Western society is stuck in the same rut. Add omnipresent mobile phones to the mix, and we are even worse off:

What we’ve done with all of our money is replace people with things, replace conversation with entertainment. And we have lost a tremendous dimension of the simplicity of life, the simple joys.

And somewhere in the back of all of our minds there’s this secret longing to go out in the woods, right, and just pack our little group and stay there. And what we’re saying is there is something wonderful about simplicity, about talking to people in your familypulling the earphones off the head of your teenager saying, “Speak, child, speak.” You know, move your lips in meaningful words. When is the last time you just sat down and thanked God for a simple meal. You can hardly even come up to thanking God for your meal because you’re so over indulged. Right? That’s a real loss, a real loss to lose that sense of thankfulness. So much is lost when we lose the simplicity of life. It’s a wistful thing to think about but I think most of us would long to go back to a simple kind of life, and take away a lot of the junk that’s cluttered up our world.

The substance of Christian experience should be relationships. My time in relationship to God, my time in relationship to people I love and family and friends, but that gets all clouded because the world goes so fast and pulls at me so strongly and demands that I purchase all the goodies that it drags by and somehow life gets so confused. Instead of being able to enjoy life, I’m trying to figure out how I can make my checks stretch to pay the bills for the stuff I can’t stand. But I bought it and so my whole demeanor and attitude is depressed because I’m in debt. You can see the compounding of all these – the loss of simple joys. Is it any wonder Jesus reduced it all to a very simple thing?

In Matthew 6 [Jesus] said, look, this is the way to live, a very simple way to live. “You can’t serve God and money,” He says in verse 24. So make your choice, “And don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat, what you drink or your body, what you’ll wear.” And then He talks about how He takes care of the birds and the lilies and all of this, and He says you’re certainly worth more than all of these things. Your Father knows you have need. And then verse 33, “Seek first” – what? – “the kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” If we could just get to the place where our whole consuming passion and affection is directed toward heaven, toward God, toward the kingdom, toward the work of the Lord and just pour all of our energy and all of our resources into that, that brings back that simple joy. The simplicity of life is to accept what God gives, not be covetous. Seek Him and His glory and not consume oneself with complexities that are not necessary, that just steal joy away.

Dining out too often is another problem as is not being able to enjoy a proper home life:

I have seen people who spend their money to eat. They go out and eat and they eat and they eat out and that becomes their fancy. And they literally cannot after a period of time eat at home. They’re controlled by this overpowering trap to go out and waste money eating, eating, eating, eating. And much of our eating today has little to do with food and a whole lot to do with entertainment and environment. I have seen people who are captive to the most bizarre and strange kind of sins. People who find it almost impossible to stay at home in the evening and have conversation with their family. They’re so compelled all the time to be moving around in the fast pace environment of the world they can’t sit still anymore. They become entrapped in that materialistic pursuit that basically is almost irrational.

Paul tells Timothy that those who desire to be rich — note, he does not say ‘those who are rich’ — fall into temptation, a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction (verse 9).

Again, I prefer the KJV because it has the word ‘perdition’:

9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.

Henry gives us this analysis:

It is not said, those that are rich, but those that will be rich, that is, that place their happiness in worldly wealth, that covet it inordinately, and are eager and violent in the pursuit of it. Those that are such fall into temptation and a snare, unavoidably; for, when the devil sees which way their lusts carry them, he will soon bait his hook accordingly …

(1.) The apostle supposes that, [1.] Some will be rich; that is, they are resolved upon it, nothing short of a great abundance will satisfy. [2.] Such will not be safe nor innocent, for they will be in danger of ruining themselves for ever; they fall into temptation, and a snare, etc. [3.] Worldly lusts are foolish and hurtful, for they drown men in destruction and perdition. [4.] It is good for us to consider the mischievousness of worldly fleshly lusts. They are foolish, and therefore we should be ashamed of them, hurtful, and therefore we should be afraid of them, especially considering to what degree they are hurtful, for they drown men in destruction and perdition.

MacArthur has more:

verse 9, money love is dangerous not only because of its nature, that is what inherent to it, but because of its effects – what it does to you. And again there are three things that I would draw to your attention. First of all, in verse 9, it leads to sinful entrapment. Verse 9, “But they that will be rich” – they that purpose to be rich. That they decide to be rich – boulomai. They that have a settled rational desire to be rich out of their mind, not out of their emotions, but they have decided they’re going to pursue it. To put it another way, they that are greedy. To put it another way, they that love money. They that approach life that way – “are falling” – present tense – “into temptation” – it’s kind of an over and over situation – “and a snare.” They’re continually in the process of falling into all kinds of sins that trap them – that trap them …

The greedy person is tempted initially to reach out for what he wants. He reaches out, steps into the trap, is caught in the trap of sin. That trap then begins to make a victim out of that person.

We know people like that. I think about the people who are now joining Gamblers Anonymous. They wanted money. And they started to gamble for money and it became so compulsive that it literally controls their life. I just read the article about that quarterback from Ohio State named Art Schlichter who totally destroyed his football career and his life by being unable to control the love of money and the tremendous compulsion to gamble. What happens with the love of money is you love it so much something allures you, you reach for that something, and you’re trapped in some complex situation. You become a victim of it. It’s a trap. And Satan sets the trap and holds you in it as long as he possibly can

And then secondly, not only does it lead to sinful entrapment, but it succumbs to harmful desires. Verse 9 he says, “And they also are falling into many foolish and harmful desires.” You get involved in the love of money and not only will you be trapped, but you’ll be controlled by your passion, controlled by your desire. He calls them foolish – epithumia – foolish evil impulses in the sense that they’re irrational. Here is this person like an animal caught in a trap thrashing all over the place trying to get free, totally irrational, moral sense is blurred, and the burning desire for self-fulfillment and more money, a senseless non-rational illogical animalistic kind of conduct. They become victims of their own lust. And James says in [Chapter] 4, you desire – [Chapter] 4 verse 1 and 2 – you desire to have and you can’t obtain, so you kill. You lust and you want; you can’t get, so you make war. In other words, all the violence that comes when your passions are restrained by circumstances.

So he says first of all the love of money is dangerous for the obvious reason that it takes you into a sinful trap and secondly that once you’re trapped in there you become a victim of illogical irrational animalistic desires which bring you harm. They are harmful – blaberos. It means injurious. You hurt yourself – the opposite of true happiness. Chasing money is not the way to happiness. It’s the way to being trapped in sin and being a victim of your lusts and a victim of your desires and totally a victim of these evil habits that control you. So loving money leads to sin. It leads to entrapment. It leads to control by lust that is irrational and only brings self-inflicted harm.

Then MacArthur comes to destruction and perdition:

And then the final effect, he says in verse 9, “Which drown men in destruction and perdition.” These lusts, these evil impulses ultimately drown men in judgment. The word drown means just that, to submerge, to drag to the bottom like a sunken ship. The picture is not of a partial devastation; it’s of a total devastation. That’s why he chose the word. They just go out of sight; they’re just gone. The word destruction – olethros – is used very often of the body, the destruction of the body, although it can also be used in a general sense of destruction as it is in 1 Thessalonians 5:3. The word perdition is used, I think, most times of the destruction of the soul. It’s used, for example, of the place where the false prophet and the beast are cast in Revelation 17:8. The hell of hells where souls go who do not know God. And what he’s saying is, if we can put those two together and make a little bit of a distinction, we can say that there’s a total devastation of body and soul, total judgment. The combination here has the sense at least of complete eternal irreversible loss. Love of money damns people. It plunges them into an ocean of eternal destruction. It totally destroys their life.

Paul ends this section by saying that the love of money — note, not money itself, but coveting it — is the root of all kinds of evils; it is through that craving that some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (verse 10).

For most of us, the KJV will resonate more:

10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Henry gives us another version of Paul’s verse — some people love money so much they will give up their faith for it, in vain:

What sins will not men be drawn to by the love of money? Particularly this was at the bottom of the apostasy of many from the faith of Christ; while they coveted money, they erred from the faith, they quitted their Christianity, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. Observe, [1.] What is the root of all evil; the love of money: people may have money, and yet not love it; but, if they love it inordinately, it will push them on to all evil. [2.] Covetous persons will quit the faith, if that be the way to get money: Which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith. Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, 2 Tim 4 10. For the world was dearer to him than Christianity. Observe, Those that err from the faith pierce themselves with many sorrows; those that depart from God do but treasure up sorrows for themselves.

MacArthur gives us an example of such a covetous person, one who ended up committing suicide:

Who does he have in mind? Who are the some who did this? Well, I can think of one, he’s not named but he must have been in the thought of Paul. His name was – what? Judas, who having loved money erred from the faith. In proximity to Jesus Christ, one of His disciples, and yet he chose, over the Son of God, 30 pieces of silver – inconceivable stupidity. You think that was rational? You think it was smart to choose 30 pieces of silver over against the God of the universe?

… Certainly Judas was dissatisfied, grieving, disillusioned with a condemning conscience and an unfulfilled heart when he went out an hanged himself. He pierced himself through, believe me, with many, many griefs, and he will be pierced with them forever and ever in hell. That’s no way to live. So Paul says this is something that’s already been out there for you to see, some have tried to live after the love of money, they have erred from the true faith and they have literally skewered their souls forever.

MacArthur offers the following valuable advice, both materially and spiritually:

Now let me ask you a practical question at this point, see if we can’t make it practical in terms of application. How can you be content with the simplicity of life and stop desiring more things? How do you put an end to this? How do you put the brakes on? We are really moving fast, and we’re being blasted by all this media stuff to buy into everything. How do you stop it? Let me give you some principles that I’ve tried to apply in my own life. One, consciously realize that the Lord is the owner of everything you have. Consciously realize that the Lord is the owner of everything you have. So when you go to buy something ask yourself this, does the Lord need this? Does the Lord want this? Is this going to serve Him better? Is this going to bring Him glory? Is this going to enable His kingdom to advance? He is the conscious owner of everything I possess. So whatever is my desire, is this going to fit with His? Is this going to make my ministry more effective? Is this going to enable me to accomplish what I need to accomplish? Is this going to be able to be used as a way to show love to other people? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. He is consciously the owner of everything I possess. That helps me in the decision process.

Secondly, cultivate a thankful heart. Cultivate a thankful heart. Whatever you have, whatever you don’t have, be thankful. Which is to say I recognize, God, that Your providence has put me exactly where I am with what I have and what I don’t have and I want You to know I’m really grateful. I’m really grateful. Thirdly, discern your needs from your wants. Discern your needs from your wants and be honest about that. If you just start asking yourself that. That will be a tremendous controlling factor on your next trip to the mall. What do you need? Tremendous, tremendously simple question that could put a tremendous amount of money into the kingdom of the Lord.

Another one, don’t buy what you don’t need and can’t use to make you more effective in serving Him, and that’s kind of what we said originally. Don’t buy what you don’t need and can’t use to make you more effective in serving Him. So you ask yourself, how will this enhance my ability to serve God? Another question that you want to ask yourself, am I spending less than I make? Please spend less than you make. You would be staggered to find out what a high percentage of people in America regularly spend more than they make and are in debt that they’ll never get out of in their life time. They’re total prisoners. They have no ability to be at all in charge of their resources. Spend less than you make; save what’s left. Save what’s left for some purpose which God may put upon your heart.

Consciously transfer the ownership of everything you have to Him; cultivate a thankful heart; discern your needs from your wants; don’t buy what you don’t need and can’t use to make you more effective in serving Him; spend less than you make; save what’s left and give sacrificially to the Lord. Give sacrificially to the Lord. That should be your highest joy. You should be coming in here so anxious for the offering that you can hardly stand it, just so that you have the privilege of giving to God. Laying up treasure in heaven for the work of the kingdom.

And things like this, practical little things like this, if you can get them working in your mind are going to prevent your life from becoming a complex struggle over money. The joy of life is not what you have. Listen, the joy of life is your relationships; it’s who you know and who you love. Just compare when you lose someone you love, you would have gladly traded everything or maybe – anything or everything, I should say, for the person you lost because people are so much more valuable. I think Jesus, when He speaks of the true riches, has in mind people. If you can’t handle money, why would He give you the true riches, He says. So the nature of money love makes it dangerous because it ignores the true gain, it focuses on the temporal, and it obscures the simplicity of life, the simple joys of being content with whatever you have and building your life around relationships and honoring God rather than the complexity of attaining riches.

In the verses that follow, Paul reminds Timothy of his sacred calling, the ministry.

Next time — 1 Timothy 6:11-12


Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 6:1-2

Let all who are under a yoke as slaves[a] regard their own masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instructions to Timothy on the treatment of elders, or pastors, especially in matters of church discipline and discerning their suitability to become church leaders in the first place.

Today’s post focuses on Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding slaves.

Slavery is a hot topic these days.

However, slavery in the eras of the Old and New Testaments was, in many cases, akin to regular employment, for reasons explained below.

The word ‘slave’ in Greek is ‘doulos’. However, a great number of slaves were bondservants, who were tied to their masters, often willingly.

Compelling Truth says that slaves of the Bible eras and even into the latter days of the Roman empire, in many cases, lived lives that had no comparison to slaves in the United States or the West Indies centuries ago. Many lived in what we would call working class or middle class circumstances. This is why the Bible had little to say about slavery (emphases mine):

Does this mean the Bible condoned or promoted slavery? Not necessarily. First, it is clear that the role of a bondservant was broader than views of modern slavery, which explains why some New Testament writing gave instructions for “how” to treat bondservants instead of only commanding their freedom.

In addition, Paul’s most personal letter, the letter to Philemon, offers the most direct discussion of slavery in the New Testament. When the runaway slave Onesimus became a Christian, Paul sent this letter with him to return to his master. Paul wrote, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:15-16). He clearly noted that the bondservant and his owner were brothers and of equal status before God. Further, Paul told Philemon to “receive him as you would receive me” (Philemon 1:17). How would Philemon be expected to receive Paul? As a fellow believer, treated with respect. Paul indirectly suggests giving Onesimus his freedom (verse 18). Tradition records that Onesimus later became a church leader.

The bondservant was a common role in the New Testament period that ranged from slave to bonded laborer. Commands were given to Christians regarding proper treatment, with freedom recommended whenever possible (1 Corinthians 7:21). Most importantly, the image of the bondservant became one of great importance for Christians, who are called to live as bondservants of Christ Jesus.

This is what 1 Corinthians 7:21 says:

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so.

The Apostles, especially Paul, considered themselves bondservants of Christ. Our Lord Himself put a primary emphasis on service to others, notably when He washed the feet of the Twelve just before the Last Supper:

The New Testament also notes that Jews owned bondservants or slaves. Because bondservants existed as a known role in culture, Jesus included them as characters in His own parables (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 12:41-48). In contrast with the cultural view, Jesus taught that the greatest was the “servant (doulos) of all” (Mark 9:35).

In many New Testament books, the word bondservant was used in reference to a person’s commitment to Jesus. Most of Paul’s letters begin by referring to himself as a servant of Christ Jesus. James and Jude, half-brothers of Jesus, both refer to themselves as Christ’s bondservants. The apostle Peter called himself a “servant and apostle” (2 Peter 1:1).

The importance of these New Testament authors referring to themselves as bondservants should not be overlooked. Despite proclaiming a message of freedom from sin in Jesus Christ, these writers were dedicated to Jesus as their one master. Further, their service to the Lord was not one they could consider leaving. Just as a bondservant was more than an employee who could leave for another job, these Christians were servants who could never leave their master for another.

John MacArthur preached a whole sermon on slavery in connection with these verses. I will go into it in more detail but let’s start with this:

Now when you go to the New Testament or the Old Testament, you have to understand this. It was a very workable system. It was a very manageable system. And when you think of slavery, don’t think of half-naked people in ratty clothes and chains dangling around their ankles. And don’t think of people who are being whipped in the back or smacked with sticks or were working seven days a week and sixteen hours a day. Think of people who are treated graciously who are a part of a family who have contracted to offer their skills and services for a period of time. And where there was an abuse, there was an abuse in the heart. And that can happen in any situation.

MacArthur says that there were abuses, especially during Roman times, but that did not mean that every slave was treated cruelly:

There were abuses in the Greco-Roman world. Particularly the Romans were abusive from time to time. They did not permit some slaves to marry ever. They had conjugal rights with women and when they gave birth to children, the children became more slaves. They in many ways treated slaves as if they were animals, having no more rights than a beast of burden. There were abuses particularly in the Roman area. There were [fewer] abuses than that typically in Palestine where slavery was a little bit more minimal. But surely there were abuses. And there are abuses of any kind of economic or social system of employment.

MacArthur also says:

Now with all that in mind you understand why, don’t you, in the Old Testament there’s no cry to end slavery. And in the New Testament there’s no cry to end slavery either because the system itself is only a system. And when good hearted people participate in it, it works fine – it works fine. There were abuses of that system. Let me tell you something, folks, we don’t have a slavery system in the United States, but we’ve got a lot of abuses in our system, too. There are a lot of unhappy employers; there are a lot of miserable workers. And I said at the very beginning, 70 percent of the people in the labor force of the United States hate their job for whatever reason. So the abuse factor is the issue; the evil heartedness is the issue. And listen carefully, that is why that when the preachers and teachers of the Old Testament went out, they went to speak a message to change the heart. And when Jesus came and the apostles and prophets went out, they spoke a message to change the heart, because it isn’t the form of the system; it is the heart. That’s the issue.

And the abuses come because the hearts aren’t right. And so what we preach is not, “Let’s overthrow the system.” What we preach is, “Let’s transform the heart.” So we’re not interested in political or economic or social revolution; we are interested in proclaiming the gospel and creating a spiritual revolution. And I believe that slavery was ultimately abolished in America as a direct result of the transformed hearts of people who were impacted in the great revivals of this nation.

There’s more to come about how slavery worked in the ancient world and why no one objected to it.

Slavery encompassed a wide ranging group from cooks to manservants to skilled workmen to accountants to property managers. Many slaves could contract short- or long-term arrangements with their masters. They also earned more money and had better working conditions than a day labourer or a soldier.

As such, this can be considered akin to our modern, Western employment arrangements.

MacArthur points out that professional athletes earning big money are also bondservants in a way:

… it’s very little different than people today who sign long-term contracts with any employer. I think about that every time I see one of these high-priced athletes sign a five-year contract. What he’s basically doing is becoming an indentured servant. What he’s doing is becoming a slave under contract in bondage to the one with whom he covenanted that contract.

In the ancient world, even outside the Roman empire, wherever one went, there were slaves.

MacArthur explains that sometimes slaves came collectively, through conquest, or individually during times of peace. People considered slavery to be a mutually beneficial arrangement for slave and master:

… in understanding the biblical teaching about slavery and masters, we need to divorce ourselves from that kind of thing which is racially discriminatory and which is, for the most part, abusive and structures itself into social stratas that are wrong and not pleasing to God at all. And we need to get a whole new understanding of the social structure of servants and masters that we find in the New Testament. So that’s what I want you to do. Put that other stuff aside and try to understand it in its proper biblical frame of reference. All right?

Now slavery in the biblical sense has its roots deep in the Old Testament, deep in the Middle East. And I want to just talk about that for a moment. Slaves were primarily domestic employees of a family. And they worked sometimes, as I said, out in the field, but for the most part they belonged to the household. They were, for example, cooks and household managers. You would have a doulos who managed your household. He was your bookkeeper. He was your inventory controller. He was the one who decided how to use your resources. And he would be one who had contracted to come into your service and in exchange for his long-term submission to you, you gave him his housing, his clothing, his food, and a proper amount of money for living expenses and personal things.

You might be interested to know that in the ancient times in the Middle East, artisans were doulos, were slaves or servants. Teachers were slaves. When you wanted someone to come and teach your children and raise them in the things of wisdom and knowledge, you would bring in a servant to do that. Not unlike early America. You remember in the colonization of America the term indentured servant. People in Europe were literally contracting to sell their services to a family over here in the New World for say seven, ten, fifteen years. They would come over based upon the fact that they were guaranteed employment. They would be cared for by the family. And when those years ran out, they would be free to then pursue their own career and their own objectives in the New World.

Now slaves in those ancient times were acquired in many different ways. One was they were the captives from conquest. In fact, the people of Israel knew what it was to be servants to conquering nations. They were servants to the Phoenicians, the Philistines, the Syrians, the Babylonians, and the Romans. And there were other nations who in being conquered by Israel were servants to them as well. In fact in ancient times, it was thought to be a very humanitarian option to conquer a people and them make them servants. In effect, that’s what the Babylonians did with Daniel and his friends. Right? And Daniel, in the role of being a servant, rose to become the prime minister of the whole Babylonian Empire and even the Medo-Persian Empire that succeeded it.

So rather than killing the enemy you conquered, you would keep them and put them in the role of serving you. That solved a lot of problems. One, it provided for you servants. Two, it provided for them their needs. Three, it brought them into your culture. And four, if it was Jewish, it brought them into the knowledge of your God and your religion and the truth of revelation. So you find an illustration of this – for example, Numbers chapter 31, Deuteronomy chapter 20, and 2 Chronicles chapter 28. All three of those show how a conquered people are brought in to serve the conqueror with a view to teaching them, to providing for them, to showing humanitarianism to them and to, in the case of Israel, exposing them to the truth of their God. So the first way that people became servants was through being captive in war.

Secondly, people were brought into this role of doulos through purchase. You could be a foreigner, for example, and you could be purchased. For example, let’s say a guy from another country comes into Israel, and he’s looking for employment. A land owner can buy his services, and he can take him in. He then sells himself to that individual. By the way, there was a death penalty, according to Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7, for kidnapping and selling a free man. But a man who was already a doulos or a slave or who sought to be, could be bought and sold, according to Leviticus 25:44 to 46.

Furthermore, a father might sell his daughter. In Exodus 21:7 and Nehemiah 5, a father can sell his daughter to work in a home. It wasn’t a bad thing or an evil thing to do. You literally contracted with someone to employ your daughter over a period of time, and your daughter went to work for that family. Not uncommonly, when she reached marriage age, she would marry the master of the house or one of the sons of the master of the house. And so in that sense it was a very good thing for both families.

A widow, according to 2 Kings 4:1, might sell her children into the employment of someone in order to pay off her husband’s debts which he being dead could no longer pay. And in Leviticus 25:39 and following and Deuteronomy 15:12 to 17, people sold themselves into employment. Literally went and contracted for their services with someone and became slaves in that sense. Children were also sold under conditional contracts, according to Exodus 21. A very interesting case in Nehemiah 5, the first part of the chapter, apparently a father had used his children as collateral for a loan. And when he defaulted on the loan, he had to put his children into service in order to pay back what he had borrowed.

So self-sale was not uncommon. And people could employ people who were willing to be bought, and there were people whom one owner would sell to another owner. There were people who desired to serve life-long with a master, and there were people who desired to serve short time. And there was within the slavery system the ability to contract and negotiate whatever it was that you both agreed on. According to Leviticus 25, interestingly enough, the Old Testament said fifty years is maximum for any service – 50 years. That’s for any non-Jew, any of the Gentile people that came into service, 50-year limit. For a Jew, get this, 6 years. And the reason, I think, is very obvious. When a Gentile come into the service of a Jew, he was exposed to all the truth of God, and so God wanted them to remain there as long as possible and so made the 50-year limit. It could be negotiated shorter than that, but that would be the limit. For a Jew, it was only six years. And that way the Jew had less time forced upon him, perhaps, in any individual or given contract situation. By the way, you can find that in Exodus 21:2 to 4 and Deuteronomy 15:12, the limit of six years was set upon a Jew.

Now another way that people went into slavery was through debt. If you incurred a debt you couldn’t pay back, you might have to go to work for someone to work off the debt. And you became the slave until the debt was eliminated. A thief, for example, a thief who could not pay what he had taken was placed into slavery to the one he had robbed, or the court would put him in slavery with someone else, and he would work off all that he needed to work off, or he would earn enough in his work to give back to someone that he had stolen from. Some slaves were received as gifts. In Genesis chapter 29, Leah received her slave, Zilpah, as a gift. Her personal attendant, this other young lady, was given her as a gift.

And then non-Hebrew slaves were passed on from generation to generation within a family so that you could actually inherit a slave or a servant, according to Leviticus 25:46. There was the more prolonged contract for those who were the original inhabitants of Canaan rather than the short six years for the Jews. And then you could be born into that situation if your parents were under contract as slaves to someone. So you get a little picture. There were a lot of people who were moving in and out of this kind of relationship in the society of the Middle East.

Slaves had many rights, at least in the Jewish world. Some also loved their masters so much they pledged their service for life:

In fact, they were so concerned about the legal rights of those who were the working force that the Old Testament is loaded with the rights and privileges of those who were slaves. Exodus 21, Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15 are good starting points to understand this. But let me just give you a brief review.

First of all, they could not as Jews be more than six years in bondage to any one master. They could renew their contract as long as they wanted, or they could say I want to serve him for life, and they would lean him against a door post and punch a hole in their ear and hang an earring or something in there so they would be for life identified as a willing servant of the one whom they had taken for their master. So if they were under contract to a master, that master had to take care of their housing, had to take care of their food, had to take care of their clothing, had to pay them on top of that, had to support their wife and all their children. That was necessary.

Now if the man came to the end of his six years and wanted to leave, he could take his wife and all of his kids. The guy would lose a lot of workers. Unless he had come into his service single and married someone who was already in service to that family, he couldn’t just marry the person and then at the end of his time take them all out. Obviously if that was permitted, people who wanted out of their contracts would find somebody to marry them, break the contract, and that wouldn’t work at all. So you couldn’t take one with you unless you brought her in or unless her time was up also. She was to remain and you had to leave alone if her time was not up.

Furthermore, they had tremendous religious rights within the covenant of Israel, even Gentiles once they identified as servants of a Jewish household had to go under certain vows and they were allowed to enjoy the sabbath rest just like the rest of the people and to enjoy the Passover as well. They had civil rights. If they were injured, they were immediately to be freed. If you poked their eye out or if you broke a tooth or any kind of bodily harm to a slave, they were free – any cruelty, any premeditated injury. If you premeditated the murder of a slave, you were sentenced to the death penalty. So they had rights and they had privileges. They had social rights. They could marry. They could have as many children as they could have and they could have a lot. And when they left they could all go free. And while they stayed the house owner had to support them all.

They had economic rights. They could acquire property and slaves could also have slaves. So you had an enterprising slave who subcontracted to his own slaves the duties that he himself didn’t want to do or whatever. They were given protective rights. Foreign slaves coming and seeking asylum in Israel, according to Deuteronomy 23:15 and 16, were given asylum and protection. The state of Israel even hired state slaves which would be like civil service employees, according to Joshua 16:10 and Judges 1:28, and hundreds of them manned the duties of the temple. They were supported by the state of Israel.

Now in general then, these were household domestic people. They were really members of the family. In fact in Exodus 20:17 they are grouped with women and children. They were as much a part of the family as the women and the children. And as the father, the head of the family, cared for the women and the children, he would also care for the servants or the slaves. They were to be treated with the same love and the same kindness. By the way, Paul says in Galatians 4:1 that a child was no better than a slave. They had rights; they had privileges. And they enjoyed a very good life, for the most part

So nowhere in the Old Testament and nowhere in the New Testament does it say that slaves are to leave their masters and masters are to release their slaves …  That’s not even an issue. If attitudes are right, that’s what matters.

There was one job a master could not ask of a Jewish slave — washing feet:

… if you had a Jewish slave, he was never to be asked to do the most disreputable task which was washing feet, because that would be publicly branding him as a slave, and it was important to protect his dignity. So they would invariably find a Gentile to do the foot washing. That’s what makes the washing of the feet of the disciples by Jesus such a remarkable act of humility. It was more than a Jew would ever be asked to do in the most abject humility.

MacArthur has more on what was, by and large, a good life:

By law, on the other hand, the slave was equal to the oldest son in the family and he had a right to the same treatment that the master gave his oldest son. He had a right to good clothes, good food, a good place at the table with the family, and a good bed. He could acquire possessions. He could buy things. He could find things and keep things. He could receive gifts, and he could shorten his time of service by making payments. He could marry and his master had to take care of his whole family. The six-year rule still prevailed. He could stay or leave for a better opportunity at the end of the six years. That’s a very reasonable rule. I imagine every employer would like, if he finds a good employee, to sign him up for that length of time so he doesn’t have to worry about turn over. But it also gave an out if the situation wasn’t all that it ought to be.

In fact, Jewish slaves were so protected that an old Jewish saying was, “Whoever buys a Jewish slave, buys himself a master.” They had it good. And all glimpses of slaves in the gospel record of the New Testament are in a positive light and they show a high level of respect and treatment. In fact, the centurion was burdened and wanted Jesus to heal his slave, because he was dear to his heart.

Slaves in Palestine were even paid their full wage up front:

Palestine also had many Gentile slaves. Some of them were certainly abused, as perhaps some of the Jewish ones were. But the average slave cost about two thousand times the daily wage – two thousand times the daily wage. They were expensive. And when you brought one in for six years, you gave him the money for the full six years up front. At the signing of the contract he was completely compensated. Now in general the treatment was so good that people sought this rather than being a day laborer.

Roman slaves were also treated rather well:

Turning with me for a moment to the Greco-Roman world where Paul is writing to Ephesus, what kind of situation was there? We’ve seen the Old Testament, the Middle East and Palestine, but what about Ephesus and other places? It was very much the same. In the third century B.C., slavery was very bad, very abusive. But from the third to the first century, most historians believe there was a humanitarian movement in the Roman world. And by the time you come to the first century, there is a very much better treatment of slaves than in the second and third century before Christ. The Romans were freeing them all the time and most historians believe there was a great freedom movement generated by the Roman government at the time of Christ. For example, as early as from 81 to 49 B.C., before Christ, the record shows, this is a study by a man named Tenney Frank, titled “Economic Survey of Ancient Rome.” The study shows that there were released in the city of Rome in that 30-year period 500,000 slaves and the population of Rome is estimated at 870,000 people. That’s a large number of slaves being released. In a three-year period, 46 to 44 B.C., Caesar is supposed to have sent out 80,000 poor people and slaves to colonize other parts of the Roman Empire. They also freed slaves because every time you freed a slave there was a five percent value tax that the guy who freed the slave had to pay, and so the more slaves were freed, the more money came into the government coffers, and so that helped them decide to do that, too.

But there doesn’t seem to be the abuse. You go a little earlier than that and you see these people who were abused in their roles of slaves. Now let’s say this for sure. There were some abuses, as there are today in the United States, some employment abuses. That’s obvious because men are sinful. But the slaves in the Roman Empire were for the most part better off than their free man counterparts. I’ll give you an idea why. The typical scene is again portrayed by Tenney Frank in his survey, “Economic Survey of Ancient Rome.” And this is kind of the scenario he paints. The free man who just sold himself to whoever to do whatever work could be done was paid one denarius a day. Okay? One denarius a day. Compare that say with the soldiers of Julius Caesar. The archeological records say they were paid 225 denarii a year, which would be less than one a day but they were given all their food, all their shelter, all their booty, and Caesar Augustus gave them a 3,000 denarii bonus on the twentieth year of their service. One of Caesar’s scribes received one denarius a day. So just a day laborer, a soldier would be around one denarius a day.

Diocletian, in fact, set the wages at one half to one denarius. And let’s assume that a free man worked six days a week. Okay? I’m painting a little picture. He works six days a week at one denarius a day, he’s going to get 330 denarii a year. A hundred and eighty four of that would go for his food. They have figured that out. Five to ten of it would go for clothing, and that would be very poor, very ragged clothing. Ninety denarii at least would go for his room, that adds to 279 and leaves him about 35 denarii left for everything else for a full year.

Compare that, for example, with a slave. He received all his food and the best of food that the house had to offer. And the house would have had to have some decent food or it couldn’t have employed domestic servants. The best of clothing, the best of places to stay, and it is estimated that most of the slaves of ancient times stayed on the top floor of the house, inside the house. And they would have received their housing, their clothing, their food plus 60 denarii a year spending money, which is double what the other man who is a free man would have had if indeed he had worked every day through the year. So it was to his advantage if he could find somebody that would take him on, to say nothing of the fact that he would then have to feed, clothe all his family. Whereas the day laborer would have to feed, clothe himself and all his family on those wages. So you can see the benefit was really in behalf of the man who could find a way to contract himself to work as a slave.

Now on to today’s verses.

MacArthur explains why Paul would have written guidance for slaves:

Now remember, Timothy is in Ephesus. Right? Paul has come out of his imprisonment. In the time that he has been away, the Ephesian church has really fallen on hard times. It has declined tragically. Paul was its founder. Paul was its original pastor. Paul is the one who ordained and trained the original elders. The church had all the best beginnings. It was used to found other churches in Asia Minor – modern Turkey. It was a tremendously blessed and powerful church. But by now the leadership has [become] corrupted. The people have bought into ungodly behavior. All kinds of tragic things are happening. It has filtered down to the life style of the people so that in the work place they are denying and blaspheming the testimony of God. And it is to that issue that Paul encourages Timothy to speak.

Let me give you the simple picture here. In verse 1 we have the relationship between an employee and a non-Christian employer. In verse 2, the relationship between an employee and a Christian employer.

Paul says that all under the yoke of slavery should regard their masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, even with employers who fall short are still worthy of our respect, otherwise we do God — and Christ — a disservice and we are no better than unbelievers. In fact, we might be worse than unbelievers:

They must respect their masters, count them worthy of all honour (because they are their masters), of all the respect, observance, compliance, and obedience, that are justly expected from servants to their masters. Not that they were to think that of them which they were not; but as their masters they must count them worthy of all that honour which was fit for them to receive, that the name of God be not blasphemed. If servants that embraced the Christian religion should grow insolent and disobedient to their masters, the doctrine of Christ would be reflected on for their sakes, as if it had made men worse livers than they had been before they received the gospel. Observe, If the professors of religion misbehave themselves, the name of God and his doctrine are in danger of being blasphemed by those who seek occasion to speak evil of that worthy name by which we are called. And this is a good reason why we should all conduct ourselves well, that we may prevent the occasion which many seek, and will be very apt to lay hold of, to speak ill of religion for our sakes … for Jesus Christ did not come to dissolve the bond of civil relation, but to strengthen it

Paul says that those with believing masters must not be disrespectful because they are brothers in a spiritual sense; as such, the servant should be that much better, doing so in love, because of his superior’s Christian faith, therefore, Timothy should teach and urge these things (verse 2).

Henry tells us:

They must think themselves the more obliged to serve them because the faith and love that bespeak men Christians oblige them to do good; and that is all wherein their service consists. Observe, It is a great encouragement to us in doing our duty to our relations if we have reason to think they are faithful and beloved, and partakers of the benefit, that is, of the benefit of Christianity. Again, Believing masters and servants are brethren, and partakers of the benefit; for in Christ Jesus there is neither bond nor free, for you are all one in Christ Jesus, Gal 3 28. Timothy is appointed to teach and exhort these things. Ministers must preach not only the general duties of all, but the duties of particular relations.

So what does this mean for us, we who are in an employer-employee relationship?

Interestingly, MacArthur preached these two sermons in 1987, at a time when some Americans began to become disgruntled with the daily grind. Nearly 40 years later, the same negative attitudes persist. Admittedly, I will be the first to say what a blessing retirement is, and I understand the sentiment fully.

MacArthur brings these verses into a present-day context:

Not uncommon even today. A Christian who is working under a non-Christian tends to feel superior. In fact, even intolerantly superior, even belligerently superior. And after all, he’s headed for hell and you’re headed for heaven. After all you’re elect and he’s non-elect. And you’re going to make sure you try to keep it that way. And it’s very easy for a person who is spiritually blessed to feel himself superior to a person who is spiritually bankrupt. And his attitude of superiority begins to project itself in the way he responds to and the way he lacks respect for and the way he serves or does not serve his employer. It’s easy for that resentment to build up and if the guy does things you don’t like, says things you don’t like and you just don’t get along very well, that tendency toward a feeling of superiority is compounded.

I read recently about some company that was putting on some kind of health preparedness course and was taking systematically all their workers through all different kinds of diseases in order to help them to recognize them so they didn’t bring some infectious disease into the work place. It was a large area with a lot of people in close contact. And the instructor was asking one person, “What’s the first thing you’d do if you found you had rabies?” Without hesitating the employee responded, “I’d bite my boss.” And I think there are a lot of employees who can really relate to that sentiment. That’s just really how it is out there. As Christians we can be irritated by the unbeliever who doesn’t understand us, who doesn’t understand our ethics, who doesn’t understand equity, who doesn’t understand compassion or all of the spiritual things that we understand. And we become, by being a problem to him, a discredit to Christ, because if we are a problem to him, then the only Christ he may see is us and Christ becomes a problem to him.

On the other hand, let’s assume that a Christian employee works for a Christian employer. You say, “Boy, I wish I had a Christian boss. Boy, wouldn’t that be paradise? Wouldn’t that be perfect if I just had a Christian employer?” But there’s a tension there as well. The attitude of a Christian employee who is sinful and fleshy and expressing a belligerent or disobedient spirit may come out in the sense that he feels equal to his employer and so he overrides the normal channels of authority. In other words, because my boss is a Christian and I’m a Christian, I’m privileged. As one employee said to me recently, “I don’t go with any of that protocol stuff. You know, I know the boss and he and I are close because we’re Christians. I go right to him and bypass everybody else.”

Well, your privilege, sir, is probably a serious discredit to the cause of Christ. Right? Because all the rest of the people who can’t do that resent you because of your openness and the inability that they have to enjoy that same thing. You can feel privileged over all the rest because you have this commonality in Christ. You could even feel that that’s an excuse for poor work and after all, you’re a brother in Christ. The worst he can do is come and give you step one discipline, and you’ve still got two to go. And if you repent on the first shot, you’re in.

You might even think to yourself, “That because we’re equal in Christ and because the Spirit dwells in me, I ought to tell him how he ought to run this company. The Holy Spirit’s been talking to me lately and giving me all the input.” Or you might even feel that you could get away with inadequate service without any negative consequence, or you might even feel that you can let your break time and your lunch time leak a little, because you’re studying the Bible, or even better yet listening to Grace to You, and it happen to go on a little past the end of your break time.

I mean, you understand the picture. Don’t you? I mean, let’s face it, in our sinfulness, working for an unsaved employer can create problems for us – an intolerant superiority. But listen, having a Christian employer isn’t going to necessarily change that, or a Christian boss or supervisor or manager, because there’s still going to be a tension there for us to assume that in Christ we have just destroyed all normal social order, and that’s not true.

That is what was happening in Ephesus:

Their ungodliness, their lack of eusebeia – uses that word a lot of times in these epistles – their lack of godliness, their lack of holiness, their lack of understanding correct doctrine, their lack of having been taught properly had filtered all the way down so that they were not conducting themselves right before their non-Christian or their Christian employers. And so consequently in these brief two verses the Apostle Paul sums up the basics of attitudes necessary for a conscientious Christian employee.

Today, in England, we have an estimated 5 million people out of work and on benefit. Supposedly, our population is 60 million, so that is a noticeable percentage of people being idle. Many of them got used to the pandemic furlough and realised they can get by on less, hence benefits.

We also have had endless strikes over the past year.

MacArthur takes issue with that, too:

As soon as you perceive your employment as self-serving, then you will fight against everything you do – everything you do will be self-serving, self-indulgence. That’s why people strike all the time. They don’t care about the employment situation from the viewpoint of the employer. They don’t certainly care about the attitude they project very often. All they care about is the demands that they have for themselves. Now there are times when inequities do occur and equity can be brought out even from the negative thing of a strike or whatever. But it does for the most part demonstrate the selfishness and the self-gratification mode in which most people work.

MacArthur reminds us of our obligation to work for a living — for the benefit of others:

You are called into your employment. And there you are called to serve men. You’re not called to serve yourself. Boy, we have lost that, as I said earlier. We think we have a job for one reason and that’s to make money to do what we want for our own selves. But the biblical approach to work would say, “No, we have a job on the human level to serve someone else. That my employment is my way of lovingly serving another person for the common good.”

God called us to work. Even when Adam and Eve were still in the Garden of Eden, God wanted Adam to work:

Just to set your thinking a little bit, in Genesis chapter 2 we read this in verse 15, “And the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to till it and to keep it.” The Fall of man didn’t come until chapter 3. In chapter 2, God designed man to work. Man was created to be a worker. He was created to work. Work is not part of the curse, sweat is part of the curse. It is the intensity of work necessary to earn the bread that implies the curse, but work is a blessing. Man was created to work.

In conclusion:

Your job is where God has placed you. That’s His will. Do it from your heart and do it unto Him. You’re serving men but in serving them best you serve God.

You always have to have that perspective. We’re advancing the kingdom. I’m here not to fulfill my own desires, not to make money, to indulge myself, not to get a bigger car, bigger house, bigger boat, more money, more savings, more security, whatever it is. My task in life is to serve the advance of the kingdom of God. So on my job I don’t lose my testimony in trying to get a raise, because my objective in life is not more money. My objective in life is to advance the kingdom of God so under no conditions would I ever lose my testimony. Right? …

Let me tell you something. When you go to receive your reward in glory, you will be rewarded not just for what you did at the church. I don’t think people understand thatthe Lord will reward you on the basis of how you perform that job within His will, because that is your calling and there’s no such thing as a secular job. That’s a sacred service offered to God. Your eternal reward will be related to your attitude and performance on your job. Does that frighten you? You say, “There go a few crowns.” I can understand that.

… You think you have to fill out job performance things for your boss, wait till you get to heaven. God is keeping account of your job performance. As I said at the very beginning, this is the most crucial arena in the world for Christianity to be lived out

You are serving others but only insofar as you’re serving God. It would be fair, I believe, and the Puritans used to do this, to begin to call your job your calling. And to begin to see your calling as your ministry. And to begin to approach it as the arena in which God has placed you for the advancement of His eternal kingdom and glory. Got that? Boy, that ought to give you a whole new shot when you hit the bricks tomorrow. It’s a whole different approach and I believe – I believe, beloved, with all my heart that if we began to live godly lives and work with an attitude and a diligence that the Lord is asking of us here, that we would begin to see a harvest of salvation among the people around us, because this is where Christianity becomes believable. How wonderful would be the benefit, and then in eternity that which the Lord has deemed to give to those faithful servants by way of reward, which we could enjoy cast back at His pierced feet, who has Himself by His Spirit energized any and every good thing we have ever done.

Wow. This is a message to be spread far and wide.

Paul goes on to discuss the false teachers in Ephesus one final time in 1 Timothy.

Next time — 1 Timothy 6:3-5

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 5:17-25

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain”, and, “The labourer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instructions to Timothy about the roles of older and younger widows.

In today’s verses, Paul turns his attention to pastors, or elders. These days ‘elder’ normally refers to a layman who assists in pastoral care and teaching, possibly preaching. However, most of Paul’s context for ‘elder’ here seems to refer to the head of an individual church.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Observe, The presbytery ruled, and the same that ruled were those who laboured in the word and doctrine: they had not one to preach to them and another to rule them, but the work was done by one and the same person. Some have imagined that by the elders that rule well the apostle means lay-elders, who were employed in ruling but not in teaching, who were concerned in church-government, but did not meddle with the administration of the word and sacraments; and I confess this is the plainest text of scripture that can be found to countenance such an opinion. But it seem a little strange that mere ruling elders should be accounted worthy of double honour, when the apostle preferred preaching to baptizing, and much more would he prefer it to ruling the church; and it is more strange that the apostle should take no notice of them when he treats of church-officers; but, as it is hinted before, they had not, in the primitive church, one to preach to them and another to rule them, but ruling and teaching were performed by the same persons, only some might labour more in the word and doctrine than others.

John MacArthur tells us why these verses are so important in the Church today. He preached all three of the sermons cited here in 1987, by the way:

Our Lord Jesus only founded one organization while He was here on earth and that was His church. That is the only organization, organism, institution the Lord Jesus founded and the only one He promised to bless. He said, “I will build My church.” It is His church that is the fullness of His plan for this world. The church designed by God and initiated by the Spirit of God, made possible by the work of Christ, is designed to be the channel of the saving gospel to the world. In a sense, the church has replaced Israel. God called out the nation Israel in order to be a peculiar people, a people of His own who would be the channel of saving truth to the rest of the world. As you know, Israel was unfaithful, Israel became apostate, the channel was blocked, and God carved out a new channel so the river of salvation could continue to flow to the world and that new channel is the church. We are called by God then not to receive but to channel the truth through us to a waiting world.

The church by design is to have a purity and a power that can penetrate the kingdom of darkness and take men and women captive to the kingdom of light. The church is to be the living body of Christ, the visible form of Christ in the world to reveal His attractive glory and thus draw men to Himself. The church is to be the perfect model and example of godly virtue in the face of an ungodly world in order to draw men out of their sin unto His righteousness.

… The church’s ability then to be this, the church’s ability to establish a pure powerful testimony to radiate Christ’s glory, to manifest godly modeling and patterning of virtue is largely dependent on one crucial area, and that is the area of leadership. No church really rises higher than its leadership. As Hosea put it, “Like people, like priest.” The character of the people of God is in great measure dependent on the character of those who lead them …

Tragically, the church has seen much of the same thing happen in its midst that Israel saw as well. There has been a defection among leaders from the biblical pattern and the biblical standard and the biblical perspective and the biblical role and function of leadership. And I believe the issue facing the church today really most significantly is an issue of leadership. And as the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy here and calls for the restoration of a biblical eldership, I think he speaks to us a message desperately needed by the church today

It wasn’t any different in Timothy’s day. He had been left in Ephesus to set in order the things that were wrong in the church at Ephesus, a church where Paul had ministered so wonderfully for three years, a church he himself had founded, a church with great foundations which had drifted away, the leadership of which had become corrupt. And this church at Ephesus, where Timothy is when Paul writes, was also desperately in need of restoring a biblical pastorate or a biblical eldership, as the church today is in need of the same.

Paul tells Timothy that the elders — the pastors — who rule well should be considered worthy of double honour, especially if they labour in preaching and in teaching (verse 17).

MacArthur homes in on the word ‘honour’:

The key word here is the word honor. You might just sort of mark that in your mind, or in your text. That’s what he’s really saying. This verse calls for honor to be given to pastor-elders in the church. Those who serve the church, leading the church, as it were, fathering the church by way of example and leadership, feeding and teaching in the church are to be given honor.

This is not a new concept in the Scripture. It has appeared in other places. A couple of books earlier in the New Testament Canon we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:12, “We beseech you, brethren, to know them who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.” That would be your pastors, your elders. “And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” Those who are over you in the Lord who minister among you, you should know them, you should love them, you should esteem them for the work which they render …

Now I want to just remind you that the term “elder” is a general term referring to those in leadership in the church. They can be called shepherd, pastor – same word. They can be called overseer, as in chapter 3 verse 1 they are referred to, or elder. The term pastor refers primarily to the shepherding function, the term overseer to the authority and the leadership responsibility, and the term elder has to do with their role in maturity as a father or as the senior member of the congregation, senior members I should say, since there are many. There’s no such thing, by the way, as a senior pastor. There’s no such thing as a senior pastor and his staff … So the pastor, overseer, elder as we know is the same person, one in the same. One emphasizes the feeding responsibility, one emphasizes the leading responsibility, one emphasizes the maturity of his position in leadership …

So we’re assuming then elder here, or elders, as it’s always in the plural – except when Peter refers to himself as an elder and when John twice refers to himself as an elder. Every other time it’s a plurality, because the assumption is the church will be led by a plurality of godly elders. So we see then here that when it says, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor,” it means elders who are qualified. If a man is qualified to be an elder, he is qualified then to receive honor. We could say then generally that underlying this verse is the idea that elders are worthy of honor. Okay? Elders are worthy of honor.

Now what do we mean by honor? Well the word is timē. Basically it means respect or regard. It’s so used in chapter 6 verse 1, “But as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor.” That doesn’t mean a servant is supposed to pay his master. It means he’s supposed to give him respect. So the word timē can relate to respect or regard. But also it can relate to remuneration, that is money. Back in chapter 5 we used it that way in verse 3 as Paul had that in mind, “Honor widows that are really widows.” And what we saw there inherent in the word honor is the idea of financial support. It includes, along with respect and high regard, the idea of remuneration, salary, whatever.

In fact, in our English language we have a word that tells us that, it’s the word honorarium. Honorarium is a form of the word honor which relates to giving someone money. When I go out and speak sometimes people will give me an honorarium. When I fill out my income tax every year I put down a category called honoraria, which has to do with people who showed me a certain amount of regard in a financial way. And so the word, meaning that originally, has come down in the English form to mean that even today in some regard.

So when we read about honoring these elders, we are talking not only about respect, but also talking about remuneration. In fact, the word timē is translated in several places in the New Testament by the word price. So it is not a word disassociated from money. You will find it so translated, for example, in Matthew 27:6 and 9, Acts 4:34, 1 Corinthians 6:20. So what Paul is saying is give honor, but let that honor have within it remuneration, if need be.

By the way, honor in the Old Testament – I just thought of that – also contains that same idea. For example, in Proverbs 3:9 it says, “Honor the LORD with your substance.” What does that mean? That means honor the Lord with your respect and your regard as demonstrated by giving Him your money. And then it further says, “With the firstfruits of all your increase.” So there honor carries the idea of giving money to God in an offering. Also in verse 31 of Proverbs 14 it says, “The one who honors the poor by having mercy on him,” it refers to one honoring the poor through mercy that has the idea of giving them something to supply their needs.

You say, if Paul meant that why didn’t he just say money? Well because money is such a crass expression, he would rather deal with the motive behind the money than just deal with the money. How much nicer is it to say, “Here’s your money, fella?” You wouldn’t appreciate that. If someone could say to you, “We want to honor you with this gift,” there’s a big difference in that expression. And Paul was want to do that almost on every occasion. In fact, you’re hard pressed to ever find Paul actually talk about money.

Let me give you just a little insight into that. In writing to the Romans and the Corinthians, he referred to money on one occasion as service. In writing to the Corinthians, the Galatians and the Philippians, he referred to money as fellowship. He referred to it again to the Corinthians as grace. In 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 he called it liberality. In 2 Corinthians 8:20 he called it bounty. In 2 Corinthians 9:5 he called it blessing. In 2 Corinthians 9:8 he called it a good work. In Galatians 6:6 he called money good things. In Philippians 4 he called it a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice. In 2 Corinthians 9:10 he called it a seed; in the same verse he called it a harvest of your righteousness. In Philippians 4:17 he called it a gift, and here he calls it honor

Notice the little phrase double honor. What does that mean? Well, it basically means generous ample pay, generous ample respect. The intent here is to show a difference between general category of pastors and a unique category of pastors who rule with great excellence and who work very hard in the preaching and the teaching. They are worthy of double honor. Double honor assumes as its comparative honor. So we say honor for elders, double honor for excellent hard-working elders. That’s the idea. The Spirit of God knows that among those who serve the church there will be a great group of faithful men who will serve the Lord with blessing, but there will also be a group of men who will serve the Lord with a greater effort and a greater commitment and a greater excellence and they are worthy of a greater acknowledgement of honor from the congregations they serve. It’s not a mathematical equation here to figure out what the normal elder gets and double it. It’s the idea of ample, generous support, remuneration and respect. All elders are worthy of it, some are worthy of more.

Proistēmi, the verb, means to stand first. They’re first in order in terms of leadership. It is a word used to speak of the father and the husband in the family. He is the leader; he is the one who stands first; he is the protector, the provider. So the elder is the one who leads, who stands first, given the task of leading the church. It’s a tremendous responsibility, beloved, by the way, for all the privilege that is there, you’re really overwhelmed by the accountability …

But the emphasis is not on the verb ruling, the emphasis is on the adverb – well. And that adverb means with excellence – the elder, the pastor who leads with excellence …  It is bound up in quality leadership. It is bound up in godliness in the life. It is bound up in teaching and explanation of Scripture and exhortation, setting a model and example and pattern that others can follow.

Henry says of the work of an elder, or pastor:

Here we have, 1. The work of ministers; it consists principally in two things: ruling well and labouring in the word and doctrine. This was the main business of elders or presbyters in the days of the apostles. 2. The honour due to those who were not idle, but laborious in this work; they were worthy of double honour, esteem, and maintenance.

Paul goes on to explain, quoting Deuteronomy 25:4 that says the ox treading the grain shall not be muzzled and one from Luke, whose Gospel was written three or four years before Paul penned this letter, that the labourer deserves his wages (verse 18).

Henry says:

We hence learn, (1.) God, both under the law, and now under the gospel, has taken care that his ministers be well provided for. Does God take care for oxen, and will he not take care of his own servants? The ox only treads out the corn of which they make the bread that perishes; but ministers break the bread of life which endures for ever. (2.) The comfortable subsistence of ministers, as it is God’s appointment that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel ( 1 Cor 9 14), so it is their just due, as much as the reward of the labourer; and those who would have ministers starved, or not comfortably provided for, God will require it of them another day.

MacArthur has more:

If God says in Deuteronomy 25 verse 4, you’re supposed to let the ox that treads the grain eat, don’t you think He cares about the one who provides your spiritual food as the ox provides your physical food? And isn’t a man more valuable than an ox? And isn’t a preacher more valuable than anyone?

Admittedly, Paul did not always ask for remuneration himself, depending on the circumstances of the places where he planted churches:

There was some exigencies in Corinth; there were some reasons why he didn’t want to be chargeable to them … They were a tough bunch to work with, and he didn’t need anything that might cause more criticism of his ministry. He was being very harsh with them, as it was. He didn’t want them accusing him of a money motive.

… you can defer from that support for whatever reason you might have. For example, in writing to 1 Thessalonians – writing to the Thessalonians in the first letter, he says, verse 9 of chapter 2, “You remember, brethren, our labor and travail, laboring night and day because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” We didn’t want to be chargeable, so we worked night and day. He had to work his ministry all day, and he had to earn his living all night. But he did that because he chose to do it to make the gospel more palatable to them.

Back to the ox and on to Luke’s labourer:

The picture here is very vivid. The Deuteronomic law said that if you’re going to have an ox grinding out grain and that ox is providing food for you, then let the ox eat. Don’t muzzle his mouth while he’s doing that, let him eat as he goes

And then he also quotes from another Scripture, “The laborer is worthy of his” – misthos – “his wages.” It’s not a reward; it’s not a gift; it’s his wages. And he moves from an ox to a man. He moves up one level from an animal to a servant. And he says, “The Scripture also says, the laborer is worthy of his misthos.” You know what Scripture that is? Most interesting – Luke 10:7. Here is Paul calling Luke Scripture. Here is Paul, a New Testament writer affirming that another New Testament writer and a dear friend, Luke, is Scripture. This is the testimony to New Testament Scripture.

By the way, the only times that Paul quotes from the gospels, one is here and one is 1 Corinthians 11:24 and 25, both times he quotes from Luke. This is verbatim Luke 10:7. And he probably quoted from Luke because Luke was his dear friend. Luke was written probably in the year 60 A.D. when Paul was in his Roman imprisonment. It is about 63 A.D. as he writes here, so Luke’s gospel has been around for three years. The early church recognized the canonicity and authenticity and authority of New Testament Scripture even before the writers had died. And so here is Paul affirming Luke’s gospel as Scripture. He would have had several years to be exposed to it and read it. And he is saying there is something said there that is analogous to the same truth and that is that a man who works ought to be paid. An animal who works ought to be paid. A man who works ought to be paid. If you pay your animal who helps you eat, if you pay your servant who helps you eat, then you ought to pay your teacher, your pastor, your elder.

When things go wrong with an elder, allow a complaint — a charge against him — only if two or three witnesses come forth with evidence (verse 19).

In other words, be discerning and adopt the principles Jesus laid out in Matthew 18, which, by the way, are also in the Old Testament.

MacArthur explains:

To put it simply, one of the best ways you can protect your pastors and elders is with a deaf ear to accusation. It’s that simple. When a man is placed into spiritual leadership, he has to anticipate that hateful, jealous, sinful people will falsely accuse him to try to ruin his ministry. And people can and often will say anything and everything. This is standard behavior with reference to spiritual leaders. I went back in the Old Testament this week, just kind of tracking through some of the leaders of the Old Testament period and found that one after another of the great heroes of the faith in the Old Testament were beset by false accusation. It was standard fare. I think particularly of Joseph, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Nehemiah and many others as well. You come in to the New Testament, Christ was crucified under false accusation, Paul under false accusation, defending himself again and again and again in his epistles

If Satan can’t cause a man to fall into sin, if Satan can’t cause a man to stumble into evil, then Satan may cause some who more willingly will stumble into evil to become a coterie of false accusers, with a net effect of which is to discredit the man as if he himself had sinned. You understand that? And so the insulation of the man of God against that is a deaf congregation in the sense of hearing accusation. Very important.

Notice back in verse 19 again, against the elder or pastor you are not to entertain any kind of formal public accusation. The word but should be translated ‘except when,’ and the word before has the force of ‘by the authority of’ two or three witnesses. The only time you ever even entertain it – doesn’t mean it’s true – but the only time you would ever even entertain it would be when it comes to you with a force of two or three confirming witnesses. In other words, it isn’t one person who has some kind of act of aggression against the man of God …

Now the intent of two or three witnesses is simply confirmation. It goes all the way back to Deuteronomy 19:15 where no accusation against a person is to be upheld apart from two or three confirming credible witnesses. Matthew chapter 18, you remember when – we have an outline of how to discipline a fellow Christian. If you find one in sin you go to him; if he doesn’t hear and repent then you take two or three witnesses in order that they might confirm that sin and confirm either his repentant or failure to be repentant attitude. So two or three witnesses involved in an accusation situation is an old approach. It’s simply the confirmation of viable witnesses. And so we are never to receive any accusation against a pastor, we’re not even to entertain it or to investigate it or to look into it, we are to shun it, to shut it off, to end it unless it has been confirmed by two or three significant and credible witnesses. Pastor-elders are never to be at the mercy of frivolous evil accusers. And they’re not to be having to go around to their people justifying themselves to people who are eager or willing to believe such lies.

Paul tells Timothy that those who persist in sin — the unrepentant — should be rebuked publicly, so that the rest stand in fear (verse 20).

This sounds harsh, but MacArthur explains why this has to be done in public:

Would you please notice here that we don’t have a lot of steps of discipline. It just says rebuke before all. When an accusation has been made – it’s been confirmed in the mouth of two or three witnesses and investigated – if it indeed is proven to be true, he is to be publicly rebuked. The word rebuke, elegchō, means to expose, to bring to open conviction, to correct, to reprove. And the idea is public, before all. There’s no exegetical base for limiting the all to just the elders, the other elders. There’s no contextual base for limiting it to just the elders. If it says all, it means all. If it was intended to be kept from the congregation it would have said be sure the congregation doesn’t find out. But when it says rebuke before all it means exactly that. And there is no either exegetical or contextual reason to limit the all in any way. It simply means one who is found to be sinning is to be exposed before everyone. There’s nowhere to hide.

Once a pastor-elder’s guilt is established, he is to be publicly exposed. The sin of one in that position is more serious and to be punished more severely because its implications are greater. If you’re the model of spiritual life, if you’re the model of godliness, if you’re supposed to be the example and you do not live the example that pleases God, then the culpability is very severe …

If the man has been found to be in a pattern of sin, then he is disqualified by 1 Timothy chapter 3. He’s no longer blameless so he’s out of the ministry anyway, and he is to be publicly rebuked for his sin, because there has to be some explanation about why he’s out. Understood? And when that isn’t done, let me tell you, confusion reigns supreme. When you try to sneak some pastor or elder out the back door and not explain to the people why he’s leaving, all you’re going to do is create problem upon problem upon problem.

One classic illustration of this, a church, a familiar and wonderful church that I know of had a man on their staff. They were moving him from one office to another and digging out some of the stuff in his closet they found a copy of every issue of Playboy magazine since the first one. The board met on this and felt it would be too devastating to the church and the man and his family if they said anything, so he quietly left town. The pastor suffered repercussions for years and years of people who despised the pastor for pushing this man out of the church with no good reason. And being under instructions never to tell anybody why the man left, he suffered all the slings and arrows of the hate of people who blamed him for something he couldn’t talk about. Furthermore, the man that was expelled from the church went somewhere else. And to this day has a high-profile ministry, I don’t think anybody knows what went on

Rebuking in public restrains other people’s sin:

You say, but that’s – boy, that’s pretty painful for the man. That’s right. But it’s also a pretty good restraint on the others. That’s what it says. Look at verse 20, you do this in order “that others also may fear.” Other elders – other elders. For that matter, other people in the congregation who could be also disciplined for their sin. But the other here is really directly tied to the elders. When an elder is publicly disgraced for his sin, a pastor is publicly disgraced for his sin, that’s going to put a healthy fear in the heart of others …

Others is the word loipoi, loipos really, and it means the rest. So what he’s saying is those that sin are publicly exposed in order that the rest – the rest in what sense? – the rest among any class being discussed, and that has to relate this word to elders. The class being discussed is sinning elders. The rest of the sinning elders will fear. They will be in a healthy respectful concern over being disgraced publicly and losing their ministry. Obviously a public rebuke would affect them, and it would affect everybody, so it would extend to the whole congregation

Hopefully he could stay in the same congregation, be loved, nurtured, restored to a place of usefulness to the Lord. But it’s doubtful that he could ever be a pastor and an elder again, depending, of course, on the nature of the sin and its extent. But there needs to be an acknowledgement that the two-edged sword of ministry is yes you have honor, and yes you have remuneration, and respect and protection, but when you fall into sin there is also the demand made that you be publicly exposed.

Then Paul becomes adamant, charging — commanding — in the presence of God, of Christ Jesus and the elect angels, that Timothy keeps to these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality (verse 21).

MacArthur surmises that Paul said this to push Timothy into cleaning out the bad influences at the top in Ephesus:

So just in case you’re tempted to do nothing, verse 21 comes like a thunderbolt. “I charge you,” he says to Timothy, knowing that Timothy is somewhat timid and a little bit intimidated since he is the Lone Ranger in the midst of the whole bunch of false leaders. He says, “I charge you” – I thoroughly admonish you, is what that means. I solemnly earnestly declare to you – “before God” – who is the judge of all the earth – “and Christ Jesus” – to whom all judgment is given – “and the elect angels” – who are the instruments and agents of judgment. Boy, this is a heavy-duty group here. “I admonish you before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels that you observe” – to keep. It means to keep – “these things without” – watch this – “without preference and without partiality.” He says, I’m telling you to do this and I’m telling you to do it because God is watching, Christ Jesus is watching, and the holy angels are watching. And I call you to do this in front of God the eternal judge of the earth; in front of Christ to whom all judgment is given; in front of the elect angels, that is the holy angels, the unfallen angels, who are both spectators of the church and agents in judgment; and I call you before the holiest of the holies of heaven to do this.

Why? God is concerned with the purity of the church. Christ is concerned with the purity of the church. The holy angels are concerned with the purity of the church. The elect angels, those who were chosen to eternal glory and holiness, along with serving God are waiting to see your obedience. That’s the issue. They’re waiting to see your obedience …

It’s to be done without prejudice, prokrimatos, without preferential treatment. In other words, you shouldn’t say, well, you know, such a nice guy. Everybody likes him.” On the other hand, it shouldn’t be done with partiality. That means, “I can’t stand the guy. Let’s really dump it on him.” It’s done without trying to protect someone you prefer and without trying to expose someone you don’t prefer. It’s to be done with accuracy and integrity, unprejudiced and impartial, but it’s to be done and it’s to be done because all of heaven is watching that it be done. That’s pretty strong stuff. I don’t know – I don’t know any way to say any stronger than the way Paul said it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that when you find a pastor who sins, all of the holy beings of heaven demand that you do a public exposure. That’s hard.

You remember back in Matthew 18 when the discipline pattern was given there for how we confront each other with sin. It said, “Don’t be afraid to do this,” in effect, “because what’s being done on earth has already been done in heaven, and where two or three of you are witnessing to that sin, there am I, says Christ, in your midst.” So heaven is making the judgment that discipline needs to be done. Christ wants to enact that discipline. And that’s why you ought to go ahead and do it in Matthew 18. Here he says you ought to go ahead and do it because all of holy heaven is waiting for you to do it. Are you going to protect the holiness of God or are you going to protect the reputation of an earthly organization?

Paul then transitions into ordination and Timothy’s own behaviour by saying he should not be too eager to ordain an elder (pastor) through the laying on of hands — how ordination is still done to welcome others into that holy fellowship; the Apostle adds that Timothy must keep himself pure and not enter into others’ sins (verse 22).

Ordaining the wrong type of man makes one equally guilty of that sin.

Henry says:

Observe, We have great need to watch over ourselves at all times, that we do not make ourselves partakers of other men’s sins. “Keep thyself pure, not only from doing the like thyself, but from countenancing it, or being any way accessary to it, in others.” Here is, 1. A caution against the rash ordination of ministers, or absolution of those who have been under church-censures: Lay hands suddenly on no man. 2. Those who are rash, either in the one case or the other, will make themselves partakers in other men’s sins. 3. We must keep ourselves pure, if we will be pure; the grace of God makes and keeps us pure, but it is by our own endeavours.

MacArthur describes the pre-ordination process at his own church, which is daunting but necessary. I wonder how many seminarians elsewhere could do the following. Not many. Consider all of the following highlighted:

I want you to know in our church in order for a man to be ordained at Grace Church there’s a very long and arduous process that they go through. In fact, a week ago I was reading the syllabus which we put together some years ago and have refined, a very thick syllabus which the men have to really master before they can be considered for ministry. That syllabus has only to do with biblical knowledge. They, for example, must be able to tell…to basically outline every book of the Bible, on their feet without notes when asked in a testing situation. They should be able to be given two to three hundred chapters in the Bible and just by naming the chapter they can tell you the importance and significance of that key chapter. They can be given certain sections of Scripture, or even verses of Scripture which they must know not only what the content is but what it means. They have to not only know the major points of theology but be able to defend them reasonably and defend them biblically with chapters and verses to support them. Not only that, they have a whole list of issues and questions and situations that occur in the church that they must be able to give a biblical resolution for. And then they have a multi-year profile where they have to be visible under other elders, to prove their spiritual character. And when all of those years of accumulating that biblical knowledge and functioning in biblical ministry prove them to be worthwhile, then they go through another process of examination and are finally, if proven to be worthy, ordained. And the reason is because we don’t want to do this hastily.

Paul then gives Timothy health advice, advising him to drink some wine now and then to help with his digestion and frequent ailments (verse 23).

Henry explains that this has a biblical precedent. Note also that most water had to be purified in those days. That purification took place with the addition of alcohol:

It seems Timothy was a mortified man to the pleasures of sense; he drank water, and he was a man of no strong constitution of body, and for this reason Paul advises him to use wine for the helping of his stomach and the recruiting of his nature. Observe, It is a little wine, for ministers must not be given to much wine; so much as may be for the health of the body, not so as to distemper it, for God has made wine to rejoice man’s heart. Note, (1.) It is the will of God that people should take all due care of their bodies. As we are not to make them our masters, so neither our slaves; but to use them so that they may be most fit and helpful to us in the service of God. (2.) Wine is most proper for sickly and weak people, whose stomachs are often out of order, and who labour under infirmities. Give strong drink to him that is ready to perish, and wine to those that are of heavy hearts, Prov 31 6. (3.) Wine should be used as a help, and not a hindrance, to our work and usefulness.

Paul reminds Timothy that some men’s sins appear early on, going before them to judgement — church discipline — however, other men’s sins come later, hence the need for lengthy evaluation (verse 24).

MacArthur says:

So Timothy will be able in the proper kind of judgment, in the proper kind of evaluation and assessment environment to know who these men are. So the problem is resolved in some cases because the man’s sins come first. The problem is resolved in other cases because under proper scrutiny and assessment the man’s sins are revealed, careful investigation can bring them out.

Paul ends the chapter on a positive note, saying that good works are also conspicuous and cannot be hidden (verse 25).

MacArthur reminds us of the first chapters of Revelation, which begin with our Lord’s assessment of the seven churches:

I think the church today assumes that Jesus Christ is in the midst of the church as sort of a mil[que]toast personality, patting everybody on the head and letting them get away with murder, that Jesus is a pal, that Jesus is a buddy, that Jesus’ main agenda for the church is to make you happy, that Jesus’ primary concern is that you feel good about yourself, or that you have a sort of a satisfied ego trip, or that you not be uncomfortable, that Jesus’ main idea in the church is to stroke you and just tolerate you. But if you really want to see what Jesus is concerned about in his church, you need to go for a moment to Revelation chapter 1. Will you turn there for a moment and let’s just see what it is that concerns the Lord Jesus Christ about his church and why he would be watching to make sure the church rebuked sin among its leaders.

John in chapter 1 has a vision of Christ. And Christ identifies Himself in verse 11 as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. Tells John to write these letters to the seven churches that are located in Asia Minor which letters take up chapters two and three. Now these seven churches in Asia Minor, I believe, are representative of all kinds of churches in all eras of church history. Each of these seven churches has some distinctives about it that are characteristic of churches in all periods of time. And so in a very sense you have in a microcosm of Asia Minor in the first century a picture of the church. And among those churches Christ moves in ministry in this incredible vision beginning in verse 12. “I turned to see the voice that spoke to me and I turned and I saw seven golden lampstands.” Seven being a number indicating completeness, golden having to do with the costliness, the precious character, the value of the church. And each lampstand with a light representing one of the seven churches, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

So, here is a picture of Christ moving among these seven churches which are in a symbolic microcosm, a picture of Christ moving in His church in all times. Verse 13, “In the midst of these seven lampstands, one like the Son of Man.” Here is Christ, moving in His church …

… And the idea is He’s moving to maintain the purity of His church and to act against its sin. He is seen in His church not as a pal, not as a buddy, not as the popular Jesus of today who wants you healthy, wealthy and happy, who wants to sanctify your ego trip, who wants to make you feel good about yourself, He is there to penetrate, discover sin and stamp it out …

And as a footnote, what should be our attitude? Do we gloat over the sinning one and push ourselves up the ladder of esteem a little higher because it wasn’t us? Do we feel bad about them but good about ourselves? What is the attitude of one who finds a sinning pastor, a sinning elder and publicly rebukes that person? I submit to you that it is an attitude of sorrow. It is an attitude of sadness.

… It’s not just the sadness of compassion, it’s the sadness of the very role of leadership being so stained which causes all of us to suffer.

And so we are then aware very clearly from this passage of a tremendous responsibility. First to honor, second to protect, and thirdly, and this is the negative side of being a pastor or elder, to rebuke publicly when there is need for that.

Paul closes his first letter in Chapter 6 with more advice for Timothy.

Next time — 1 Timothy 6:1-2

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 5:9-16

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband,[a] 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enrol younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instructions to Timothy on the support of widows, which, in that era, were any women whose husbands had either died or deserted them. The definition of the word ‘widow’ in classical Greek included desertion.

In verse 8, Paul makes it clear that where families could support widows, they should do so rather than rely on church resources (emphases mine):

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Even pagans provided for their own families where possible.

In today’s passage, Paul has more instructions for Timothy on lone women without their men.

Paul says that a widow should be enrolled only when she reaches 60 years of age and has been the wife of one husband, or a one-man woman (verse 9).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this has to do with church support:

He gives directions concerning the characters of the widows that were to be taken into the number to receive the church’s charity: not under sixty years old, nor any who have divorced their husbands or been divorced from them and have married again; she must have been the wife of one man …

However, as we saw last week, John MacArthur pointed out that younger widows also need the church’s support. Therefore, he does not believe that Paul is talking about the church’s charity here but service to the church:

Now listen carefully to what I say. There is no evidence that these women on this list were necessarily all supported by the church or that they were ordained by the leaders in some ordination process. They were simply widows who did this ministry. Some may have been supported by the church, if they were widows indeed; some may not have been supported by the church because they were supported by another widow, they were supported by a man in their network family or maybe they were supported by their own children and grandchildren. The issue of support stops at the end of verse 8, and the issue of the widows on the list of those who serve in the church begins in verse 9.

So here you have these widows who serve in the church. The issue of support is not an issue here. Some have tried to say that these women are all fully supported by the church. You don’t find that in the text at all. These are just a group of women who serve in the church. The issue of support would only come into play if they had no other means of support.

MacArthur explains why Paul chose the age of 60:

If you try to equate the two – and some people have tried to do that, they’ve tried to say, “Well, the only widows a church is to support are the ones that are over 60.” That’s not true.

That’s not true at all. We have just said that the widows who are to be supported are any women who are without a husband and without support. There’s no age qualification. The age qualification comes for the widows who are put on this list of official servants in the church, not the ones that are supported by the church. The church is to take up, the care and demonstrate the compassion of God to any woman who has lost her husband, whatever age she is, and make sure that her needs are met.

But when it comes to that official group of women who serve in the church, they have to be over sixty. There is no age limit placed on the support issue. I want you to understand that. Now, why sixty? It seems like an unusual thing – doesn’t it? -to just drop sixty in there. What about sixty‑one, fifty-nine, sixty-three, fifty-eight? Why sixty? That’s a general idea, that’s just a general point of reference. For example, if you go into ancient times, you find that Plato, in his plan for the ideal state, taught that sixty was the right age for people to become priests and priestesses.

In the East, in that part of the world, sixty was the age to retire from activity and engage in a life of philosophical contemplation. In the Roman Empire, sixty was the recognized age when a person was considered old because sexual passion was thought to wane at age sixty. And it may have been more common then than it is now because sexual attitudes have changed through the centuries. But these women were assumed to be women who were older. They were not driven by their sexual desires. They were mature in spirit and in experience. The key idea is they would be very unlikely to remarry. That’s the key idea. They would be very unlikely to remarry. They would be very content to live out their life without conjugal relationships.

Paul adds that the one-man woman over 60 who is suitable for lay ministry must also have brought up children, shown hospitality (to strangers), cared for the afflicted and devoted herself to good works (verse 10).

Henry clarifies the part about having brought up children:

If she have brought up children: he does not say, If she have borne children (children are a heritage of the Lord), that depends on the will of God; but, if she had not children of her own, yet if she had brought up children.

MacArthur tells us of the number of abandoned children in that era and how compassionate women would take them into their own homes or place them with someone else. Orphanages did not exist at the time:

We know, for example, that many times children were left in the marketplace in the Roman Empire, very frequently they were left there because their parents didn’t want them.

And what happened was the young boys would be taken into a gladiator training program and end up in the arena, and the young girls would be taken into a brothel, and some prostitute would raise them in order to fill up all of her rooms with prostitutes. So these little children in the marketplace became either fuel for the very degrading glee of a Roman crowd watching some animal tear them to shreds or they became population for a brothel in order to provide sexual favors for the degenerate men of that society. And so these kinds of women would go out and find these little children, very often bring them in, place them in homes. They would care for the sick. They would care for the needy. They were available to move around in that kind of ministry. They would teach hospitality. They served in humble ways in the early church.

In other words, the 60+ widow had to have lived a virtuous life in order to be eligible for an office of lay ministry in the church, what we would call a deaconess.

Paul gives his reasons for not enrolling under-60s into this work.

Younger widows often wish to remarry, he says, and their passions draw them away from Christ (verse 11). They may incur condemnation for abandoning the faith (verse 12).

MacArthur explains:

let’s say she’s 35 years old or 40 or whatever, and she says, “I want to give the rest of my life to the Lord. You know, my husband is gone and I loved him and him alone. And now that he’s gone, I just want to give the rest of my life to serve the Lord.” And in about two years, she’s got a real problem. She has strong physical desires. She wants to get married. She is going around from house to house, and that just makes it worse and worse and worse because she keeps seeing happy marriages and home life, and every man she sees turns on lights in her head, and she becomes very, very vulnerable to an unhappy husband while she’s on the circuit, as it were. And then enters compromise.

She begins to want to court somebody or date somebody, and that kind of filters into this whole thing, and she’s trying to serve the Lord and be pure and godly and full of virtue and teach women to be chaste and teach women to love their husbands and teach women to be content at home – and she’s discontent. The whole thing just isn’t right. And it may even lead to the fact that she starts to panic a little bit and settles for marrying an unbeliever.

And the whole issue here is: Look, don’t put a young woman, who may have the desire later, if not now, to get married, in the official situation of being a servant of the church, out there doing spiritual ministry, because it may be very difficult, it may be a compromising environment in which she is living, and it may ultimately end in disaster, and that’ll bring disrepute upon the church. Don’t do that …

Don’t put a young woman on that servant’s list or she’s going to compromise herself, running around from house to house. She’s going to see some guy out there she likes when her sexual passions are aroused, and you’re going to have a problem on your hands. Don’t turn her loose in the community because there’s a lot of men out there who will take advantage of that.

Paul adds that, in addition to the possible compromising situations that young widows might encounter, they learn to be idlers, going from house to house, becoming gossips and busybodies, saying things they should not (verse 13).

Henry says that one sin builds on another:

Observe, It is seldom that those who are idle are idle only, they learn to be tattlers and busy-bodies, and to make mischief among neighbours, and sow discord among brethren.

MacArthur has more:

So, the first reason Paul says not to put women on the list who are young is to protect them from dishonoring Christ in this way. Second reason, in verse 13. “And besides,” he says – or at the same time also – “they learn to be idle.” Or literally, this is an idiom meaning they qualify as idlers. Here’s a second problem. The first problem is a problem of desire for a man.

The second problem is immaturity. You put a young woman on this list – get this scene – and she’s going from house to house ministering to these families, instructing other women, helping with the children, helping counsel and pray with them, and disciple them, and nurture them. And she’s visiting the poor and the needy and the sick, and she’s collecting a mass of very interesting information about everybody’s personal life.

And in the idleness of that, if she is immature, Paul says, “In her going around from house to house” – which no doubt is what those women did a great portion of the time, because of the nature of their ministry – in the circuit of service from home to home, what originally was a purposeful visit to help minister, becomes an aimless wandering, with little or no spiritual work accomplished. At best, it is social; at worst, it is a devastating and disastrous enterprise. They simply wander around from house to house.

And not only are they idle – just wandering around from house to house, too immature to really be of much help, and too consumed with the desire for a man to care – what starts out as just a social meandering, ends up, it says – look at verse 13 – as not only idle, but “talebearers also, and busybodies, speaking things they ought not to speak.” Now, what starts out as something of great devotion and commitment soon is overpowered by a desire for marriage. A hostility grows in the heart.

Pretty soon, as they go, they just go in a social whirl. That’s the best of it. The worst of it is that the information they collect becomes fuel for the tales they tell, and the busybody enterprise they engage in, as they go around saying things they ought not to say. They’re not doing anything constructive. They’re doing things destructive. The word for tattler or gossip means to babble. They just talk – to – to utter nonsense, to talk idly, to make empty charges, to accuse in malicious words; all of those things.

So, they just go around, carrying tales from one place to the next.

For that reason, Paul tells Timothy that he ‘would have’ — ‘command’, in the Greek — younger women marry, bear children, manage their households and give no reason for ‘the adversary’ — Satan working through human agency — reason for slander (verse 14).

MacArthur explains the Greek word ‘boulomai’ in that verse:

“I will” – and as I told you, boulomai is the will of desire that comes from reason, not emotion; it’s a rational thing, due to prior reasoning which he has already given, in verses 11 to 13.

So, for these reasons, we might assume, therefore, “I command” – it has the force of a command – “that the younger marry.” Now, this is exactly what the Scripture says. A younger woman who has lost her husband is to marry. You say, “Well, is everybody up to 60 in that younger group?” I don’t know. It’s a general term, younger. It is qualified some in the verse itself. It says the younger women are to marry and bear children, so we might say that the younger could – would certainly encompass women who are still at a childbearing age.

These women are to marry. Jewish custom, believe me, gave honor to remarriage, and that is Paul’s command. This is not a concession, this is a command. And whenever I hear someone say, “Well, divorce might be tolerable biblically, but remarriage is never tolerable,” to me that flies in the face of the intention of the heart of God revealed in this passage. And that is, to protect a single woman from having to live a life of singleness, in which she is constantly coping with strong desires, and constantly, in her immaturity, unable to handle all that’s going on around her, to provide for herself.

I believe it is God’s design for a young woman who has lost her husband to remarry. That’s what the text says. There may be exceptions. And I’m not certainly saying – neither is Paul – that every woman who has lost her husband becomes a woman on the warpath. That every woman who has lost her husband is a sensual woman looking for trouble. That every woman who has lost her husband is a talebearer and a gossip. But that tends to be a problem. And so, he says – and this is the general picture – young women – he doesn’t even use the word “woman” here, just the younger.

Paul points out that some of these younger women have already strayed after Satan (verse 15) in the churches in Ephesus and surrounding towns.

MacArthur explains what Paul means:

Some have already turned from their vow to Christ. Some have already left the true calling of a woman to the home. Some are out following false teachers. Some are following their own lusts. Some are swerving from the path of virtue. Some may be the “silly women laden down with lusts” that he mentions in 2 Timothy, chapter 3. Some have already spread lies. Some have already been busy with other people’s affairs. Some have given their ears to seducing spirits, believing doctrine of demons. Some have engaged in, perhaps, power play to become teachers in the church.

Some have acted in immoral ways. Some have broken promises to the Lord. Some have married unbelievers. Paul says, “Look, get married to a believer, get back in the home, fulfill your God-given design so that there’s no reproach brought on the church.”

In concluding his instructions, Paul refers back to verse 8, saying that, if any believing woman has relatives who are widows, she should care for them and not burden the church, so that it can care for widows who are truly destitute (verse 16).

Henry says:

Christianity obliges its professors to relieve their indigent friends, particularly poor widows, that the church may not be charged with them, that it may relieve those that are widows indeed: rich people should be ashamed to burden the church with their poor relations, when it is with difficulty that those are supplied who have no children or nephews, that is, grand-children, who are in a capacity to relieve them.

MacArthur tells us:

Verse 16 reads, “If any woman” – any believing woman, the text says – “if any believing woman that has widows, let her assist them.” That’s what I told you, the third line of responsibility. First, children and grandchildren. Secondly, a man in the family to provide. Thirdly, a woman to provide.

There were women, of course, who had the resources. Some of them might have been widowed women. Some of them might have been women married to an unbeliever, who were given the management of their household, and could take some of what they had, and give it to other women who had need. It didn’t always have to be money; it could be meals, it could be lodging, it could be many things – clothing. So, not only were believing men to provide for their extended household – those women who had need – but even women were to do that as well. Let them assist.

And you know, don’t you, well, that many widowed women care for their widowed mothers? That’s not uncommon to us; very common. The reason is, the end of verse 16, “let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.” In other words, don’t even get down to the responsibility for the church to care for a person until all these other possibilities have been exhausted. Children, grandchildren, men in the family, women in the family; if there is no support in all those areas, then the responsibility comes to the church.

And we’re full circle back to verse 3, where the church is said, in general, to be responsible to support bereft women who are really bereft – that is, they have no other means of support. Now, what do we mean by the church? Let me answer that in this way. You are the church, and I am the church. If you or if I have the resources to support them, then we should do it. If we don’t, then we come to the church, and as a body, collectively, we do it. But it should be our joy as individuals, if God’s given us the resource, to take the joy on ourselves to do that.

And we should do that eagerly. You say, “Well, why should we be so eager to spend our money like that?” Listen to it this way. Deuteronomy, chapter 14, lays down, I think, a principle that we want to know. It says that “the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied” – this was God’s law for His people Israel – “in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” Why should I as a person be eager to support a widow? Because I have the promise of the blessing of God.

Why should I pass that off to the church, when I can enjoy it myself? And there are some teeth in that, too, because in chapter 27 of Deuteronomy, the law of God said this: “Cursed be he who perverts the justice due the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” Help a widow, be blessed. Fail to help a widow, be cursed. God is looking at you, and God says, “If a widow comes across your path, and you have the resources to help, and you help, I bless you. And you don’t help, and you forfeit blessing, and you come under the curse.”

Now, we don’t want to extrapolate too much out of the covenant given to Israel, but certainly, if God was pleased with the care of a widow then, He is pleased with the care of a widow now. If He was displeased with the lack of care then, He is displeased with the lack of care now. So, the responsibility falls upon the individual initially, and God knows that, and then passes where there is no capability to the church, as such. Well, the sum of all of this, what shall we say? The burden that God has placed upon men is clear, and a joyous and happy burden it is.

Paul goes on to instruct Timothy on the treatment of elders — and himself.

Next time — 1 Timothy 5:17-25

bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 5:3-8

Honour widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.


Last week’s post introduced Paul’s instructions on how to properly rebuke those in the congregation who were falling away from their Christian duties.

The Apostle then goes on to provide more detail, beginning with widows.

He tells Timothy to honour widows who truly are widows (verse 3).

Paul gives more specifics later on in the chapter, but he wants Timothy to know that not every woman who has lost her husband is worthy of the church’s charity. In other words, there are widows and there are widows. Much depends on their conduct.

John MacArthur explains the context here (emphases mine):

Paul, then, wants Timothy and the church at Ephesus and us to understand our responsibility to widows. He gives five principles … The first principle is this – verse 3 – “Honor widows who are real widows.” Honor widows who are real widows. Now let me just give you enough background to understand where Paul is coming from as he writes. Keep this in mind. From the beginning of our study of 1 Timothy, I have told you that I believe this epistle is a polemic; that is to say, it speaks against some problem.

And I believe this church was filled with problems of ungodliness, problems of false doctrine, not the least of which was mishandling the matter of care for widows. The church was as inept at that as it was at all the other things Paul deals with. So this is a corrective passage. We can conclude, then, that widows were not being properly honored. We can conclude that unqualified, older widows were being allowed to serve semi-officially for the church and their lives were really not clear and clean and pure. We can also conclude that younger widows were remarrying unbelievers.

Younger widows were breaking vows made to Christ. There were families that weren’t supporting their own widows. There were women who could have supported many widows, such as Dorcas did, but they weren’t doing that either. In other words, the whole area of biblical instruction to widows needed to be taught because of what needed to be corrected at Ephesus. It is a very, very basic ministry of the church to care for these women.

Principle number one, then, in verse 3, the obligation of the church to support widows; the obligation of the church to support widows.

MacArthur says that the status of ‘widow’ in classical Greek encompasses more than we understand it to today:

Now what do we mean by widows? To us, the word means a woman whose husband is dead. The Greek word includes that but is not limited to that. That’s a very important statement: The Greek word includes that but is not limited to that.

The word “widow” is chēra. It is a word that’s a feminine form of an adjective used as a noun. It is an adjective, it means bereft. It means robbed. It means having suffered loss. It carries the idea of being alone. It comes from chēras, and that’s what that means, bereft, robbed, having suffered loss, being left alone. The word, then, doesn’t speak about how a woman got into the situation, it just describes the situation. She is alone, she is bereft, she has suffered the loss of her husband. It doesn’t say how she lost the husband.

Usually, of course, we would think she lost the husband through death. There’s nothing in this word to indicate that it is limited to that. In fact, if you do any kind of study of the word and trace it through any classical Greek usages, you will find that the word means a woman who lost her husband in any fashion – death, divorce, desertion – anything. That can all be summed up in this word.

William Barclay, for example, feels it should include those who were polygamists in the Roman world, and when they came to Jesus Christ in faith, they may have given freedom to their wives that – other than their first wife, to leave in order that they might be monogamous, according to the teaching of the Word of God. And when they sent those women away, those women would fall under this same kind of word. They also would be chēra, bereft of their husband, even though their husband was still alive.

There’s no reason to indicate that this should exclude people whose husband left them in desertion or divorced them through a legal means. The word simply describes a woman who has lost her husband, whatever that might be in terms of cause.

MacArthur gives us a modern-day example of a widow without a family structure upon which to rely:

What happens, for example, when a woman is raised in a broken home? Maybe her mother’s been married a couple of times, she’s had a father and a stepfather, which is not atypical at all but somewhat common. She goes off into a career kind of orientation. Maybe she doesn’t get married until she’s 26, 27, 28, 29. By that time, she’s charted her own course. She marries somebody who has charted his own course. They get together. Something happens to him. She’s out there, she’s had sort of a career kind of background. She’s had a very messed-up family situation.

He dies. She’s left with a couple of little kids on her hands. She can’t plug back into an intimate family network because it’s long gone, if there ever was one, and the burden on the church is even greater.

You see, the price to pay for the disintegration of the family is really monumental. Those widowed women, those women who lose their husbands, need to be able (as Genesis 38 illustrates) to move back into the home of family one way or another, but so often that can’t happen or it won’t happen because of the disintegration of the family. The tragedy in the breakdown of the family is the loss of the support network. And it puts the burden even greater on the church.

MacArthur says that there were many widows in the classical sense of the word at the time Paul wrote to Timothy:

Now, I want you to know that this expands the accountability and the responsibility of the church immeasurably because what we’re talking about here is a responsibility to take care of all those women who have lost their husband, which is a very, very large company of women. Maybe as large now as at any time in the world’s history with divorce and desertion and all of those things such a common, everyday matter.

Furthermore, unlike today, it was not possible for women to work in gainful employment and there was no welfare state:

In those days, women could not find honorable employment easily. There were no secular institutions to care for them. And so they were in serious straits. They were very often reduced to poverty unless their husband had left something with them or their father had left an inheritance to them or perhaps they were under the care of a father’s family or a mother-in-law’s family, or friends or whatever, but many widows were left destitute.

And as I said, there was no honorable employment available to women because women were seen as being cared for within the context of the family and the home, not caring for themselves outside that context. The treatment of these women, then, was a watershed, was a test case for the love of Christ borne in the hearts of the Christian community. Their spiritual character, the demonstration of their devotion to Christ could be seen in how they cared for people who were desperately in need of that care. And I might add that this has been a part of the church’s life throughout all of its history.

MacArthur discusses the Greek word for ‘honour’:

It’s the verb timaō. It means to show respect, to show care, to give support, to treat graciously, and it encompasses the idea of meeting needs – whatever they are – financially, of course.

In fact, it is used of pricing something in Matthew 27:9, to put a value on something and then to care for that in light of its value, and certainly there’s nothing more valuable than one made by God, than a believing woman, and nothing more precious to the church than a believing woman desperately in need of the church’s care.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Paul is talking not only about charity but admitting women into the office of deaconess, in which they take instruction from a deacon:

Honour widows that are widows indeed. Honour them, that is, maintain them, admit them into office. There was in those times an office in the church in which widows were employed, and that was to tend the sick and the aged, to look to them by the direction of the deacons. We read of the care taken of widows immediately upon the first forming of the Christian church (Acts 6 1), where the Grecians thought their widows were neglected in the daily ministration and provision made for poor widows. The general rule is to honour widows that are widows indeed, to maintain them, to relieve them with respect and tenderness.

Paul gives specific instructions on widows becoming deaconesses later in the chapter.

Paul says that, if a widow has children or grandchildren, then they should show their godliness by making some return — financially — to their parents, because it is pleasing in the sight of God (verse 4).

MacArthur says that Paul is telling Timothy to be discerning in using church funds to aid widows:

So first of all, the church has an obligation to support widows. Second point, and we’ll just introduce this with one verse, the obligation of the church to evaluate those widows needing support. It’s not a question of everybody get in line, we’re just going to give it away, we have to evaluate. The church cannot indiscriminately take on everyone who applies for help. There has to be some criteria, and that comes in verses 4 through 8

I just want to introduce verse 4. I think it’s so interesting, so important. If any woman who is bereft of a husband, any widow, has children or grandchildren, ekgonos means descendants or grandchildren, not nephews. Now, many widows in the church have children and grandchildren. It is the responsibility of the children and the grandchildren to support that widow. That’s what he’s saying. It says “Let them” – that is, the children and grandchildren – “learn first to show their godliness in the family.” The word home, oikos, referring to family. You say you’re godly, then let’s see it in your family

And don’t tell me about your godliness – first put it on display in your family. First, show your godliness at home, in the house, before you make a speech about it anyplace else. I’ve thought to myself that one of the things we ought to do in a seminary application is to ask the mother to write a letter of reference. I don’t think we’ve ever done that but … as I think about it, that would be a great idea. What kind of son is this young man? And what are the evidences of godliness that you have seen in the home?

We might cut down our applications a bit with such a process, but it might be well worth it because that’s where godliness is proven, it’s proven in the home.

Of the family obligation to help a widow, Henry says:

This is called showing piety at home (v. 4), or showing piety towards their own families. Observe, The respect of children to their parents, with their care of them, is fitly called piety. This is requiting their parents. Children can never sufficiently requite their parents for the care they have taken of them, and the pains they have taken with them; but they must endeavour to do it. It is the indispensable duty of children, if their parents be in necessity, and they in ability to relieve them, to do it to the utmost of their power, for this is good and acceptable before God If any men or women do not maintain their own poor relations who belong to them, they do in effect deny the faith; for the design of Christ was to confirm the law of Moses, and particularly the law of the fifth commandment, which is, Honour thy father and mother; so that those deny the faith who disobey that law, much more if they provide not for their wives and children, who are parts of themselves; if they spend that upon their lusts which should maintain their families, they have denied the faith and are worse than infidels.

MacArthur points out that, in ancient Greek law, children were obliged to support their elders:

Reading from the Greek culture, it was Greek law from the time of Solon that sons and daughters were not only morally but legally bound to support their parents. Anyone who refused that duty lost his civil rights.

Aeschines, the Athenian orator, said in one of his speeches, “And whom did our lawgiver condemn to silence in the assembly of the people? And where does he make this clear? Let there be,” he says, “a scrutiny of public speakers in case there be any speaker in the assembly of the people who is a striker of his father or mother or who neglects to maintain them or to give them a home.” Demosthenes said, “I regard the man who neglects his parents as unbelieving in and hateful to the gods, as well as to men.” And Philo talked about the fact that even old birds take care of their parents because they taught them how to fly. Should humans do less than that? And we have a responsibility to care for our parents, particularly those widowed ones.

Paul distinguishes two types of widow: one who is all alone but continues her devotions to God (verse 5) and one who is self-indulgent and dead, even though she is alive (verse 6). Paul means the second type of widow is dead in sin, not dead to sin, which the first widow is.

MacArthur gives us the Greek for ‘all alone’ in verse 5:

The verb here “has been left alone” monoō. We get the word mono, which means single. It’s in the perfect tense and it means a continual condition or state or permanent position of being forsaken without resources.

He discusses the first type of widow, the one devoted to God:

Verse 5, “She trusts in God.” Now, the Greek text says elpizō, the verb, “She has fixed her hope on God.” She has fixed her hope on God. That’s also a perfect tense. She not only is in a continual condition of being without means but she is in a continual condition of presenting herself to God as her only hope. Her settled condition is one of desolation. Her settled attitude is one of hope in God.

What does that tell us? She’s a Christian. What kind of widows is the church responsible to support? Number one, those who have no children or grandchildren who are supporting them. Two, a widow who is a believer, a single woman having lost her husband who is a believer. If she’s never had a husband and is single, she is still the care of her father. That’s another issue. But this woman is the woman who has no one to care for her and she has fixed her hope on God. She trusts in the God who has promised to care for widows, the God who has entrusted Himself to her to be her support when she has no support.

This means she’s a Christian lady. Only – now get this – only to such women does the church have this special responsibility. We may choose to help non-Christian women; we must help Christian women. This is a mandate. We might choose to do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith. We are bound to serve the Christian woman who is destitute. She looks to God for the supply of her needs

So here is the kind of widow that is to be supported. We are to come to the aid of a woman who trusts in God, a believing woman, a godly woman. And her godliness is seen in the next phrase. “She continues in supplication and prayers night and day.” The fact that she had fixed her hope on God shows that she’s a Christian; the fact that she continues day and night in prayer and supplication shows that she’s a committed Christian, a godly woman – not just a saved woman but a godly woman.

Anna the prophetess was one such example of a godly widow:

Her name was Anna and she was there at the dedication of the baby Christ, the child Christ, when He was brought to the temple. “And there was one Anna,” Luke 2:36 says, “a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, she was of great age and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity.” She would have been married very young, no doubt in her teens, she lived seven years with her husband and her husband died.

“And she had never departed from the temple but served God with fastings and prayers” – there it is – “night and day.” She had the privilege of being there when the Messiah Himself arrived and was dedicated in the privilege of going out and speaking of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Israel. Here was a woman who lost her husband and devoted herself to God. This is a woman worthy of support. If God wanted to give her a husband, that’s fine. If God wanted her to be remaining single, that’s fine.

Her heart was given to God. And yes, she poured out her petition, and yes, she poured out her supplication, but also with it her praise and her thanks and her adoration and her worship.

Now let’s look at the widow of verse 6.

Henry says:

But she is not a widow indeed that lives in pleasure (v. 6), or who lives licentiously. A jovial widow is not a widow indeed, not fit to be taken under the care of the church. She that lives in pleasure is dead while she lives, is no living member of the church, but as a carcase in it, or a mortified member. We may apply it more generally; those who live in pleasure are dead while they live, spiritually dead, dead in trespasses and sins; they are in the world to no purpose, buried alive as to the great ends of living.

MacArthur would agree with that assessment:

The Greek says the living for pleasure one living is dead. In other words, the one who goes out and lives for her own ease and all she wants is her own satisfaction and her own indulgence, she may be living physically but she is dead – what? – spiritually.

There are women like that. They have no family. They have to go out and support themselves, but they don’t trust God for that. They don’t hope in God for their guidance. They don’t depend on God. They have no heart of devotion to Him, no love for Him, no dependence on Him, no desire to obey Him, but rather they live for pleasure. Now that Greek term means to live sensually. Some have translated – it’s a very rare verb, spatalaō, it means to plunge into dissipation. It means to lead a life of wanton pleasure. The word “wanton” means with disregard for what is right. To lead a life of pleasure with no thought for what is right or what is wrong …

Now, it’s likely because of the context here that such women existed in that church, that when their husband was around, they were active in the church. When the husband died or when the husband disappeared, they split and went into that kind of lifestyle. Whatever their past involvement in the church, they forsook it. They were the rocky soil where the plant grew for a little while and then it died. They were the weedy ground where it grew for a little while and then was choked out by the love of lustful desire and the pleasures of the world. For that woman, the church needs to provide nothing. She needs to be turned over to the consequence of her own choices.

And so I do not believe the church is under obligation according to the Word of God to be running around helping ungodly women continue to live their ungodly life.

Paul tells Timothy to command these things so that they may be without reproach (verse 7).

MacArthur explains the verse:

What are these things? Everything he said since verse 3. You command this to your people, Timothy, that they might be without blame, whether they are families who ought to support widows or whether they are widows who ought to live godly lives. He’s pulling everybody in. Everybody involved should be above reproach. The church should be above reproach. The church should be a model of virtue in this area, leaving no legitimate fault to be exploited by the critics.

… the reputation of the church is at stake, and if the church is to be blameless, then you better be commanding these things all the time. You tell your people they’re responsible for caring for widows, widows who are widows indeed, that is without support and who are godly and who walk with the Lord, have manifested their dependence and hope in Him through a life of prayer. If the church is careful and makes these distinctions and supports these women, it will be above criticism, it will gain a marvelous and wonderful reputation. 

Paul returns to the obligation for a household to care for its widows, saying that anyone who does not do so is denying the faith and no better than an unbeliever (verse 8).

MacArthur says:

That’s one of the strongest statements in the whole Bible. You say, “I didn’t think a Christian could be worse than a non-Christian.” Yeah, you can. In terms of the expression here, you are worse than an unbeliever if you don’t take care of your own.

Now, what is he saying here? There’s no break in thought. The term “but” keeps the same flow going, the break comes in verse 9 … he states in verse 8 negatively what he said in verse 4 positively. In verse 4 he said, first of all, children take care of your parents. Now in verse 8, he says if you don’t, you’re worse than an unbeliever. But he goes beyond parents here, and he gives us more criteria to evaluate our responsibility.

The fact that he said it in verse 4 in a positive way and now says it in verse 8 in a negative way leads me to believe that there were a lot of violations of this in Ephesus, and the level of Paul’s exasperation was rising and rising because so many people were violating the biblical ethic toward women in need. So he says, “If anyone doesn’t provide for his house” – and it’s a first-class condition and that means it states a fact so it could be translated, “When any of you doesn’t provide for your family” or “Since some of you are not providing for your family.”

It’s a very simple statement of fact. If you don’t provide, and that is pronoeō, to think before, to plan before, to care for someone, to take thought to help, if you’re not planning into your life the care of your own – your own what? – your own widows.

Now, what does he mean, your own widows? That’s very vague and it is purposely vague because it refers to anybody networked with you. In your family? Not specifically because that comes next, but in your circle of relationships, maybe your relatives, maybe your friends, maybe your neighbors, maybe your acquaintances, anybody networked in life through you, whether in your house or another house, it’s purposely vague. And again I say it isn’t the question of the organized church doing it, it’s the question of a believer doing it.

MacArthur says that the onus can fall upon us as individual churchgoers to support godly widows if we see their need before our church does:

many people will come to me, and they will say the church ought to help this lady, she needs $200. Why can’t the church help her? Well, we want to do everything we can, but if you say that to me I’m liable to say back to you, “Why can’t you help her?” And if you say to me, “I can’t help her because I don’t have anything, either,” then we’ll help both of you gladly. But don’t come and expect the church to do what you won’t do. That’s not the idea. Where do you – who do you think the church is? If you have a burden for someone, then the responsibility lies with you to do what you can to see that that burden is alleviated.

So first of all, if you don’t provide for your own, that is the widows that are in your network, the bereft women that you know of, and especially of those of his own family. So we know the first phrase is beyond family, especially of your own family. He says if you don’t help the ones in your network and especially in your own family, your own parents or grandparents or your own aunt or your own sister or whatever, someone close to you, if you don’t help those along with everyone networked who in any sense belongs to you as a friend or an acquaintance, you are guilty of two things.

Look at the first one, you’ve denied the faith. Now, he doesn’t mean you personally have lost your personal faith in God. He doesn’t mean that. He’s not judging your soul. What he means is you deny the biblical principle of compassionate love that is the very center of the Christian faith. God so loved the world that He – what? – gave. And that’s the heart of the Christian faith. The love of Christ is shed abroad in our hearts, Romans 5:5. By this shall all men know that you’re my disciples, you have love one for another …

So first you’ve denied the faith, and if you’ve denied the faith, secondly, you’re worse than an unbeliever. In practice, you’ve denied the faith. In practice, you look worse than an unbeliever. Why? Because most unbelievers take care of their own. I mean, most pagans know that. And most unbelievers have no idea of the obligation of love that God has given, they just do it naturally.

And most unbelievers have no real model to follow since they don’t know Christ. And most unbelievers – obviously, all unbelievers don’t have the power to love that we have. So we have the mandate, we have the model, and we have the power, and if we don’t come up to the level of an unbeliever in caring for someone in need, then we’re worse than they are. That’s the point. Even pagans revere their ancestors and worship their elders. And the Christian who falls below that basic standard of loving provision is more to be blamed than anybody is to be blamed – blamed because of what he knows, the command he’s under, and the love he possesses.

I can attest to an example of anonymous giving at my church just a few months ago. Someone put £200 in an envelope which had a congregant’s name on it and gave it to one of our churchwardens. The churchwarden made sure that the person received the cash.

Our church has turned into an amazing place in the past couple of years. But I digress.

I would like to end with observations that John MacArthur has on feminism. In parliamentary debates here in the UK, I hear many Labour MPs, particularly women, lament the poverty levels in single-parent homes. Those Labour MPs are also very much pro-abortion.

MacArthur says the problem will only grow worse, and he delivered today’s sermons in 1986. He was speaking of the US here, but similar things are happening in Britain:

Seventy percent of today’s women in the labor force work out of economic necessity. More often than not, they are single, widowed, or divorced. And more often than not, they are poor. Seventy-seven percent of this nation’s poverty is borne by women and their children. The number of poor families headed by men has declined over the last 15 years by more than 25 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of women who headed families at the poverty level or lower has increased nearly 40 percent. Thus, today, one in three families headed by women is poor, compared with one in ten headed by men, and one in nineteen with two parents.

The point of all of this is to let you know that with women’s liberation has come female poverty. When you have the liberation of woman alongside the liberation of everybody from marriage commitment, you have women being thrown out of marriages and left to fend for themselves everywhere. According to the 13th annual report of the President’s National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity, I’m quoting: “If the proportion of the poor among female householder families continues at the speed that it’s going now, the poverty population will be composed solely of women and their children before the year 2000.”

Women are being dispossessed. They are being left alone. Therefore, they don’t want children. The only way to deal with unwanted children in a society where they’re reaching out for every relationship they can find is to abort those children. And the Centers for Disease Control tell us now that abortion has reached the place where it is the sixth leading killer among maternal diseases. And according to the May ’85 issue of OB/GYN, obstetrics and gynecological journal, they estimate that 50 percent of the deaths related to abortion are not reported, so it’s double whatever the statistics indicate.

Women are victims of abortion in incredible ways. Not only death, pelvic abscess, perforation of the uterus and other internal organs, medical complications in abortion include sterility in as many as 25 percent of all women having abortions. Hemorrhaging occurs in ten percent of all cases, requiring transfusions. Viral hepatitis, cervical laceration, cardiorespiratory arrest, acute kidney failure, amniotic fluid embolus, and it goes on and on like that.

The result of this is medical care for men has gone up 12 percent in the last few years. Medical care for women has gone up nearly 30 percent. So what we have now are a rising population of dispossessed women who have to run their own life and their own family, earn their own living, take care of their own medical needs, and in the process of doing that, pay more money than men do for medical care because of the problem of abortion. Such is the cost of feminism: the loss of health, the loss of financial stability, the loss of care.

Since 1960, the number of women in the work force has doubled. Forty-five percent of the entire labor force of the United States is now female, and they still earn an average of $10,000 a year less than men, and get this: The average four-year-college-graduate female in the working place earns the same amount or less as a male high school dropout. Now, I’m not saying that’s right, I’m just saying that’s fact. What they have worked to get, they haven’t gotten, and what they didn’t expect to get, they got.

Demanding equality has backfired. Employees won’t pay women as much because of daycare center costs, because of maternity leave, because of sick-child absences, and 45 percent of the women in the work force are single, divorced, separated, or widowed, and they’re the only person to care for themselves and their children.

And women’s liberation and women’s equality and everybody saying, “Take care of yourself, baby” has backfired. You add to that casual, recreational sex and illegitimate children and abortion, you add no-fault divorces, which leaves them with no right to alimony, and you have the feminization of poverty. And women have become the victims of the second biggest con game in history. The first was when the serpent persuaded Eve she needed to upgrade her life and be equal to God. The second is when the serpent deceived woman into thinking she needed to upgrade her life and be equal to man. Women will never be equal to men, nor will men be equal to women, they’re just different.

According to Lenore Weitzman, in her book The Divorce Revolution: The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America, she writes, “On the average, divorced women and the minor children in their households experience a 73 percent decline in their standard of living in the first year after divorce.” That’s devastating. Seventy-three percent decline. The former husbands, in the first year after divorce, experience a 42 percent rise in the standard of living. He’s unloaded all his baggage. And now – in 1940, one out of every six marriages ended in divorce. Fifty years later, half of all marriages end in divorce.

[The author George] Grant closes this chapter on this issue in his book by saying, “Poverty in America has taken on an increasingly feminine face. More and more women than ever are falling through the gaps in society’s safety net. Much of the cause for this abominable situation must be laid at the door of the very movements that sought to liberate women, the abortion movement, the careerist movement, and the no-fault divorce movement. Through them, the structures once built into our cultural system designed to protect women have been systematically dismantled. Dire poverty and even homelessness have become inevitable.”

And then he says this: “The solution to the feminization of poverty and the feminization of homelessness thus does not depend upon the advocacy of feminism. Indeed, it cannot. The solution lies with the church. Care for women caught in the clutches of poverty and homelessness, abandonment, widowhood, and distress is always a central sign of devotion to God because God cares so much.”

By God’s design, women are always to be cared for. Whoever said, “Baby, you’re on your own” defied the purpose and plan of God. And what I’m saying in all of this is what we’re looking at, people, is a continual explosion of dispossessed, homeless, poor, alone, desolate, needy, non-supported women. And the burden for all of that is going to come right to the foot of the church initially because if we are the representation of God in the world, then we need to represent the compassion of God toward those people, and He cares, and we have to care as well.

You see, whenever you buy into Satan’s lies and deceptions, you never get what you think you’re promised. All you get is tragedy. So Paul, writing to Timothy and for us as well, sets in order the responsibility of the church for the care of dispossessed women who are in need.

Paul has more specific instructions for Timothy on the treatment of widows. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Timothy 5:9-16

Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 5:1-2

Instructions for the Church

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s specific instructions to Timothy on how he should conduct himself in Ephesus and the surrounding churches in his mission to rid the congregations of false teachers.

At the approximate age of 35 at this time, Timothy was considered a young man. Paul gave him this advice:

12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

In 1 Timothy 5, Paul lays out instructions on how the young church leader should correct those older than he.

Paul begins with two overarching principles before going into detail.

With regard to men, Timothy should not rebuke a man older than he but rather encourage him as a son would as a father; similarly, he should treat the younger men as brothers (verse 1).

John MacArthur says that, in the Bible, a congregation is called an assembly, a body and a family.

He picks up on the family aspect, explaining Paul’s intentions (emphases mine):

Now, within the framework of our love for each other, there’s a very necessary element, and that’s the element of confronting sin. It’s true in a family and it’s true in a church … Inevitably in a family where there’s love, there is a concern to deal with something that isn’t right. That’s just part of being a family … 

… it springs from love because love says, “I care that you know the blessing of God. I care that you prosper spiritually. I care that you be happy and joyful. I care that you be useful to God. I care that you be in His will and know the outpouring of His grace. In fact, I care so much that when I see sin in your life, I want to bring it to your attention.” That’s family love, and that’s exactly what Paul calls for in these two verses. Let’s look at them.

Timothy was in a family in Ephesus, a part of God’s greater family of the church, and the family, as it were, in Ephesus had some very serious sins. As we have been studying 1 Timothy, I think we’ve become fairly well aware of those sins. Time and again throughout this epistle, I have pointed out to you how Paul makes an issue of some wrong doctrine or some ungodly characteristic of the people in that assembly.

For example, if you go back to chapter 1, the emphasis in verses 5 and 6 about living love out of a pure heart, having a good conscience and an unhypocritical faith from which some have swerved indicates that there were some in the church who had abandoned truth and some who had abandoned purity and godliness and virtue. Down in chapter 1, verse 19, he calls to Timothy to hold on to the faith and a good conscience and again says some have put away these things and made shipwreck of their life. There were in that Ephesian church people at all levels, male and female and all age categories, who were abandoning true doctrine and abandoning godliness.

The injunction in chapter 2, verse 8, that men were to pray lifting up holy hands may have a bit of a polemic in it. That is to say there were some men standing up in the congregation who were praying to God in a pious mode while there was sin in their life. Obviously, from verse 9 there were some younger women who were adorning themselves in immodest apparel and more concerned were they about their jewelry and their appearance on the outside than they were about their hearts. Some of them were usurping the role of the older man in leadership in the church and needed to be reminded that the priority for them was to bear children, to raise them in godliness.

Chapter 3 indicates to us by the standards given to qualify the ones that are to be pastors that some older men had aspired to the role of overseer and pastor in the church, elder in the church, but their lives did not qualify, and so Paul gives the qualifications for one who should have that office. Some in chapter 4 who were in the role of teachers were teaching demonic doctrine that was really coming from seducing spirits.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out the importance of winsomeness in ministry. That’s important because it brings positive results:

Ministers are reprovers by office; it is a part, though the least pleasing part, of their office; they are to preach the word, to reprove and rebuke, 2 Tim 4 2. A great difference is to be made in our reproofs, according to the age, quality, and other circumstances, of the persons rebuked; thus, an elder in age or office must be entreated as a father; on some have compassion, making a difference, Jude 22. Now the rule is, 1. To be very tender in rebuking elders—elders in age, elders by office. Respect must be had to the dignity of their years and place, and therefore they must not be rebuked sharply nor magisterially; but Timothy himself, though an evangelist, must entreat them as fathers, for this would be the likeliest way to work upon them, and to win upon them. 2. The younger must be rebuked as brethren, with love and tenderness; not as desirous, to spy faults or pick quarrels, but as being willing to make the best of them. There is need of a great deal of meekness in reproving those who deserve reproof.

Having been steeped in Scripture by Lois and Eunice in his formative years, Timothy understood what he had to do in Ephesus. How to do it was another matter, hence Paul’s advice.

MacArthur cites Proverbs in this context:

Timothy certainly would have known the truth of the book of Proverbs. Over and over and over again it says in Proverbs how absolutely vitally important it is to have discipline. Faithful, it says, are the wounds of a friend. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Open rebuke is better than secret love. And if you study Proverbs carefully, you will find that in Proverbs 15:32, discipline leads to understanding. In Proverbs 19:25, it leads to knowledge. In Proverbs 15:31, it leads to wisdom. In Proverbs 13:18, it leads to honor. And in Proverbs 6:23, it leads to a happy life. It purifies because it has a way of tackling sin and seeing it eliminated. Timothy knew that.

MacArthur gives a number of examples of constructive rebukes from the Bible. Here are two of them:

You see, God has always wanted to eliminate sin in His family. Now, how should it be done? Let me give you some thoughts on that. First of all, it should be done fearlessly. We should go to someone in sin without any fear and confront that sin …

In the intimate, loving relationships of a family, you do not harshly rebuke, he says, the next verb, you exhort, parakalei from parakaleō. It means to encourage, admonish, entreat, appeal. My favorite translation of that is the word strengthen.

I like the idea of strengthen because it’s a positive thing. It means – para means alongside, called alongside. You’re called alongside to help someone. The Holy Spirit is the paraklētos, the Comforter. The Word of God is paraklēsis, the comfort of the Scriptures. The Word of God comes along and strengthens. The Holy Spirit comes along and strengthens. And we are to come along and strengthen

Although it’s not an illustration within the family of God, perhaps an illustration of this idea comes from Daniel. When Daniel came to confront his – well, the sin of his king at that time, Nebuchadnezzar, it’s interesting to me how Daniel, a much younger man than Nebuchadnezzar, handled it. In Daniel 4:27, this is what he says – there’s no violence here, there’s no harshness, but it’s very straightforward: “Wherefore, O King,” he gives him his proper title, “Let my counsel be acceptable unto thee and break off thy sins.” That’s pretty direct. Stop sinning.

But he doesn’t lambaste him with verbiage, he calls him “O King.” Respect. He says, “Please,” as it were, “let what I say be acceptable unto you. Stop sinning.” Very direct, very sharp censure with authority, fearlessly, but with respect.

Another illustration of this closer to home (because it relates to those within the family of God) is Galatians chapter 2. Look at it with me for just a moment. Peter was the elder apostle, the senior statesman, and the apostle Paul saw Peter sin a sin. And in Galatians 2:11, Paul is in the somewhat unenviable position of needing to confront an older man than he about his sin. “So when Peter was come to Antioch,” Paul says, “I withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed.” I went nose-to-nose with him. Fearless, sharp, with authority because Peter decided to live like a legalist. He tried to impose legalism in his behavior.

But I want you to notice how Paul confronted him in verse 14. “When I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before everybody, ‘If you, being a Jew, live after the manner of gentiles and not as do the Jews, why are you compelling the gentiles to live as the Jews?’” You’ve been liberated, you’ve been living like a gentile, now you’re buying into tall this ceremonialism. Why are you doing that?

Now, I want you to notice that in verse 11, he says, “I withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed.” But when he speaks to him, he doesn’t even make a statement. What does he do? He asks a question. He asks a question in deference to the dignity and the respectfulness of age. That’s an illustration of how to confront an older man who has sinned and still maintain a spirit of respect

Matthew 18, “If your brother sins, go to him.” Luke 17 says the same thing. If your brother is in a trespass, go to him.

With regard to women, Paul advises Timothy to treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters in all purity (verse 2), in other words, banishing any lustful thoughts.

Henry says:

3. The elder women must be reproved, when there is occasion, as mothers. Hos 2 2, Plead with your mother, plead. 4. The younger women must be reproved, but reproved as sisters, with all purity. If Timothy, so mortified a man to this world and to the flesh and lusts of it, had need of such a caution as this, much more have we.

MacArthur gives us an example from Philippians 4 concerning older women:

… the apostle Paul, writing to the Philippians, has to confront a discipline situation and in this case very likely a couple of older women. They’d been around a while. They had helped others in the gospel. They had ministered. They had been a part of the team of women that assist in gospel ministry. But they had become apparently argumentative, cantankerous, faction-producing women in the church at Philippi, and that’s enough to make any pastor upset. But notice how Paul approaches this in chapter 4.

He starts out with all this sort of lovey approach, “Therefore, my brethren, dearly beloved, longed for, my joy and crown, stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved,” and you know you’re just about to get hit because it’s so overdone. All this love but that’s just – that’s Paul wanting to rebuke a couple of older women but let them know he loves them and he longs for them and they’re dear to him. And then he says, “I beg you, Euodia and beg Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” Quit fighting in public. “And I beg you also, true yoke-fellow” – now he’s calling on someone to help.

The Greek word for true yoke-fellow is suzugos and it could be a proper name. He may be saying, “Suzugos, you help those ladies” – or he may just be saying true yoke-fellow in the sense of you folks get alongside and help those women, and then he says this – “who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also and with other fellow workers whose names are in the book of life.”

You see, he’s saying you’ve got to do something about those sinning women, but don’t forget this, I love them, I long for them, they served me, they served others, they’ve worked in the gospel. In other words, get a context for your rebuke. And that’s a context of what? Of love and gentleness, as to a mother. That’s how you deal with them.

MacArthur elaborates on what Paul means by ‘in all purity’ when mentioning younger women:

That means you are morally, in the sense of lust, indifferent to her. And by the way, this is the only one of the four groups where he adds any other statement, and in this one he says, “with all purity.” And because he makes the emphasis on the last one, I think perhaps we ought to listen to that emphasis that he makes …

… And that is such a common thing and needs such warning that the apostle adds “with all chastity” because he knows that one of the roles of a pastor is sometimes to have to confront younger women, and in such confrontation, impurity can result. Whoever deals with younger women, they are to deal with them as a sister, and the key word is purity.

With older men, respect. With younger men, humility. With older women, gentleness. With younger women, purity. Too often men begin confronting younger women and disgrace themselves with impurity and commit acts of spiritual incest. And nothing, it seems to me, so easily makes or breaks a young pastor as his conduct with women. And even if it is not outright immorality, if thoughtlessness or indiscretion comes, it too can destroy that ministry, regardless of his leadership ability or his pulpit eloquence.

MacArthur gives advice on confronting younger women and what to avoid:

So we have to deal with younger women and confront sin and come alongside and encourage them to godliness and encourage them to holiness, but always treating them as a sister whose purity we would maintain at all costs. So many fall at this point that I would like to draw our thoughts to a conclusion with just perhaps a word about how we can do that with purity. And for an insight into that, let’s go back to Proverbs chapter 6, and this gives us very helpful instruction.

I would suggest six things are necessary in order to deal with younger women as sisters and not fall to some spiritual incest within the family of God. And I say again, it happens so frequently, so tragically. May I suggest to you that these are practical little things that give you sort of a starting point? Number one, to maintain purity in dealing with younger women, avoid the look. Chapter 6, verse 25, the end of the verse, “Neither let her take thee with her eyelids.” With her eyelids. Avoid the look.

Secondly, avoid the flattery. Verse 24, “The commandment of God is given to keep you from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a foreign woman.” Men are susceptible to the looks, they’re susceptible to the flattery. It’s always the foreign woman who tells you everything you want to hear. Avoid the look, avoid the flattery. Thirdly, avoid the thoughts, verse 25, “Lust not after her beauty in your heart.” Don’t cultivate in your heart that lingering thought pattern that focuses on the forbidden woman. Avoid the look, avoid the flattery, and avoid the thoughts.

Fourthly, avoid the rendezvous. Chapter 7 sort of implies that. Looking out the window and sees, in verse 7, a simple-minded youth with no brains, wandering around a street, he knows where he is, near her corner. “And he went the way to her house and he hung around a long time in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and in the dark night.” I mean, he’s been there a long time. “And a woman comes out dressed like a harlot, and meets him.” Stay away from the rendezvous …

And then another thought, avoid the house. Verse 25 says – well, from verse 13, on it talks about – verse 14, she says, “I have made my peace offerings, I’ve made my vows,” very religious girl. “And I’ve decked my bed with tapestry.” Verse 16, “I’ve perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon,” so forth and so on. “Let’s fill our – let’s have our fill of love until the morning,” verse 18, “and comfort ourselves with love, my husband is out of town, he’s on a long trip, he’s got a bag of money,” nothing new under the sun, folks …

Avoid the look, avoid the flattery, avoid the thoughts, avoid the rendezvous, and avoid the house. And also, lastly, avoid the touch

Yes, this is Paul’s word to Timothy instructing him how to do it, but it’s obvious that this is an example as to how we all ought to be caring for one another in the matter of confronting sin.

Paul then discusses widows both in terms of estate and spiritual health.

Next time — 1 Timothy 5:3-8

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 4:11-16

11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practise these things, immerse yourself in them,[a] so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instructions on being a good servant of Christ Jesus.

Paul is giving Timothy all his commands for good ministry and service to the Lord. Those who are students of Paul’s letters know that the Apostle embodied these throughout his own ministry.

The first part of 1 Timothy 4 concerned pointing out doctrinal error and false teaching, which comes, Paul says, through deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons manifested through liars with no conscience. In the next part (last week’s reading), he tells Timothy to pursue godliness and continue in the study of Scripture and maintenance of the doctrine it teaches.

Once again, Paul is using the word ‘command’, this time directed at the congregations in Ephesus and the surrounding churches rather than at Timothy himself: ‘Command and teach these things’ (verse 11).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains that this refers to godliness (emphases mine below):

To command and teach these things that he had now been teaching him. “Command them to exercise themselves unto godliness, teach them the profit of it, and that if they serve God they serve one who will be sure to bear them out.”

MacArthur says that Paul intends the sense of making the command a practical one:

He is saying, “Give them something but give it in a command mode, make it a practical thing, but make it a command.”

MacArthur delivered today’s sermons in 1986, when preaching began to lose traction in Protestant churches. Having been raised a Catholic, I would say sermons lost their effect in the 1970s.

MacArthur cites the Puritan preacher Richard Baxter as a good example of a servant of Christ giving a command to the congregation:

Where did we ever come up with the style of preaching we have today? Where did we ever come up with sort of wimpy preaching? Richard Baxter says, “Screw the truth into their minds.” He’s right. I mean there is much interesting preaching but not much powerful preaching. There is some entertaining preaching but not convicting preaching. There is popular preaching but where is the transforming preaching? And where did we ever come off feeling that sort of weak suggestions chatted from the pulpit are really what God wants?

MacArthur reminds us that God and Christ also command believers:

God, it says in Acts 17, commands all men everywhere to repent. And when did we decide that it was only a suggestion? When did we decide that we were supposed to cuddle people into the Kingdom instead of command them? We are in a command mode. Yes, with gentleness; yes with meekness; yes, with love; but nonetheless with a certain amount of authority, a certain amount of assertiveness. Jesus, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, gave such an authoritative message, in verse 29 of Matthew 7, it says they were in awe of Him because He spoke as one having what? Authority – authority

Now, I don’t mean you’re abusive and I don’t mean you’re ungracious, but I mean we have got to speak the Word of God, not as a lot of nice platitudes, not as some kind of Pollyanna psychologist, but with a confrontive, strong mode that says, “Do this or else you’re in flagrant disobedience to God with eternal consequences,” right? Somehow we lost that somewhere along the line. But you read through the Pauline epistles, and you will find Paul is often in a command mode. He has his moments of tenderness and his moments of compassion as he speaks to believers, but he does not mitigate in any sense the demand to obey the Word of God.

The faithful servant is bold. He challenges sin head-on. He confronts unbelief, disobedience, and noncommitment, and as God commands all men everywhere to repent, and as God said, “This is my beloved Son, hear Him,” so he carries on that same kind of directive, commanding all men to repent, commanding all men to hear Jesus Christ. Every sermon should have a tone of authority that is unmistakable. And that authority is really built on a foundation. Let me give you that foundation.

First of all, you have to know what you believe about the Bible. If you’re not sure it’s the Word of God, you’re not going to have any authority. Secondly, once you’ve decided it is the Word of God, then you have to decide what it says. And if you’re not sure what it means, you can’t be authoritative, either. So first you have to believe it’s God’s Word, then you have to learn what it means by what it says, and then the third thing is you’ve got to be concerned about communicating it because you care about God’s Word being upheld, and you care, fourthly in the line, about people’s response.

Where does authority come from? One, a commitment to the authority of the Word of God. Two, an understanding of what it means. Three, a belief that God wants it communicated. Four, a belief that men need to hear it. And on that foundation comes authority. If you’re weak on the fact that men need to hear it, if you’re weak on the fact that God wants it communicated, if you’re weak on what it means or you’re weak on what it is, you’re weak, and you won’t have authority.

Our preaching should be filled with commands, not just sentimental pleadings. Instead of trying to sneak up on people and all this subtle kind of stuff, we need to just speak the Word of God and let it do its work. An excellent minister speaks with a practical authority. Yes, commanding and teaching. Commanding and teaching. Here’s the command, here’s what underlies it. Here’s the command, here’s how to carry it out, but with authority. He has authority, pursues godliness, studies the Word, warns his flock, works hard, avoids unholy teaching.

Timothy was probably 35 years old when Paul wrote this letter. He had joined Paul in ministry when he was a teenager, probably at the age of 15. However, those who had been brought up in Greek-influenced culture would not have considered him as having an appropriate amount of wisdom yet.

Therefore, Paul tells Timothy to let no one despise him for his youth but set the believers — the congregations — an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity (vesre 12).

Henry says:

Let no man despise thy youth; that is, give no man an occasion to despise thy youth.” Men’s youth will not be despised if they do not by youthful vanities and follies make themselves despicable; and this men may do who are old, who may therefore thank themselves if they be despised …

Observe, Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their lives, else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other: they must be examples both in word and conversation. Their discourse must be edifying, and this will be a good example: their conversation must be strict, and this will be a good example: they must be examples in charity, or love to God and all good men, examples in spirit, that is, in spiritual-mindedness, in spiritual worship,—in faith, that is, in the profession of Christian faith,—and in purity or chastity.

MacArthur gives us the qualities of a good minister as Paul outlines them, then discusses the power of setting a good example:

So the excellent minister has authority, pursues godliness, studies the Word, warns his people, works hard, and avoids unholy teachingLet’s go to number seven … It’s a very important and basic truth: An excellent minister is the model of spiritual virtue – the model of spiritual virtue. In other words, he is the tupos. The word “example” in verse 12 is tupos. It means the model, the image, the pattern. It’s a pattern laid down.

… It’s the example of setting a pattern of living that others can follow. That is really at the very heart of excellence in ministry. In fact, Thomas Brooks [another Puritan preacher] said, “Example is the most powerful rhetoric.”

This, too, is something that seminaries neglect today, and MacArthur explains why that is:

Recently, a friend of mine visited his alma mater, a well-known seminary in our country, and he suggested to them that the thing he noticed when he was there and the thing he noticed in the graduates coming out from there was a lack of an understanding of true godliness. And he said, “I would like to suggest that the seminary add a class along the lines of holiness and godliness in personal life.” And the rebuttal of the professor was, “That wouldn’t have any academic credibility.”

Well, academic credibility isn’t the issue in the ministry. The issue in the ministry is a godly life, is the model of spiritual virtue – that’s the issue. Give me a godly man, and I’ll show you someone you can pattern your life after. Give me a man whose head is full of knowledge but doesn’t have virtue in his life, and I’ll show you a man you better run from because you’re going to get confused and you’ll start to live like he does, having all the right truth and none of the right behavior, and that kind of a dichotomy is deadly and frightening.

The single greatest tool of leadership – the single greatest tool of leadership – is the power of an exemplary life. It’s the bottom line. Notice verse 12. Paul, writing to Timothy again, whom he wants to be an excellent minister, says, “Let no man” – that’s comprehensive, let no one – “look down on your youth.” How you going to turn that around? By being an example of the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Some versions say in spirit, but that was added later in the manuscripts – doesn’t appear in the earlier ones. Just five: word, conduct, love, faith, purity. You’re to be an example in those areas …

I heard a man on television the other day, and this man was calling for godliness and a prayer life and this – he was saying, you know, we need to be committed to the Lord and we need to get our lives right with God.

And I know that guy, and I know that guy committed adultery, divorced his wife, ran off with a young twenty-year-old girl, came back four years later, started his ministry all up again. He has nothing to say to me. There’s no credibility in what he says. I’m not interested in hearing that from him. It just smacks of hypocrisy. I’m not interested in that. There’s no conviction, and he can’t move my heart, see? I don’t buy into it.

Whenever the pattern of godliness isn’t in the light, it sucks the power out of the ministry and it becomes hollow and shallow. Sometimes people ask the question, you know, “So-and-so’s such a good preacher, so forth, why doesn’t anybody go to the church?” Well, it might well be that the people who’ve been there have seen the lack of living out what is being preached and the loss of integrity is more than they can handle. The excellent minister, see, is to be a pattern of godly virtue that can be imitated.

Thomas Fuller, the Puritan, had a great idea. He said, “Teaching is like putting nails in the wood. Example is like hammering them deep.” He’s right. You can stick the nails in the surface, but if you want to hammer them deep into the hearts and souls of people, it’s example that does that. You set the pattern. Now, the New Testament is replete with this kind of injunction. And I just survey briefly the text because the Word of God carries the power and authority to convict our hearts. In 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul writes, “Be ye followers of me.” And he says, “I beg you to be followers of me. I am the pattern”

Now, when you come into ministry in the church, you are to have a life that can be followed by other people. That’s a tremendous challenge. That’s why James said, “Stop being so many teachers, theirs is a greater condemnation.” Not only because of the seriousness of teaching error but the seriousness of living hypocritically. The life has to match the message, and tragically this is violated, just constantly violated in ministry, constantly.

Be specific – verse 12  … look at what Paul says. What areas are the issue? First of all, “Let no man despise your youth but be an example of the believers.” That’s the general thing. What he is saying here is – now watch this – you are young. With youth comes a certain amount of questioning. You’ve got to have respect if people are going to follow you, right? But if you’re young, you’re going to have to earn that respect. The Greeks subordinated youth to age. If a man didn’t have age, he had to earn respect. So he says to Timothy, “Timothy, you’re going to have to earn respect. You’re not going to get it by your gray hair because you’re not that old” …

So here is a young man, Timothy, under 40, and Paul says to him, don’t let anyone think down, look down, underrate, show contempt on your youth. Now, how are you going to turn that around? How are you going to gain their respect? It’s a question of showing yourself an example to the believers. Reveal yourself to be a model of spiritual virtue. That’s the key – that’s the key …

… the real thing that separates … those who succeed and those who fail is this idea of consistency, who are the loyal, trustworthy, faithful, long-term people who hang in there unswervingly, consistently serving Christ through all the years of their life. That’s the faithfulness, Timothy, just be consistent, unwavering. So important

So, Timothy, you’re to be an example in all these areas and one more, finally in verse 12, in purity. The word is hagneia. It means purity in the area of sexual chastity and also implies purity in the matter of heart intention. If your heart intention is pure, then your behavior will be pure as well. There is to be purity in the sexual area.

That pertains to those of us in the pews, too:

Your life should be so good and so virtuous, your lifestyle so honorable, so biblical, so Christ-exalting that your critics have absolutely nothing to say. First Peter 3:1 says to a wife with an unsaved husband, “You will win your husband not by your words but by your lifestyle,” by your behavior, your conduct, your godliness. Your chaste conduct coupled with reverence, he says in verse 2. In verse 16 of the same chapter, “Having a good conscience whereas they speak of you as evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good lifestyle in Christ.” Isn’t that wonderful?

It’s how you live. It’s where you go. It’s what you do. It’s how you spend your money. And I’m not saying you should be poor. I’m not saying you can’t accept what God wonderfully, graciously gives you, it’s a question of what you pursue.

Paul tells Timothy that, until he returns to Ephesus, he must devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and to teaching (verse 13).

MacArthur explains this verse and how Paul wrote it in Greek:

The little phrase “until I come” implies that Paul was going to return to Ephesus and meet Timothy there again. In chapter 3, verse 14, he said that, “These things write I unto you, hoping to come unto you shortly. But if I have to tarry long,” and he goes on to say then you need to know what to do, so here he says, “Until I come,” until you receive any further orders, this is what I want you to do. I want you to give your attention to the reading, the exhortation, the doctrine, or the teaching.

Now, this is most important. The verb “give attendance,” prosechō, is a present active imperative, that means it is a continuing command. I command you to continually be giving your attention to. This is to become your way of life. Guthrie, helping us to understand the indication of this verb, says, “The verb implies all that is bound up in the previous preparation necessary to these things.” It isn’t just “until I come, read, exhort, and teach,” it is “until I come, give your whole attention to the reading, the exhortation, and the teaching.”

In other words, it isn’t just the act itself, but the verb embodies all that is behind it. It assumes all of the commitment and all of the necessary preparation. In fact, the same verb is used in Hebrews chapter 7, verse 13, of the priest who goes to the altar and is fully absorbed at the altar. All of his thought and all of his energy is devoted to the work of the altar. And that’s what he is saying here. Your whole attention, center and circumference of ministry, is to be involved in the reading, the exhortation and the teaching. That is the embodiment of your ministry.

Now, what do these words mean? Let’s look at them a little more closely. You’ll find them interesting. First of all, he says give your attention continually to the reading. There’s a definite article there in the Greek, it’s not there in the English, it should be there, “to the reading.” Now, what does he mean by that? Well, that’s a reference to the reading of Scripture. But it’s more than that. The definite article isolates this out. This isn’t just reading the Scripture, this is “the reading,” quote/unquote.

What was “the reading”? During every service in the early church, there was a time for the reading, and the reading was a reading of Scripture with an attendant exposition. In other words, it embodied a reading and an explanation of the Scripture. That was the reading. It implies when it’s used with the verb “give your attention to” that if you’re going to give your attention to the reading, that means you are going to be very careful in the text you select. You’re going to be very, very careful in the correctness of your exposition. You’re going to be very, very cautious in all the matters regarding your preparation. You’re going to give your whole attention to the matter of reading and explaining the Scripture

Secondly, notice what he says. If the exposition or the reading is to tell what Scripture means by what it says, then what is the exhortation? That is to call people to apply it. So he says, first dimension, explain it, second dimension, apply it – apply it. The third one, by the way, exhortation simply means that, it means to warn people to obey with a view toward judgment if they don’t, that kind of idea. And come alongside, encourage those people to respond properly, and tell them about the blessing if they do and the consequence if they don’t.

So you explain the Bible and then you press it home with an application to their hearts and bind their consciences to respond, exhortation. Sometimes exhortation is counsel, sometimes it’s comfort, but it always is a binding of the conscience

It’s very difficult to be easy to understand because in order to be easy to understand you have to have mastered your subject. And so you’ve mastered it enough to digest it and put it back out in manageable proportions so people can understand it. But it is not even enough to be understood. I am not content that you should walk out and say, “I understood that.” I don’t want you to leave and say, “I didn’t understand that.” I don’t want you to leave and say, “I did understand that.” I want you to leave and say, “I am going to make sure my life changes to conform to that.” You understand? …

Then he says, thirdly, and here he broadens a little bit his concept, “Give yourself continually to the reading and to the encouragement of people committing themselves to what the reading demands and also to the teaching.” And here he really wraps his arms around a big word, didaskalia, which basically means “teaching.” The idea of it here is give yourself to the whole process of systematically teaching the Word of God. Not just in an expository sermon but in every dimension of ministry.

This could embody the idea of theology, developing a system of theology. It embodies the idea of systematically teaching individual people, one on one, small groups. It’s really a mandate for what the church is all about.

Paul tells Timothy not to neglect the gift he has, given to him by prophecy when the council of elders laid hands on him (verse 14), i.e. ordination.

We will find out more about Timothy’s state of mind in 2 Timothy, but MacArthur posits that he was already going through some sort of inner conflict about his ministry, otherwise Paul would not have mentioned it:

The fact that Paul says “don’t neglect the gift” or “stop neglecting the gift” indicates that either Timothy was about to neglect the gift or had already begun to neglect the gift. Either way, Timothy is in a dangerous spot.

Timothy is where a lot of people in the ministry have been, a point of departure. The place where you say, “That’s enough, I’m getting out, I can’t handle the pressure externally, I can’t handle the pressure internally, I don’t need this, I’m not cutting it, it’s not happening, it’s not fulfilling me, it’s not what I want.” And there is Timothy on the edge of that kind of thing, whether he’s actually begun to neglect or about to neglect, he’s close to that, therefore comes the warning

Timothy is young. Timothy is struggling in his own heart with his own spiritual development. He’s got a formidable bunch of foes in the Ephesian errorists who have high-powered sophisticated quasi-theology that’s really philosophy. Timothy can’t handle it, he can’t argue with it. He’s not very good in apologetics maybe. He’s up against some real battles. People don’t want to hear what he says. There are errorists in leadership there

you’ll know that Paul was one of those elders whose hands were placed on Timothy. “Hey, we were there when it was all begun. We were there when the Spirit of God, by revelation through prophecy, confirmed your ministry, your gift. We put our hands on you. Did you forget that? Stir up that gift.”

I mean it was so difficult for Timothy and the pressure was so great and the antagonism so great and, let’s face it, what ultimately happened to the church at Ephesus? It left its first love and what? It went out of existence. So whatever effort Timothy made here was a very short-lived effort. The opposition was formidable. And he’s – he’s like a guy in a church that’s dying and he says, “I’m trying and I’m giving it everything I’ve got.” And he was the best man there was available. But the thing was going to die. And he was fighting it every way he could. And finally, was he just beginning to say I can’t handle it, I’ve got to give up, I can’t make it, I can’t fight it? …

So in trying to call Timothy to fulfill his calling, he starts by saying, “You have received a spiritual gift for this.” That’s why you can’t – that’s why you can’t give credit to a man for his gift because it isn’t his by choice or by pursuit, it is his by sovereign grace. Don’t neglect the gift that’s in you. Stop neglecting the thing the Spirit of God has given you. “Stop neglecting,” by the way, is present active imperative, it’s a command and it’s a continual idea which leads us to say that it could well be “stop neglecting” because he’s already in the process of neglecting it.

The gift, charisma, what is that? That’s the grace gift … Every believer is given a gift. What is that gift? It’s simply a means or a channel by which the Spirit of God ministers through you to others

So subjectively, he says, “Timothy, you’re gifted for this.” Objectively, look what he says. “Objectively, Timothy, that gift was given you publicly by a prophecy.” I don’t believe he received the gift through the prophecy, but I believe there was a public affirmation of that gift by direct revelation from God.

When did that happen? Well, in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, Paul was traveling through Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe in the Galatia area and he came to this area, he met this wonderful young man named Timothy who was well spoken of by everyone for his faith in the Lord, a very gifted young man. He had wonderful heritage with his mother and grandmother being stalwart Christians. He came from a Jew-gentile background which made him able to reach into both cultures. He was an ideal young man for Paul to take. And I believe that it was at that time, though it doesn’t say so in Acts 16, it says so here, that there was a prophecy given, a direct prophecy from God came, and the Spirit of God spoke that Timothy was set aside for the preaching and teaching of the Word.

It would be very much like what happened in Acts 13 when the Holy Spirit said, “Separate unto me, Saul and Barnabas, for the work that I have for them.” And there was direct revelation to the church in Antioch that Barnabas and Saul were set apart for ministry. I think Timothy went through the same kind of a situation there when Paul met him in Acts 16, very likely the church came together and the Spirit of God spoke through one of the prophets a direct prophecy, a direct revelation, saying this man has the gift. So he had a subjective confirmation, the internal gift and the desire of his heart. He had an objective confirmation, the voice of God speaking directly a prophecy that this was his to do.

Now, let me say that is not normative. I’m not in the ministry today because God gave me a revelation. This is extraordinary. This is in the apostolic area and this is not normative. Today, that objective, external confirmation would come from providence, not direct revelation. In other words, how God arranges your circumstances, how He arranges your opportunities, how He arranges your situation, how He leads and directs and the people that you meet and the opportunity you have

The third thing comes at the end of verse 14, this also mentioned not only was he compelled to minister from the gift that was in him and compelled to minister from the revelation that was outside him, but also with the laying on of the hands of the elders. Here is the church confirmation. If the first is subjective and the second is objective, the third is collective.

The church affirms it and says yes. And that happened in Acts 16, surely. The church said yes, he is a fine young man. The Holy Spirit said yes, through the voice of a prophet, this is the young man. The heart of Timothy said yes, this is what I want.

Paul tells Timothy to practise what Paul has written and immerse himself in those things so that everyone can see his progress (verse 15).

MacArthur explains:

An excellent minister is totally absorbed in his work – an excellent minister is totally absorbed in his work. Verse 15, the word in the Authorized is “meditate.” A better one would be “be diligent, be diligent in these things, give yourself continually to them.”

Now let me explain what this part means. It’s very, very good, very helpful. An excellent minister is a one-minded man, he’s not a double-minded man who is unstable and vacillating in all his ways, as James 1:8 says, but he is more like the apostle Paul that said, “This one thing I do.” He is really a single-minded person. Ministry is all-consuming. The word “be diligent,” by the way, it could be translated a lot of different ways, but in looking at every use of that verb, meletaō, in the New Testament, the best meaning is the idea of thinking through beforehand, planning, strategizing, or simply to premeditate …

“Give yourself wholly to them” is an interesting statement. In the Greek, it’s actually just the verb “to be.” It literally would read this way, instead of give yourself wholly to them, it would read, “Be in them,” the verb “to be,” eimi, be in them, be wrapped up in them, be totally absorbed. The construction expresses total absorption, completely immersed. Somebody said, “It doesn’t take much of a man to be in the ministry but it does take all of him.” Bury yourself in your pursuit. That’s so very, very basic. And so an excellent minister is totally absorbed in his work …

… you’re never off duty, don’t ever go off duty. Stay on duty all the time … You’re always on duty. You’re always at your post. My dad used to say to me, “A preacher ought to be able to preach, pray, or die within a minute.” I’m ready – point me in the right direction.

MacArthur updates the list of things required for good ministry:

Warning of error, studying diligently the Word of God, avoiding unholy teaching, cultivating a disciplined holy life, committing to work hard in view of eternity, teaching with authority, modeling spiritual virtue, maintaining a thoroughly biblical ministry of the Word, fulfilling completely the call of God, that demands being totally absorbed in the work.

As for everyone being able to see Timothy’s progress as a servant of Christ, MacArthur says:

Now, what does “progress” admit? It admits that you aren’t what you should be yet, right? So don’t run around trying to play God. Don’t try to convince people that you have no flaws, just let them see you growing. Be that honest …

The word “progress” is used in a military sense for an advancing force. It was used by the Stoics to refer to advancing in learning or understanding or knowledge. It was used of a pioneer cutting a trail by strenuous effort and advancing toward some new geographical location. We are to be advancing toward Christ-likeness. Just let them see that you’re advancing. Don’t try to convince them you’re perfect. Be honest enough to just let them know you’re growing – you’re growing.

When anybody says to me, “You know what you said on your tape back in 1973? And then you contradicted that in 1984. Did you know that?” What’s my answer? “I’m growing, I’m growing, give me a break.” I didn’t know everything in 1980, 1973, and I don’t know everything now, so get ready for another tape. I’m growing. They have to see your growth, that’s honesty. There’s humility there.

This also applies to members of a church congregation:

It applies to you, my friend, because we are to be what we are to be in order that you can see what you ought to be. You got that? We are to be what we are to be in order to be patterns for what you ought to be so you can be what we are so someone else can see what you are and follow that. Not off the hook. This is simply modeling for you, for those who follow you. What a marvelous standard.

Finally, Paul tells Timothy to keep a close watch on himself and his teaching; Paul exhorts him to persist in this so that he will save both himself and those who hear him (verse 16).

Paul means that Timothy’s priority should be his own spiritual condition. If his is in good order, then the congregation’s will be, too.

One can apply the oxygen mask principle here: fit yours first, then your child’s.

MacArthur says:

“Take heed” means pay attention. Focus your attention in on two things, yourself and your teaching is what he says. May I suggest to you that the whole of life comes to that for ministry? The whole of life boils down to those two things, take care of yourself and your teaching. That’s it …

… “Pay attention to yourself, your own life.” Everything starts with your own life. Are you an example? Are you exercising toward godliness? Are you being nourished up in the Word? Are you an example? It’s all summed up in that …

… he says, “Look, Timothy, if you continue in personal holiness and continue in accurate teaching, you will keep moving along the path of the perseverance of the saints to your full and final and glorious salvation.” He’s simply approaching it from the vantage point of perseverance. He doesn’t mean you’ll save yourself in the sense that you’ll be your own redeemer. He means you’ll persevere in godliness and guarantee your full salvation.

John said if you go along for awhile and depart, you never were of us. You remember that, 1 John 2? The one who perseveres gives evidence of being in the faith. So he says if you persevere in holiness and truth, you will save yourself. You’ll come right along to full salvation. Also, if you persevere in godliness and truth, you’ll affect others who hear you by bringing them the message of salvation. We don’t actually do the saving, we don’t save ourselves and we don’t save other people, but we are the agent of that as we preach the Word of God, as we live a godly life.

MacArthur concludes:

… what is impressed on my heart is to just remind you that while we talk about the role of Timothy, the role of a pastor, we really are talking about the obligation of every believer to be all that God would have them to be. If a pastor is less than the perfection of Jesus Christ, then he is less than he should be. And if a believer is less than the perfection of Jesus Christ, he is less than he should be or she should be. We all have the same standard. And so we call upon those in leadership to set the standard of this kind of life in order that others may follow to be more like the Savior.

And so we are commanded to persevere to be like God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. When preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said (Matthew 5:48):

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Yes, it is a tall order, and that is why we persevere, in faith and in joy thanks to our inheritance of eternal life with Him.

Next time — 1 Timothy 5:1-2

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 4:6-10

A Good Servant of Christ Jesus

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


Last week’s post discussed the Holy Spirit’s saying that some will fall away from the faith and included a warning about deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons coming from liars with no consciences.

Following on from that, Paul tells Timothy to put those things — biblical truths — before the congregation in Ephesus and neighbouring churches, and then he will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, having been trained in the words of the faith — Scripture — and of the good doctrine he has followed (verse 6).

Matthew Henry’s commentary cites other Apostles who gave that same message (emphases mine below):

The apostle would have Timothy to instil into the minds of Christians such sentiments as might prevent their being seduced by the judaizing teachers. Observe, Those are good ministers of Jesus Christ who are diligent in their work; not that study to advance new notions, but that put the brethren in remembrance of those things which they have received and heard. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though you knew them, 2 Pet 1 12. And elsewhere, I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance, 2 Pet 3 1. And, says the apostle Jude, I will therefore put you in remembrance, Jude 5. You see that the apostles and apostolical men reckoned it a main part of their work to put their hearers in remembrance; for we are apt to forget, and slow to learn and remember, the things of God.—Nourished up in the words of faith and good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. Observe, 1. Even ministers themselves have need to be growing and increasing in the knowledge of Christ and his doctrine: they must be nourished up in the words of faith. 2. The best way for ministers to grow in knowledge and faith is to put the brethren in remembrance; while we teach others, we teach ourselves. 3. Those whom ministers teach are brethren, and are to be treated like brethren; for ministers are not lords of God’s heritage.

John MacArthur says:

… what is curious to me is that instructing Timothy in regard to dealing with false doctrine, he majors on the positive rather than on the negative. That’s a very important thought. The thrust of instruction here shows that the critical way to face false doctrine is not by refuting and denouncing false doctrine all the time, but by positively affirming the truth and living that truth.

And you establish such a high respect for virtue and truth that it becomes far more attractive, desirable, and believable than heresy and lies.

MacArthur points out that it can be problematic for a priest or minister to point out error without pointing out the truth:

you can have a very negative ministry where people know everything they don’t believe, they just don’t know what they do believe. They can do well at refuting error, but it’s hard for them to keep from falling into sin because no one’s ever taught them the principles and dynamics of living the Christian life. They know what’s wrong, but they don’t know what’s right.

On this line of thinking, MacArthur tells us how the FBI train their agents involved in detecting counterfeit:

… about the FBI training people in the counterfeit currency area, they don’t show them anything counterfeit, they just show them everything real, and when they see a counterfeit, it’s very obvious.

Paul is complimenting Timothy in this verse, because he praises him for being a good student of Scripture and the doctrine it teaches. Timothy had a blessed upbringing with his mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice, respectively. From the time he was a teenager, Timothy had a teacher in Paul.

Truth must be at the top of the agenda, but, MacArthur says that there is also room for warning about theological error:

You are strong in the Word and you have overcome the evil one, which means you’ve overcome Satan, who is disguised as an angel of light, purporting to be representative of truth when in fact he is the purveyor of lies. You overcome that by being strong in the Word. So you warn people, that’s a part of it, a reminder, a continual suggestion of error, but you keep building them up in the Word.

MacArthur gave the sermons in this series in 1986. A lot of error was apparent in churches then, and there was a constant call for Christian unity in spite of error, which many good pastors rejected:

I really believe that the failure to have a critical mind and the failure – and I don’t mean by “critical” unkind or ungracious, I mean analytical. The failure to have a critical mind in our generation has allowed the church, first of all, to be infiltrated by all kinds of error.

It has then led to the church becoming confused. It has then led to the church being weak and, of course, the church is even liberal and in some cases it’s totally apostate. Watered-down teaching, platitudes, and sermonettes for Christianettes and limp theology and convictionless preaching have replaced strong doctrine, clear exposition of Scripture, profound preaching, and the legacy has been tragic. Charismatic confusion, psychology encroaching on biblical doctrine, science of mind, psychic and occult ideas pervading Christianity, cultic perceptions, success-oriented motives, prosperity doctrines, positive confessions, all of that stuff has come into the church like a flood.

And honestly, I believe that all of this chaos can be laid at the feet of spineless, convictionless, uncritical pastors who have failed to draw the lines and say there is error and speak to that and build their people up strongly in the Word of God

A pastor’s heart is manifest in how capable a man is at protecting them from wolves. That is a pastor’s heart.

MacArthur says that a good church leader must study the Bible regularly:

Secondly, an excellent minister is also an expert student of Scripture. He is to be an expert student of Scripture. How the church ever lost touch with this is hard for me to believe, but very frankly – and I say this with sadness in my heart – I hear a lot of people who speak and teach and preach who, from my standpoint and the standpoint of those who would look at them from the Bible knowledge aspect, reflect a very minimal understanding and a minimal commitment to the study of Scripture.

There was a day in the history of the church when the great students of Scripture and theology were pastors. The Reformation, all the great reformers who gave us the heart and soul of much of our theological understanding, were pastors of churches. You get into the Puritan era when they were pumping out tremendous books and volumes on doctrine and theology, and they were pastors. That was what a pastor did. He was, above and beyond all things, a student of the Word of God. He was not just a quote/unquote “communicator,” he was a student first and foremost.

He had capability to deal with precision in the understanding and interpretation and application of the Word of God, and that’s what Paul wants to say to Timothy at the end of verse 6. If you want to be a good minister of Jesus Christ, being nourished by the words of the faith and the good doctrine which you have closely followed. This is so basic. Present passive participle, being nourished, you need to be being continually nourished. It is a continual process of self-feeding, by reading and reading and reading and reading and inwardly digesting and meditating and dialoging and mastering the content of the Word of God, rightly dividing it so that you are a workman who needs not to be ashamed.

That phrase “the words of the faith,” the word “the” is in there, refers it to biblical or scriptural writing. The words of the Christian faith is Scripture, the body of Christian truth contained in the Scripture. We are to master the Scripture. We’ll never do it, but that’s our pursuit …

for every one hour that I teach, there are at least fifteen hours of direct study in preparation for that, to say nothing about a whole lifetime that’s behind that. It’s mastering the Word of God, to be able to teach people all things whatsoever I have commanded you, as Jesus said in Matthew 28.

Paul tells Timothy not to have anything to do with irreverent — ‘profane’ in older translations — and silly myths, or ‘old wives’ tales’; rather, he is to train himself for godliness (verse 7).

MacArthur continues on the characteristics of a good pastor with this verse:

Thirdly, an excellent minister avoids the influence of unholy teaching. He avoids the influence of unholy teaching. As strong as he is in the Word, the flipside of that is he is correspondingly disinterested in unholy teaching. Verse 7, “But refuse” – that is a very strong word, paraiteomai, a strong word, reject, put it away – “profane and old women’s myths.” He says refuse unholy teaching.

Profane is bebēlos, it means unhallowed, unholy, radically separate from what is holy. It is the opposite of the Word of God, anything that contradicts the Word of God. And then he refers to “old women’s myths,” which is kind of an interesting phrase. That, by the way, is the opposite of biblical truth. In 2 Timothy 4:4, the same word, muthos, from which we get myth is used there. “They shall turn away their ears from the truth unto muthos.” So truth and muthos are seen as opposite. And what he is saying here is you are to be nourished up in the words of the faith and the good doctrine, but you are to refuse the opposite, the bad stuff.

Now, what are the old women’s muthos? Why does he throw the old women in there? Well, that was a cultural thing. In philosophical circles in that time, they used a little epithet, a sarcastic epithet, and when they wanted to heap disdain on some viewpoint, they would call it an old woman’s myth. “That’s something a senile old lady would tell a kid, that’s a fairy tale. Don’t give me any of your old women’s myths.” That indicated a total lack of credulity.

So Paul sort of picks up that existing sarcastic epithet in philosophical circles and uses it here and the readers would have understood it. “Don’t you fool around with what is radically opposed to that which is holy, and don’t you fool around to something that is opposite the truth.” The mind is a precious thing. And for the one who serves in leadership in the spiritual realm, God wants a pure mind, a pure mind that is saturated with the truth of the Word of God. There’s no place for foolish, silly myths, shallow, radical, ignorant fantasies.

And yet somehow in our contemporary day, we have decided that old ladies’ fables and all these profane teachings are scholarship. And supposedly to be truly educated, you’ve got to spend years learning all of that stuff. We have bowed down to the elite academic establishment in theology that have been doing nothing but pumping out old ladies’ fairy tales and doctrines of demons spawned by seducing spirits.

MacArthur gives us a cautionary true story about seminary:

What really hit me hard in this area was I had ministry as a young man with a fellow who decided to go away to a seminary. And, of course, very liberal, denying the faith and so forth. He came out of there a bartender. That stuck in my mind. It was never my judgment that a seminary was to train bartenders, but in his case, that is precisely what happened. He went in to prepare for ministry, came out a bartender.

Frankly, he would not have been an effective minister because of that kind of background. But the point to me was what a terrible devastation of a person with some kind of positive motivation to start with.

I know of Theology majors, men and women who wanted to pursue the ministry, and who emerged as atheists. That’s not entirely their fault, although they do have to assume some responsibility. That’s largely because of the curriculum.

MacArthur has also had experience with that:

I wanted to complete a doctorate some years back after I completed seminary, and I went in the first time to meet the academic representative who would tell me about the program. And he looked over my transcript and said, “Well, you have one problem. This is going to be a problem, you have too much Bible in your curriculum, too much theology.” I said, “I thought this was a degree in theology.” He said, “Well, it is, but you’ve got too much Bible and theology, so we’re going to have to have some course work given to you which you’ll have to make up before you can enter into the program, and then you can finish in a year and a half.”

And he said, “I’ll give you a list of books that you’ll be required to read and immediately you’ll have to begin a course that will start right this summer.” He gave me a list of about two hundred books

And I looked at this and I checked out the list with somebody who knew these various titles. I went through the whole thing. And I can say that of all two hundred of them, none of them told the truth, basically. Some of them may have intersected with the truth here and there but they were all a lot of error, they were a whole lot of profane and old ladies’ fairy tales passed off as scholarship. And then I received a letter telling me that I would have to take a course in the summer in Jesus and the cinema, which sounded kind of curious to me.

So I called up and I said, “What is Jesus and the cinema?” that was the course title. “Well, what you’ll be doing is watching contemporary movies and evaluating them on whether they are antagonistic to or supportive of the Jesus ethic.” And so what, of course, we were dealing with was strictly the ethical Jesus. I mean, there’s no divine Jesus, just an ethical Jesus, and so you go watch movies and see whether they interact on one side or the other with the ethical Jesus …

And then they gave me some other assignment and I went through all of this, and then I went back out there and I walked to the fellow’s desk and I just put the material down, and I said, “I just want to let you know that I have spent all my life up to this point learning the truth, I can’t see any value in spending the next couple of years learning error, so just forget it.” And I walked away, and I really think that was of the Lord because I’m grateful to God that from the time of the beginning of my training right on through to today, my mind is filled with the truth of God.

MacArthur addresses the latter part of verse 7:

Fourthly … an excellent minister is disciplined in personal godliness. He is disciplined in personal godliness. Verse 7 picks it up, “And exercise yourself unto godliness.” Exercise yourself unto godliness. Oswald Sanders says his book Spiritual Leadership, “Spiritual ends can only be achieved by spiritual men using spiritual methods.” That makes sense. So the issue in ministry is godliness. It isn’t how clever you are, it isn’t how glib you are, it isn’t how good a communicator you are, it is: Do you know the Word of God? Do you have a pure mind? And are you godly? Because ministry is an overflow out of that. It’s an overflow of your life, your virtue.

Paul says that, while physical training has some value, godliness has value in every way, as it holds promise for this life and the life to come (verse 8).

MacArthur explains:

Now let me tell you a little bit about the background of this. Why does he use the word “exercise”? Interesting word, gumnazō. We get the word gymnasium from it. Gymnasium. There’s a word even in that same word group that means naked because they participated in athletics in those days naked or stripped down to just the bare minimum. And so the word meant to exercise or to train yourself in an athletic endeavor, which means rigorous, strenuous, self-sacrificing kind of training. He uses that word. But he picks up on the whole culture that goes with that word when he does it.

For example, in Greek culture – and, of course, Ephesus was right in the heart of Greek culture – every city had a gymnasium. It was a focal point of the city, and youths between the ages of 16 and 18 gave the major proportion of their education to physical training. So much of life in those days was involved with physical activity. Today we have what we call service industries, where you sit behind a desk and push paper. In those days, people moved and walked and worked and bent their back and whatever. And even in domestic chores, that was necessary. Physical training was very vital, and there was a great, great and prized and esteemed viewpoint of athletics, so in every town there would be a gymnasium

In spite of the Stoics who were forever and always protesting against the cult of the body, the cult of the body flourished in the time of the apostle Paul. There were people into the body beautiful, into exercise, into training. Does that sound familiar? That sounds familiar. And we’re in the same kind of a situation today. They were into training the body. So Paul, just by using that one verb, just plays off of that whole cultural illustration and says, “Look, exercise yourself unto” – what? – “godliness.”

I mean if you’re going to go into training, go into training for godliness, go into training for virtue, go into training for the inner man, the soul, the spirit, unto godliness, eusebeia means reverence, piety, true spiritual virtue. Keep yourselves in training for godliness would be a good way to translate the tense of the verb, keep yourselves in training for godliness, discipline yourself unto holiness. Beat your body to bring it into submission, 1 Corinthians 9:27, as Paul did, lest in preaching to others you yourself would be disqualified. You must maintain godliness

Listen, you cultivate godliness, is it a blessing now? Of course. You cultivate godliness and you have a rich, fulfilled, God-blessed, fruitful, effective, useful life now and, he says, of that which is to come. You get involved in spiritual gymnastics and you go to your spiritual gymnasium every day and do your spiritual workout and the results will not only be blessedness in the life that now is, but blessedness in the life that is to come. Spiritual exercise benefits my true self, my soul, my inner man in this life and on into eternity.

Paul emphasises his point: the saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance (verse 9).

MacArthur says:

So he just lays out a very simple principle, the excellent of servant of Jesus Christ is one who is disciplined unto godliness. This is so obvious, this statement in verse 8, that in verse 9, he calls it a faithful saying. “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance.”

Now, that’s a little formula that Paul uses five times in the pastoral epistles, “This a faithful saying,” “This is a faithful saying,” “This is a faithful saying.” Two times he says, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance,” which is just an emphatic kind of affirmation of the first half of the statement. It means it’s a trustworthy statement. It’s a truism. It’s an axiom. It’s a maxim. It’s something patently obvious. Everybody knows it. In fact, that is a formula referring to a common saying in the church. It’s probably a proverbial statement.

Paul ends this section by saying that it is to this end — serving Christ faithfully — that we toil and strive, or ‘suffer reproach’ in older translations; we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe (verse 10).

Henry explains the four principles in this verse:

Here we see, [1.] The life of a Christian is a life of labour and suffering: We labour and suffer. [2.] The best we can expect to suffer in the present life is reproach for our well-doing, for our work of faith and labour of love. [3.] True Christians trust in the living God; for cursed is the man that trusts in man, or in any but the living God; and those that trust in him shall never be ashamed. Trust in him at all times. [4.] God is the general Saviour of all men, as he has put them into a salvable state; but he is in a particular manner the Saviour of true believers; there is then a general and a special redemption.

MacArthur has more about toil and strife:

We’re engaged in an eternal work. The destiny of souls is at stake. There is no higher and no more blessed work in and of itself, but the compelling thing is the eternal aspect. Paul says in verse 10, “We,” probably referring to any companions along with him and very likely embracing Timothy as well and everybody else who is so called to ministry.

The words “labor” and “strive” come from two Greek verbs, kopiaō, which means to work to the point of weariness, exhaustion, sweat. It’s a strong word used many times in the New Testament. The second one is agōnizomai, from which we get agonize and agony. It means to agonize in a struggle. He says we work to the point of weariness and exhaustion. We agonize; that is, we literally work through personal pain because we understand the objectives and they are eternal.

Oswald Sanders wrote, “If he is unwilling to pay the price of fatigue for his leadership, it will always be mediocre. True leadership always exacts a heavy toll on the whole man. And the more effective the leadership is, the higher the price to be paid,” end quote. But we cannot mitigate against that price because we understand the urgency of what we’re all about. Weariness, loneliness, struggle, rising early, staying up late, foregoing desired pleasures, all of that comes with excellence. All of that comes with the hard work of the ministry

MacArthur contrasts the living God with dead idols:

We trust in the living God. You see, it wasn’t for immediate fulfillment but for eternal reward, is what he’s saying. Literally, the Greek text says this: “We have set our hope on the living God.” And “have set our hope” is a perfect, it means we did it in the past and we continue to do it in the present. We did it and it’s still going on. We continually have set our hope in the living God. What do you mean? We’re not doing what we do for time, we’re doing what we do for eternity.

The contrast here is between the living God and dead idols. If you were to open your Old Testament, you could look at 1 Samuel 17, verses 26 and 31; you could look at 2 Kings 19, verses 4 and 16; Psalm 42:2; Psalm 84:2; et cetera, et cetera, and you would find God called the living God, the God who is a living God – and that in contrast to dead idols. All the gods of the nations are dead idols, they’re just dead idols. And so whatever anyone does for those gods is only going to have implications in time, not eternity, because it’s a dead idol.

But Paul is saying we serve, not for just a temporal earthly reward some dead idol that can carry us not beyond the grave at all but only here in time can anything have any meaning, but we serve the living God who is eternally alive and therefore will reward us eternally. That’s the idea. We live in hope. We live in hope, hope of the future.

MacArthur looks at the last part of verse 10, which sounds somewhat Universalist. He points out that ‘saviour’ can mean ‘provider’ as well as ‘deliverer’. In other words, every man has his daily bread, so to speak, on this earth, but only true believers are delivered into the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ:

And I want you to understand this, so stick with me because I think it’s such a rich and wonderful understanding of this passage. In Acts 17:25, we find Paul on Mars Hill. He says about God that God is not worshiped with men’s hands as though He needs anything but seeing He gives to all life and breath and all things. God then, in a sense, is the sustainer – are you ready for this? – and the provider of life and breath and all things for whom? For all men – for all men. For everyone.

Verse 28: For in Him we live and move and have our being and even your own prophets have said we are also His offspring. So in a general sense, God is the sustainer and provider of life for all men. Now, the word “savior” can mean sustainer, provider, deliverer. It is so used later on in the book of Acts, I think it’s in chapter 27, if I remember right, in verse 34. Yes, Paul in the shipwreck situation says, “I beseech you to take some food, for this is for your salvation.” Well, what kind of salvation is he talking about? He’s not talking about spiritual salvation, he’s talking about your health, your physical health, your physical sustenance

James 5:15 to 20, that little passage there says, “The prayer of faith shall” – what? What’s the word? – “save the sick.” So the word “save” does not necessarily isolate itself only to soul salvation. It can have implications for some deliverance from disease, from trouble, some sustenance of food, providing health and so forth.

To give you another illustration of this, go with me to Isaiah chapter 63, just near the end of Isaiah’s great prophecy, and let me show you, I think, a graphic illustration. Now, what we’re trying to point out is – and follow the thought – that God in a temporal sense is the Savior of all men. God sustains life by His providence. God has built healing into the body. God saves men not only in the temporal sense, but – listen to this – He saves them in the gracious sense. “What?” you say. “You mean God gives grace to unbelievers?” Yes, and the grace that is given to an unbeliever is the grace that has God withhold His immediate instant wrath. You understand that? The soul that sinneth, it shall what? Die. The wages of sin are?

How long should a sinner live? A split second. But God is gracious to even sustain the life of an unbeliever. It is His mercy that lets an unbeliever live. So in the real, large, broad sense, God is the deliverer, sustainer, provider of all men. He provides food. He provides life. He provides relationships. He provides healing. He even provides grace and mercy because He does not give them instantly what they deserve

Listen to this. You remember 1 Corinthians 10? Listen. “Moreover, brethren, I would not that you should be ignorant that” – follow this – all our fathers” – all the Jews – “were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, all drank the same spiritual drink.” In other words, God sustained, provided for all of them. Listen to verse 5, “But with many of them, God was not well pleased.” In other words, God provides sustenance on a temporal level for all; salvation on an eternal level for those who believe.

So He is the Savior of all, but especially does He sustain and provide for those who believe and will forever and ever. All left Egypt – all left Egypt. That whole nation, though different people, still duly constituted as a nation, all came into Canaan. God had sustained that nation and its existence. God provided the food, the water, the life, delivered them from illness and danger and enemies, and preserved and sustained them all those years, but redeemed only a few who believed.

God, then, is a deliverer, and what Paul is saying is, “Look, we are doing what we’re doing, we are laboring and striving and working hard and giving our life in the struggle because we believe the consequences are eternal, because we have not a dead God but a living God who will live forever, and we have set our hope on that living God, and we know that living God will sustain the souls of those who believe because we have seen already in time His sustaining power.” That’s his argument.

We preach because we’re convinced that God is a living God who will sustain eternally and provide for and save those who believe. So Paul is saying that’s why we work hard. We have a view of eternity. We see beyond the temporal to the eternal consequence. And, beloved, that is it. And if you ever lose sight of that, you’ve lost it. I mean you’ve really lost it. Your ministry has to be in view of eternity. Doesn’t matter what happens here, only matters what happens here that matters what happens there. This is not the end.

And so he says we serve with all our heart, and that’s why Paul went through what he went through, and that’s why any faithful excellent servant goes through what he goes through because he understands that he’s set his hope on an eternal God who has proven that He can sustain life and He’ll do it for those who believe on into eternity so that what we do has an eternal effect.

Paul has more instructions and guidance on this topic, which we’ll look at next week.

Next time — 1 Timothy 4:11-16

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 4:1-5

Some Will Depart from the Faith

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


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s verses on the mystery of Godliness, with its six truths about Jesus Christ.

These verses, which immediately follow, discuss apostasy. Paul commanded Timothy to rid the churches in Ephesus and surrounds from the false teachers springing up in the congregations.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says the two passages fit together:

In the close of the foregoing chapter, we had the mystery of godliness summed up; and therefore very fitly, in the beginning of this chapter, we have the mystery of iniquity summed up …

We continue to be surprised when people we thought were believers fall away from the faith. However, this has been true since Old Testament times. There are also people who continue to go to church and are active in their respective congregations who do not really believe in Christ. They look the part and act the part but their hearts do not belong to Him.

Paul tells Timothy that the Holy Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons (verse 1).

Here is the verse in Matthew Henry’s version of the Bible (emphases mine below):

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

Sin is seductive. We have only to look at how Satan mentally seduced Eve, who then encouraged Adam to sin (Genesis 3):

The fall

Now the snake was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’

The woman said to the snake, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”’

‘You will not certainly die,’ the snake said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Returning to 1 Timothy 4:1, Henry offers this analysis:

The Spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith; whether he means the Spirit in the Old Testament, or the Spirit in the prophets of the New Testament, or both. The prophecies concerning antichrist, as well as the prophecies concerning Christ, came from the Spirit. The Spirit in both spoke expressly of a general apostasy from the faith of Christ and the pure worship of God. This should come in the latter times, during the Christian dispensation, for these are called the latter days; in the following ages of the church, for the mystery of iniquity now began to work. Some shall depart from the faith, or there shall be an apostasy from the faith. Some, not all; for in the worst of times God will have a remnant, according to the election of grace. They shall depart from the faith, the faith delivered to the saints (Jude 3), which was delivered at once, the sound doctrine of the gospel. Giving heed to seducing spirits, men who pretended to the Spirit, but were not really guided by the Spirit, 1 John 4 1. Beloved, believe not every spirit, every one who pretends to the Spirit.

MacArthur says:

Scripture tells us, whether you’re looking at the history of Israel, or whether you’re dealing with the church, church history affirms it since the finish of the New Testament that there has always been a battleground between God and His truth and the devil and his lies. And that battleground is clearly drawn in Scripture, and the fight goes on constantly. God calls to people through the truth, and Satan with his demons tries to lure people away from truth with his hellish lies.

Now such activities as that were going on in Ephesus when Timothy was there. The presence of false teachers has already been indicated …

This is not anything new; the Holy Spirit has been saying this since the Spirit began giving Scripture in the Old Testament. There are injunctions in the Old Testament about apostasy. There are warnings in the Old Testament about people who would depart from the faith, about now all Israel being true Israel, not all Jews being genuine believing Jews, some of them having uncircumcised hearts, though they had circumcised themselves on the outside. The Spirit, through all of the centuries of redemptive history, has said there would be those who departed from the faith. There would be rebels within the camp of Israel. The prophet spoke of it, Daniel spoke of it, Ezekiel spoke of it; not an uncommon subject at all, rather distinctly and explicitly has the Spirit made such predictions.

In fact, we follow even into the New Testament and we sense how many have departed from the faith, and how the Lord warned that they would do that. In Matthew 24, “Many false Christs, many false prophets would come; they would deceive many, and many would leave the faith.” Mark 13:22 says basically the very same thing: “They would go away from the faith.”

The Scriptures indicate to us in 2 Thessalonians 2 that before the coming of Christ in glory there would be a massive departure from the faith. In 2 Peter, there will come in the last times mockers and scoffers abandoning the faith. Jude 18, the same thing. First John 2, the Antichrist will come. As a result there will be people who will go out from us; it will reveal they never were of us, but they will depart from the faith. In 1 John again, in chapter 4, there is a very straightforward mention that there are false prophets who are gone out into the world, and they will go out into the world and they will rest souls away to their own enterprise. So the Spirit has expressly, explicitly said this time and time again. And the present tense “is now speaking” means that what He is saying right now is part of the continuation of that Holy Spirit revelation …

Do I need to add as a footnote that all biblical revelation comes from the Holy Spirit? Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. That’s how Scripture was written, 2 Peter 1:21. All Scripture comes by the inspiration of God through His Spirit. So what he’s referring to when he says, “The Spirit is now speaking,” is Scripture. He has spoken, He is now speaking through this verse right here as Paul pens it, the very word of the Holy Spirit comes. The stream of Holy Spirit revelation about apostasy is flowing to Paul at this very moment.

MacArthur recaps what we have read so far in 1 Timothy:

Back in chapter 1, do you remember verses 3 to 7 where he discusses the fact that there were some teaching other doctrines, fables, endless genealogies? They were dealing with questions that did not edify. They thought they were teachers and desired to be teachers of the law, but didn’t understand anything that they were saying. Verses 18 to 20 tells us they were apostate, they had made shipwreck of the faith. They had departed from the truth, and they should be delivered to Satan to learn not to blaspheme in such a way.

So at the very outset of this epistle, Paul introduces the false teachers. Then after dealing in chapter 2 and 3 with some of the ramifications of their false teaching in the order of the church as related to men and women and church leaders, he then returns to the matter of the false teachers themselves in chapter 4. He has, as I said, dealt with their teaching and its implications in chapters 2 and 3, called for proper kind of leadership, proper kind of roles in the church, and now comes back to dealing with this issue of false teaching.

there is biblical mandate, and there is eternal cause for the souls of men to deal with false teaching as such. The battle lines were drawn in Israel, they were drawn in the early church, they must be drawn today. And we like Timothy must be warned and instructed as to how to understand what is behind false teaching. It is demonic activity; that is very clear.

You remember that chapter 3 closed with a mention of truth. Verse 15, the church is the pillar and ground of truth. Verse 16, Christ, the mystery of godliness, God incarnate, the very embodiment of truth. And as Paul has spoken of the truth in the church and the truth in Christ, he thinks immediately of the lying counterattack against that truth; and so in chapter 4 launches into a discussion of the demonic force that comes against the truth. He is still dealing with Timothy’s role in the church, with the errors Timothy is facing and how they must be set right. The first five verses of chapter 4, he presents this apostasy, and then from verse 6 to 16 tells Timothy how to be the kind of man necessary to deal with it, how to have the strength to counterattack the attacks of Satan.

MacArthur explains a Greek word Paul used in that verse:

Some, not all; but some, like Judas, like Demas, like the disciples of John 6 who walk no more with Christ, there will be some, he says, who will. And he uses the verb aphistēmi, which gives us the word “apostate.” This form of the verb is apostēsontai, and it means “to depart from,” “to remove yourself from a former place,” “to remove yourself from the position you originally occupied to another place.” That is a purposeful, intentional, deliberate departure from a former position. It isn’t talking about an unintentional fall, it isn’t talking about somebody struggling with doubt; it is someone who deliberately dispossesses himself of truth once affirmed to depart for another teaching, abandoning a once affirmed faith.

Some will do that, he says, some will do it. The term “the faith” means Christian doctrine; not faith in the sense of Christian believing but “the faith” in the sense of the content of what we believe. Some will depart from true faith, from the faith, Jude 3 says, once for all delivered to the saints, the content of Holy Scripture. Defectors who understand, who outwardly affirm, who behave in a way that reflects such affirmation but who have not a heart for God, who rather have an unbelieving heart and under the seduction of demons will depart from the faith. Paul says, “Timothy, you must expect that. Some will do it, and you must know how to deal with it.”

Paul knew this would happen in Ephesus:

Back in Acts 20, long before this event, the writing of this epistle to Timothy, when he gathered with the Ephesian elders in verse 29, he said, “I know that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in, and men who are perverse from among you will rise up and deceive many and lead them astray.” The Spirit had told him that years before in the inspiration of that very moment recorded in Acts chapter 20.

MacArthur gives us six features of apostasy:

Number one is their predictability, their predictability. We should not be shocked. We should not be surprised. We should be ready to recognize apostasy, it is predictable. Verse 1: “But,” – is a better translation of the word de – “but the Spirit is now saying” – present tense – “explicitly that” – goes on to say – “some shall depart from the faith.” In other words, “This is the result of the conflict, and the Spirit has said it would happen.” It is absolutely predictable …

Secondly, in understanding the apostates, we have to look at their chronology. When will this happen? He says in verse 1, “In the latter times, in the latter seasons.” When is this? Is this a long time in the future? When is the latter times? Well, we need only to reflect on the Scripture to answer that question …

We are living then in the last times. “My little children, it is the last days now.” It is the time of Messiah, He has already come. He is now building His kingdom in the hearts of men, and will return to establish it on the earth and then throughout eternity. We are living in the last times …

Thirdly, we learn another thing about apostates: their source. We’ve already alluded to it, let’s look more closely. They are apostate during this dispensation as the Spirit predicted because they give heed to seducing spirits and the teachings of demons. The source – now mark this – the source of apostasy is demonic. It is supernatural.

Paul said it in Ephesians 6: “We do not wrestle against” – what? – “flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies, supernatural demonic spirits.” And what happens to these people who have an unbelieving heart, as Hebrews 3:12 describes it, who depart from the living God, is that that unbelieving heart, even though there is a facade of religion, is lured away and seduced away by demon spirits. It cannot be wooed by the Spirit of God, it is an unbelieving heart. It is not a heart that hears the Spirit, it is a heart that hears the prince of the power of the air as his siren voices are mediated to and through demon spirits.

Now the term “giving heed” is a very strong word. It doesn’t mean just to listen to, it’s also used in chapter 1, verse 4. It means more than giving your attention to, it means “to assent to.” It means “to devote oneself to,” “to attach oneself to,” “to cling to a person or thing.” It is a present-tense verb in this case; it has the idea of a continual clinging to the seduction of the spirits and the doctrines they purvey. What a statement. What a statement …

Now notice that little phrase “seducing spirits.” This refers to the source of these errors, heresies, false doctrines, supernatural demon spirit beings who are fallen angels. The word “seducing” comes from a very from which we get our word “planet.” That’s the idea of wandering. Those spirits who would lead you to wander from the truth, who would lead you astray. It came to mean to seduce or to deceive.

The history of seducing spirits, you can go all the way back to the garden where the first demon, the Demon himself with a capital “D”, Satan, seduced Eve with his luring, seductive implication that she might be being cheated out of the best thing that God had by not being able to eat of the one tree in the garden. He seduced Eve. And such seductions are chronicled throughout all the history of the Scripture. And you see them all the way into Revelation, and you get a glimpse in the book of Revelation of all the deception of the demons in the end of the history of man. So from Adam to Revelation, it is a history of seducing spirits plying doctrines of demons against unwitting human souls

Paul says that some depart the faith because of the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared (verse 2), meaning that their consciences are so scarred that they have abandoned honesty, ethics and/or morality. In other words, they have no conscience left.

MacArthur continues with the fourth feature of apostasy as Paul discusses it in that verse:

Number four: We must also recognize not only the source, but the teachers. This is done through human agents, though the source is supernatural the means is natural. The source is supernatural, the means is natural. The seduction occurs on the human level. And verse 2 says, “These seducing spirits plying their doctrines of demons use” – and here are two substantives in the Greek – “they use hypocritical lie-speakers.” That’s the best way to translate that …

… the facade may be a facade of religiosity; but the truth is demon sources do not come without masks, and they mask themselves and their demon face with a mask of religion. Inevitably they do. And they find hypocritical lie-speakers, those who will be hypocritical in the sense that they pretend religion they don’t possess. They pretend to exalt God whom they don’t exalt at all, but rather Satan whom they do exalt …

Further, it says about them that they seem to be able to do what they do without any compunction. They have had their conscience burned as with a hot iron …

… And he is very careful to use the word “conscience,” which means their sensitivity to right and wrong, their sensitivity to truth and integrity. It has been scarred beyond function

In fact, the term “seared” or “burned” is the technical medical term used by Hippocrates that we now call “cauterizing.” It is the verb kaustēriazō, and it means “to cauterize,” “to burn,” “to scar.”

Paul says that those liars — the false teachers — forbid marriage and certain foods, things that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth (verse 3).

Here MacArthur resumes with the fifth feature of apostasy, unbiblical teaching:

Let’s look at their teaching, number five. And this is just a sample. This is what was going on there. Anything other than the Scripture is their teaching.

But notice the subtlety of this. Here’s what they taught, verse 3: “Forbidding to marry, and to abstain from food.” They had two things they were majoring on. One was that if you wanted to be spiritual and if you wanted to know God and you wanted to possess salvation, you shouldn’t get married. Secondly, you had to abstain from food. Brōma means “that which is eaten” …

The point is, they were seeking by ascetic means, by self-denial, to attain spirituality. In other words, salvation for them was built on what they denied themselves. This is typical of all false religions. They devise human means by which you become saved, either by things you do or by things you – what? – you don’t do. That is typical of all the religion of human achievement; and initially looks very, very subtle.

But self-denial on the physical level was the supposed means of true sanctity, true holiness. The Essenes believed this. They were a Jewish sect that appear in Palestine as early as 166 B.C., living in a community down by the Dead Sea; very likely were involved in the writing of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those scrolls were found adjacent to their community. They had an ascetic life style. They denied themselves everything. In fact, they denied themselves marriage. All the Essenes except one group never married, and, of course, they died out. That’s one way to put an end to your movement. They all, also, had special dietary abstinences which they adhered to. And maybe they were behind this influence in Ephesus. Maybe there had been some Essene influence there, that holiness came through self-denial.

There was also the beginnings of what we get now call “philosophical dualism.” The philosopher said, “Spirit is good, and all matter is evil.” You’ve heard of that. “Anything that is tangible, touchable, objective is evil. Anything that is untouchable, spirit, thought, idea, ideal is good.” And so they denied themselves all those evil, tangible things like marriage relationships, and foods, and certain things, believing that such abstinence put them in the place of pleasing the deities and the gods of their own Greek world.

Now maybe the Greek thought had influenced them. Perhaps that Greek thought was what influenced the Corinthians and got them so messed up about marriage they had to be corrected in chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians. Perhaps it was that that even got them confused about the resurrection of the body, because the ascetic view, the philosophical duelist view would want no resurrection of the body since it was evil anyway. So it had encroached upon the life of the church, both philosophical dualism and Essene asceticism. And there were some who were now saying that, “True spirituality’s attained by what we do or what we don’t do, or what we accept or what we deny ourselves.”

… No spirituality is any way, shape, or form related to what you do or don’t do, what you accept or deny yourself in terms of those things which are given by God for the enjoyment of man.

And that’s Paul’s point. That’s why in Colossians 2, verse 16 to 23 he says, “Don’t let anybody judge you regarding what you eat, what you drink, what you keep a feast day, whether you keep a new moon, whether you keep a Sabbath; those are only shadows. The reality is here in Christ. Don’t let anybody tie you up in some silly worship of angels. Don’t let anybody hold you to touch not, taste not, handle not, all that ascetic approach to life. That is unacceptable;” – he says – “for you are complete in Christ.”

So in the truest sense, marriage, food, every good thing God made, He made primarily for those who believe and know the truth – why? – because if they were made for His glory, the only people who fulfill that purpose are the people who know Him, because it’s only us who give Him glory for it.

We’re the ones who thank God for our marriage. We’re the ones that thank God for our food. We’re the ones that show our gratitude. So in the truest purest highest sense, everything God ever made He made for those who believe and know the truth. Isn’t that a wonderful statement?

The world, yes, they get in on it. “The rain falls on the just and” – what? – “the unjust.” They benefit from marriage, they benefit from food; but they never were the reason God gave it, because the reason He gave it was His own glory, and only believers give that back to Him. So every good thing God made. He made for us.

How stupid to come along and deny marriage and deny certain foods and think you’re holy, when what you’re really doing is you’re denying God the right to be glorified for the beauty of what He gave us. You should be better to be married and eat everything He provided and praise Him, than think you’re holy by abstaining from those things.

Paul tells Timothy that everything God created is good and we are not to reject anything if it is received with thanksgiving (verse 4).

MacArthur elaborates:

Verse 4 follows it up: “For every creature of God is” – what? – “inherently excellent,” kalos. “Every creation of God, whether” – and I think here he’s referring to both marriage and food. “Every creation of God is in itself inherently good, and nothing is to be thrown away, nothing if it’s received with thanksgiving.” That’s the purpose.

Now there’s the key again. God gave it to us in order that we might do what? Thank Him. That’s why it’s primarily for believers, because believers are the only ones that thank Him. So when you receive it and thank Him, you fulfill its purpose, you fulfill its purpose. Take it and give God thanks.

So the first error of apostates and their false teaching was the failure to thank and praise God for what He made. The second error was to fail to understand that everything He made is good, not evil. And the third error was failure to believe what the Word says, because it says it’s good. God said it’s good. Genesis 1:28 and 29, “It’s good.”

God’s creations, Paul says, are made holy by the word of God and prayer (verse 5).

Here is the sixth feature of apostasy, the denial of the goodness of God’s creation and not giving Him thanks for it and their replacement of it with their human self-denial, which displeases Him greatly:

That brings us, sixthly, to their error. What is the error of such apostasy, such false teaching? Verses 3 to 5 give it to us just very briefly.

“Did you forget that God has created to be received with thanksgiving all these things? God created marriage. God made marriage.” God took Adam and gave him a wife and they were married, right? In fact, Peter calls marriage the grace of life. “And God made all foods.” In fact, when God made everything, He stood back in Genesis and looked at it and said it’s what? “It’s good. It’s good.” “How can you deny men what God has created to be received with thanksgiving by them who believe and know the truth?”

And verse 5 says, “It is sanctified” – or set apart – “by the word of God.” That refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the pastoral epistles. That phrase is used, one, two, three, four, five, six – this may be the seventh time total, and it refers always to the message of salvation. Through the message of salvation we have come to know the Lord, we have come to know the truth in Christ. We have come to know that Christ has abolished all food laws, all dietary laws. The gospel has ended all those dietary restrictions. They were given only for a brief time in Israel’s history to develop their moral faculty of discernment, and to teach them to understand the truth of separation. But once Christ came, they were set aside; they had a limited national purpose. To reimpose them is to manufacture a works-righteousness system which dishonors God by saying He created something evil when He did not.

And so if we understand that the word of God in the gospel has freed us from dietary laws, and if in prayer we offer God thanks, then we can receive any and all of His good gifts. You see? Mandatory celibacy, abstinence from certain foods is demon teaching. It denies God’s creation. It denies God’s desire for thanks and praise. It denies God’s word revealed in the gospel of Christ which sets aside any such restriction. External self- denial is a severe error from demons. So we are taught then to understand the error of the apostates, thinking they please God by their show in the flesh like the Pharisees, they severely displease God and follow the lies of demons.

I cannot help but think of Christian engagement with vegetarianism and veganism here.

Let’s close with Peter’s vision in Acts 10 before he went to convert Cornelius, the Roman centurion from the Italian Cohort:

Peter’s Vision

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour[b] to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Returning to 1 Timothy, Paul then discusses what is involved in being a good servant of Christ Jesus. More on those instructions next week.

Next time — 1 Timothy 4:6-10

Bible and crossThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 3:14-16

The Mystery of Godliness

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He[a] was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated[b] by the Spirit,[c]
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s qualifications for deacons.

Today’s verses tie the preceding chapters of 1 Timothy together, as Paul wants to travel soon to Ephesus to see Timothy and explain everything in person, although that is not possible, hence his letter (verse 14).

John MacArthur interprets the verse as follows:

So what he is saying here then is, “Here’s the reason I wrote this epistle, that’s what I’m driving at. Here is the underlying reason for this epistle. I’m writing this to you, not only these things already said, but, of course, the things yet to be said.” And there’s no reason to narrow it down any further than that.

Paul continues, saying that if he is delayed, Timothy will know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth (verse 15).

In older translations such as Matthew Henry’s, the verse reads (emphases mine below):

15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Henry’s commentary says:

Timothy must know how to behave himself, not only in the particular church where he was now appointed to reside for some time, but being an evangelist, and the apostle’s substitute, he must learn how to behave himself in other churches, where he should in like manner be appointed to reside for some time …

Timothy had an urgent errand to complete in Ephesus: ridding the church of its false teachers who had sprung up in its ranks.

It is probable that Paul never did make it back to Ephesus to see Timothy.

MacArthur tells us:

… it may well be that he is saying, “Look, I’m writing this to you to give you instruction on how one is to conduct himself in the church. And in the event that I never get there, that I’m unable to come, I’m writing to be sure that you have this.”

He did say, by the way, to Titus in chapter 3 of Titus, verse 12, that he wanted to meet him and spend the winter with him in Nicopolis. Nicopolis is on the west coast of Greece, about a third of the way up. That would be the opposite direction of Ephesus which would be to the east. And it seems as though Paul did in fact go there and spend the winter there; and there is no evidence at all that he ever did get to Ephesus, we have no knowledge of that. It may well have been that he never did get there. And in the event that he didn’t, it was definitely the leading of the Spirit of God, of course, that he would set these things in writing so that they would have them since he was unable to come.

So to be certain that they get his instruction, he says, “I’m writing it, although I had hoped to come to you quickly. It may be that I’ll be delayed long.” And it is possible, that’s a third-class conditional, that he may be delayed. “And it is possible I may be.” And we have no knowledge that he ever did get there. So it’s important that he writes these things to them.

Now this was always the passion of Paul; I don’t want to belabor the point. But Paul always wrote to a specific issue and with a great concern in his heart; he wanted the church to be set right. Obviously the church at Ephesus had a place in his heart like few others. It was from the base of that church where he spent three years of his ministry that many other churches were founded. He poured his life into that. He loved and nurtured the men who were the leaders of that church in the original group, and to see it go wrong must have been a heartbreaking thing.

Paul’s addition of theology in verse 15 emphasises the importance of keeping the Church pure.

MacArthur gives us some of the Greek words used:

… go to verse 15, the text says, “If I tarry long, that you may know” – and by the way, that “you” is singular – “that you, Timothy,” – he is the first object of the letter – “may know how” – and that, by the way, is oida, which means “the possession of a knowledge or skill necessary to accomplish a goal.” It isn’t ethereal knowing, it isn’t just cognitive knowing, it’s knowing in the sense that you have the skill to do, “that you may know how to behave,” but literally it says, “how it is necessary to behave oneself.”

And with that verb form, that present middle infinitive, he says, “Timothy, I want you to know how it is necessary to behave oneself,” so he broadens it to encompass not only Timothy but everybody. “I want you to know how really everybody ought to behave, how it is necessary for people to conduct themselves in the assembly, in the corporate fellowship.”

So this speaks not so much of the personal Christian life, that’s part of it; but it speaks of our role and our behavior and our conduct as a duly-constituted assembly of redeemed saints. And the present, middle form of the verb, “how it is necessary to behave oneself,” is speaking not of an isolated action or isolated actions, but of a constant consistent pattern of life. “This is how you ought to always conduct yourself, because you’re a part of the house of God,” it says in the Authorized.

The word “house,” look at that in verse 15, is oikos. It could be translated “house,” because it can refer to the building itself. But here it is best to understand it as “household.” It is not speaking of a building, it is speaking of a family. We take it that way, because it’s used three other times in the chapter; and in each case it’s used that way.

In verse 4, “one that rules well his own house” doesn’t mean he rules the mud and the brick and whatever it was that made the house, it doesn’t mean that. It means he rules the people in the house in the substance of the family. Verse 5, the same word is used again, “rule his own house,” and it refers to his household, his people, his possessions. In verse 12, it is used again of the deacon who rules their children – who rule their children and their own houses. And again it’s the idea of the house as a household, as a family, as a group of people. Second Timothy 1:16, Titus 1:11 uses the same word in the same way …

The second thing he says, and this is so interesting, verse 15, we are told how it is necessary to behave oneself in the household of God, and then it says, “which is” – and I want to give you the proper Greek translation“the living God’s church,” – and I translate it that way for a better emphasis consistent with the text – “the living God’s church.” There is not a definite article with church, so “the church of the living God” adds a word. But it is the living God’s church. And any time the article is not there, we look for a stress on the character or the nature of something. And so it is a church which by nature is the living God’s church. We are then, note this, not only the household of God, but we are the living God’s church. We are His family. We are His assembly. Ekklēsia means His group of called out ones.

MacArthur’s sermon gives examples of the same from the Old Testament, which concerned distinguishing God’s people from idol worshippers.

MacArthur reminds us of the cult of Diana in Ephesus to draw a similar comparison:

How wonderful in this city of Ephesus, this little assembly of believers existing, as it were, as an island in a sea of paganism and cultic worship of dead idols was the assembly of the living God. All around them were those who worshiped dead idols.

The main idol of Ephesus was Diana, her female name; Artemis, his male name, the god of Ephesus. Those people belonged to that pagan cult and worship a dead idol. “They are the assembly of a dead idol, but you are the assembly of the living God.” And so, Paul makes much of Timothy’s and the other believers’ identification.

And, people, at the bottom line of our behavior, at the bottom line of our conduct is that we represent the living God, that we are in the household of the living God, and therefore are to conduct ourselves in a way that is consistent with the one whose name and image we bear. So, he says to Timothy, “Timothy, I want you to know, so that you can disseminate to everyone else how to behave in the church, which is the church belonging to the living God.”

MacArthur tells us about the temple of the cult of Diana. Just as it was a pillar and buttress to idolatry, so is the Church to eternal truth:

If you want to know what the church is, that’s it. We are the pillar and foundation of the truth. This is a wonderful designation, and would have vivid imagery to the Ephesians and to Timothy; for in the heart of the city of Ephesus was the temple of Diana, or the temple of Artemis. Let me tell you a little about it.

It was an incredible piece of architecture; huge, massive, buttress, bulwarking foundations laid on the bottom of it; and rising up to support the roof were 127 pillars supporting the tremendously heavy structure of the roof. The pillars were made of solid marble, studded with jewels and overlaid with gold. Each of those pillars was a gift from a king and represented the nobility of the one who gave the pillar. It was a tribute to the one it represented. The foundations, he uses the word hedraiōma, which basically means “the bulwark,” “the buttressing.” The foundation and the pillar held up that whole structure.

Now capturing some of that vivid imagery in the minds of those people, Paul transitions to the church, which as far as architecture goes in actual physical buildings didn’t probably have much to speak of, if anything, in Ephesus; but, in fact, was the foundation and the pillar that held up the truth. As that foundation in the temple of Diana and those pillars were a testimony to error and lies and paganism and cultic false religion, the church is to be the living support of the truth. Now listen, that is the heart of the mission of the church.

Paul ends with essential theology, a statement on the greatness of the mystery of godliness (verse 16).

Henry says:

Christianity is a mystery, a mystery that could not have been found out by reason or the light of nature, and which cannot be comprehended by reason, because it is above reason, though not contrary thereto. It is a mystery, not of philosophy or speculation; but of godliness, designed to promote godliness; and herein it exceeds all the mysteries of the Gentiles. It is also a revealed mystery, not shut up and sealed; and it does not cease to be a mystery because now in part revealed.

MacArthur relates a personal anecdote about revealing this holy mystery to others:

I was on the airplane and flying from Los Angeles to New York, and it’s about a five-hour flight, and I kind of figured the Lord had set me next to someone that I could have a profitable conversation with. So I sat down, and a man sat next to me, and he took out his book to read. I took out my Bible, and I was working on some of the commentaries I’m writing. And he took out his book, and it was the writings of Swami Paramahansa Yogananda something or other, and this big picture of the Swami on the back of his book. And so I said, “Here it is, the conflict of truth and error right here in row 16 A and B.”

So he was a very nice guy. And so he was reading his Swami, and I was reading the Bible; and I just waited for the Lord to give the opportunity. And I introduced myself to him, and he to me, and we had a little bit of a conversation. And then I said, “I notice you’re reading the Swami. Are you a Hindu?” And he said, “Yes, I am a Hindu.”

I said, “Well, that’s very interesting. What is he teaching? What do you believe?” And I can’t remember the exact words, but the statement was something like this: “Truth is only truth until you discover it.”

I said, “Well I don’t know about all of that. But I know the truth.” He said, “You do?” I said, “Yes, I know the truth.” “How do you know the truth?” he said. I said, “Because it’s in the Bible. All of this is the truth right here.” He said, “Well.” And he kind of chuckled in a nice way, you know. Poor soul, looking at me like, “What?”

But anyway, I said, “I know the truth.” He said, “You mean you believe that book is the truth?” I said, “That’s right. It’s all the truth.” He said, “Well, how do you know it’s the truth?” And there it came, right out of the back of my mind and the whole thing on why we know the Bible is the Word of God.

And about twenty minutes later, you know, he was sort of gasping, and it was great. But I just showed him why we know the Bible is true. And we had a wonderful conversation, at the end of which he said something like this: “Am I sentenced all my life to the frustrating seeking for truth that I will never find? I am weary of trying to find some truth that satisfies my heart.” That’s the bottom line.

Well, I went on to explain how he could know the truth, and he is now receiving materials through the mail, sending him some things that might help. But, you see, he was raised in a whole concept of life that says there’s no real truth, everything is some foggy thing; and the frustration of that was very evident.

And so, we are as a church very simply placed in the world to hold up the truth. Isn’t that wonderful? And see, that’s what’s so terrible about churches that abandon the truth. That’s what’s so terrible about churches that deny the inerrancy, the authenticity, the authority of the Word of God. What existence do they have? What justification? We are to hold up the truth … His saving, saving truth.

Now how do we do that? Remember Israel had that task once and they failed. They were given the oracles of God, Romans 3 says, Romans 9. But they failed to hold that treasure, to pass that treasure on. And so we are the new depository where God has put His truth. And we have one job, I don’t care what it is, whether we’re singing songs, we’re upholding the truth; preaching sermons, teaching Bible studies, studying the Bible, reading books, listening to tapes. Even if we have a Sunday School group of kids, we’re upholding the truth. We train teachers, so they can teach the truth. We have flocks so people can discuss the truth. We sit around tables in our fellowship groups to affirm the truth. That’s everything. No matter what the range of ministry is, the heart of it is always the same: we are the pillar and foundation that holds the truth.

Paul then gives Timothy a set of truths about Christ in verse 16, which, if the Apostle were alive today, he probably would have written as bullet points. MacArthur calls it a hymn.

The first one is ‘He was manifested in the flesh’. He referring to God, although the words in Greek are either ‘Who’ or ‘Which’, the latter because God is a spirit. Jesus is all human and all divine, the manifestation of God to mankind.

Henry says:

That he is God manifest in the flesh: God was manifest in the flesh. This proves that he is God, the eternal Word, that was made flesh and was manifest in the flesh. When God was to be manifested to man he was pleased to manifest himself in the incarnation of his own Son: The Word was made flesh, John 1 14.

MacArthur picks up on John 14:6:

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” John 14:6. He is truth incarnate. So in the same sense that we uphold the truth of God’s Word, we uphold the truth of God’s Son, don’t we? That’s what we’re all about. We exist for that purpose; that’s the heart of our mission.

MacArthur has more on ‘He’ in the Greek:

Now as I said to you, the subject is – the term in the Greek hos or hos, which means “He.” Literally could mean “He.” Here we would say, “He who,” because it makes better sense. Your Authorized Version has the word “God.” That does appear in some manuscripts. But all manuscripts older than the seventh century and all the best manuscripts of any century all have hos, which has the idea of “He who” rather than God.

We assume then that at a later date, some scribe put “God” in there, trying to emphasize the incarnation a little bit; and it’s true, but it just doesn’t appear in the older manuscripts. So we would translate it “He who,” and then it goes on to give six statements about the heart of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ.

He — Christ — was vindicated, or justified, by the Spirit, or ‘in the Spirit’.

Henry explains:

He is justified in the Spirit. Whereas he was reproached as a sinner, and put to death as a malefactor, he was raised again by the Spirit, and so was justified from all the calumnies with which he was loaded. He was made sin for us, and was delivered for our offences; but, being raised again, he was justified in the Spirit; that is, it was made to appear that his sacrifice was accepted, and so he rose again for our justification, as he was delivered for our offences, Rom 4 25. He was put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, 1 Pet 3 18.

MacArthur says:

Secondly, and very importantly, He was justified in the Spirit, justified in the Spirit. “Justified,” dikaioō; we get the word “righteous” from it. It means “to be declared righteous.”

And I believe the best way to understand this initially is, that in His flesh He was human. In His Spirit He was divine. He was declared to be righteous with respect to His spiritual nature. He was human, yes, in the flesh, but divine, yes, in the Spirit. His human spirit, His spiritual character, spiritual nature, whatever you want to call it, the person living within that physical body was perfectly righteous. And that is why the Father said, “This is My beloved Son,” – Matthew 3:15 – “in whom I am well pleased.”

He needed no Savior. He needed no redeemer. For He was, according to 1 John 2:1, “Jesus Christ the righteous.” What a great title: Jesus Christ the righteous

Romans 1:3 says that “Jesus Christ our Lord was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” He was human. He came through the line of David. He was, as to His flesh, in the family of David. But, “He was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.” And there I would say that it was His resurrection that was the affirmation that He was holy; and the Spirit of holiness, the Holy Spirit affirmed His holiness in the resurrection.

You say, “How so?” Well, if Jesus had had any sin in His life when He died on the cross He would have stayed – what? – dead. He never would have come out of the grave. If there had been any sin in His life for which He had to pay and there was no Savior for Him, He would have died and it was the end. The affirmation then of His perfect righteousness came when the Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead.

So He is holy and just in His spiritual nature as affirmed by the Holy Spirit. And it may well be that Paul’s intention here is to take both into consideration when he simply says, “justified in the Spirit,” – justified in His own Spirit, which would also be with a capital S, for He is God; and justified by the Holy Spirit in the declaration of His righteousness made when He was raised from the dead, proving He had died in perfect holiness for the sins of others, and did not have to pay for any sins of His own. He is righteous. So when you look at Jesus Christ, there’s no flaw in Him. There’s no flaw in Him. He is perfectly righteous.

He was seen by angels.

Henry reminds us:

They worshipped him (Heb 1 6); they attended his incarnation, his temptation, his agony, his death, his resurrection, his ascension; this is much to his honour, and shows what a mighty interest he had in the upper world, that angels ministered to him, for he is the Lord of angels.

MacArthur gives us the Greek for ‘seen’ as well as times during our Lord’s earthly life when angels attended Him:

Horaō is the Greek word. It means “to see,” “to visit,” “to observe,” to look after.” It could be the idea of being attendant to; and that’s true. Through His life and ministry the angels observed, and watched, and visited, and looked over Him, and attended to Him.

That was true at His birth. They were there announcing His birth to His earthly father, or step-father, Joseph. They were there telling the shepherds. The angels were a part of His birth, Matthew 1, Matthew 2. The angels were in their particular role as servants to Him throughout His life. They were there to assist Him in His temptation. After He came out of that, the angels came, and in a wonderful way did minister to Him. They are not always mentioned as being a part of the ongoing ministry of Christ, but there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that they were there serving Him.

When He went into the garden to pray in Luke 22:43, an angel from heaven came and strengthened Him. And we could say, “Well, the angels, yes, He was seen by angels through His life and His ministry, and through the times of His greatest need. And they were there when they needed to be there in those times of weakness; they were there and would have been there if He had called on them.” He said to Pilate, “If I ask God, He’ll give me legions of them.” But the best way to see this is not to see the angels in a broad sense attending to His birth and His temptation and His ministry and so forth, but to see that in His death, which is the focal point of this passage, as He goes to the cross to die, He is seen by the angels.

What do we mean by that? Well, first of all, even the fallen angels. In 1 Peter chapter 3, it says, “Christ suffered for sins, the just for the unjust,” – there’s that same idea of His righteousness – “in order to bring us to God,” – it says – “He was put to death in the flesh, but He was alive in the Spirit;” – His body was dead, His Spirit was alive. His body was dead as His Spirit was alive – “by which He went down and preached” – or proclaimed a triumph – “to the spirits in prison.” And it goes to describe them and says, “He is now gone into heaven, on the right hand of God; angels, authorities, powers being made subject to Him.”

Now here’s the thought. When Jesus died on the cross, His body was dead, His Spirit descended into the place where demons are bound – demons who sinned during the time of Noah and have been in everlasting chains. He went down there and proclaimed a triumph over them. The demons that aren’t bound in chains in the pit, they knew He was dying on the cross; they were right there, they could see all of that. The ones that it might miss, He went right down into the pit and announced His triumph. While His body was dead, His Spirit was alive. He went back again, and you remember, rose from the dead after that.

Colossians 2:14 says that He, having spoiled principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in His death. On the cross, He triumphed over the hosts of hell, He triumphed over the fallen angels, He triumphed over the bound angels who were locked in the pit and couldn’t get up to the earth to see what was going on. He went and announced the victory over them. So there on the cross He was seen by fallen angels, and He was seen in all of His wonder and glory as the victor over sin and death and hell.

He was also seen by the holy angels. The holy angels, they were there, they were a part of that. Matthew chapter 28, there was a great earthquake. An angel of the Lord descended from heaven, came, rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it. His countenance, or face, was like lightning; his clothing white as snow; and for fear of him the keepers did shake and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said to the women, “Fear not.” And you know the story. The angel was there.

When later on His tomb became available and they went in to see, they could see angels there. The angels attended the resurrection, they were a part of it. You read about it in Mark 16, you read about it in Luke 24, John chapter 20. The angels also were there later on when He launched things in the book of Acts, and the disciples saw Him going away; and there He was going in the presence of the holy angels.

But what it’s saying is that when Jesus came into the world in human flesh, spiritually He was God, humanly He was man, went to the cross and died, and in His death He triumphed over all angelic beings. The holy angels are in awe and worship Him. The fallen angels are in awe and despise Him; but they are defeated. The whole angelic host saw the wonder of His death and resurrection. And all angels are made subject to Him in that glorious work on the cross.

He is proclaimed among the nations, or, in older translations, ‘the Gentiles’.

Henry says:

This is a great part of the mystery of godliness, that Christ was offered to the Gentiles a Redeemer and Saviour; that whereas, before, salvation was of the Jews, the partition-wall was now taken down, and the Gentiles were taken in. I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, Acts 13 47.

This happened at the very beginning, with the Magi visiting Jesus when He was still a baby.

MacArthur reminds us that Jesus also entered Gentile territory during His ministry, and set the Apostles the mission of preaching to Jew and Gentile alike:

They knew from the very beginning they would be fishers of men. They knew from the very beginning that it wouldn’t just be Jews, it would also be Gentiles. After all, He first disclosed who He was to a half-breed Samaritan woman. He Himself ministered over the border into Gentile territory. He ministered at great length in what was known as Galilee of the Gentiles. He would be the Savior of the whole world.

He was believed on in the world.

Henry says:

Many of the Gentiles welcomed the gospel which the Jews rejected. Who would have thought that the world, which lay in wickedness, would believe in the Son of God, would take him to be their Saviour who was himself crucified at Jerusalem? But, notwithstanding all the prejudices they laboured under, he was believed on, etc.

MacArthur reminds us how the Book of Acts recorded the huge growth in the Church from the first Pentecost:

The preaching resulted in faith, it resulted in salvation. The first time the gospel was preached in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the first time it was publicly preached, three thousand people believed, and three thousand people continued in faith in the life of the church, Acts 2:42 says. There had been belief already …

By the time you get to Acts 4, there are thousands more, maybe twenty-thousand plus. Then you go to chapter 8, the church is persecuted, it’s scattered. Philip takes the gospel to the Samaritans; there’s a great revival there, and they’re being saved. Then an Ethiopian eunuch gets saved. The next thing you know a Gentile gets saved named Cornelius. And then Paul is off on his missionary journey, and multitudes are saved as the word of God is spread across the then known world.

Finally, and most importantly, He was taken up in glory.

Henry says:

He was received up into glory, in his ascension. This indeed was before he was believed on in the world; but it is put last, because it was the crown of his exaltation, and because it is not only his ascension that is meant, but his sitting at the right hand of God, where he ever lives, making intercession, and has all power, both in heaven and earth

Henry concludes:

It being a great mystery, we should rather humbly adore it, and piously believe it, than curiously pry into it, or be too positive in our explications of it and determinations about it, further than the holy scriptures have revealed it to us.

MacArthur gives us advice on how we can uphold the truth:

We hold up the truth this way. First, by hearing it. First, by hearing it. Jesus said, “If you have ears to hear, you better hear,” Matthew 13:9. In Revelation 2 and 3, the Spirit says, “If you have ears to hear, you better hear.” And you need to hear the Word of God. You can’t uphold the Word if you don’t hear the Word … “Happy is the man who hears Me,” God says.

Secondly, memorize it. You hold it up when you memorize it. It’s not enough to just hear it, you’ve got to have it in your memory

There are a lot of people who just – they don’t know the Scripture, they’ve never memorized it. Their Christianity is limited to coming and hearing. But there’s a second step: you need to memorize the Word of God, to commit it to your mind, so that it’s there, so you can give a reason for the hope that is within you to anyone who asks you. You can give an answer to every man for the faith that you possess.

Third thing is to meditate on it. In Joshua 1:8, it tells us that we are to take the book of the law and meditate on it day and night, and observe to do all that is written therein, and then we will have a prosperous way and a successful life. We are to hear the Word, to memorize the Word. Psalm 119:11 says that’s hiding it in our hearts so we don’t sin …

Fourth, study it. Second Timothy 2:15, “Make diligence to study that you might be approved of God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” So we will be able as a church – and I’m asking you as an individual, to recognize that you’re involved in this too; whatever your ministry might be, your purpose is to hold up the truth …

… I tell you, we are so bombarded with words in our society, it’s a wonder any of our minds can still meditate on the things of God. There is a tremendous need for insulation in that area. Fourthly, study it, dig into it, analyze it, understand it.

Then, fifthly, holding up the truth means obeying it. What good would it do to hear, memorize, meditate, study, and then not obey it? That would be hypocrisy. Obey it. Luke 11:28, Jesus said, “Blessed is the man who hears My word and keeps it,” – or – “hears My words and keeps them.” We are to be obedient. We are to do what it says.

Sixthly, we are upholding the truth in the church by defending it. Paul says in Philippians 1:17, “I’m set for the defense of the gospel.” The truth is always attacked, people always coming against the truth; and we need to be able to defend that. We need to be set for the defense of the gospel. So we hear it, memorize it, meditate on it, study it, obey it, defend it.

Seventh, live it. Titus 2:10, “We are to adorn the doctrine of God.” How do you adorn the doctrine of God? By living it. Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” And then what happens is songs, hymns, spiritual songs, right marriage relationships, right parental/child relationships, right employee/employer relationships. Everything flows out of a Word-controlled life. So we are to live it.

And the last way we hold it up is by proclaiming it, by proclaiming it, “going into all the world and preaching the gospel to every creature, by teaching all men to observe everything Christ has said,” as it says in Matthew chapter 28, verse 20.

So we then hold up the truth. We hear it, memorize it, meditate on it, study it, obey it, defend it, live it, and proclaim it; and that’s the mission of the church at its very heart. “We are as a church called into this world to shine as lights in the darkness,” – Philippians 2:15 says – “holding forth the word of life,” – verse 16 goes on from there – “holding forth the word of life.” That is our task. We are, in this world, the foundation and the pillar that holds up the truth.

What a great mission we have, isn’t it? What a wonderful calling we have.

Paul goes on to discuss those who depart from the faith.

Next time — 1 Timothy 4:1-5

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