Saturday, October 26, 2013

How to be a good minister

Every so often while reading Scripture, there will be a verse that stands out as though it says the most important thing in all of Scripture. Perhaps my favorite one of these is when Jesus speaks to Martha, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42). How wonderful to know the only thing necessary! Yet, of course, we must look at the context to see what that one thing is. In this case, it is sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him with love. If we only did this and lived accordingly, we'd be doing just fine.

Now the verse that stood to me earlier was of a more limited scope. It was a verse from Paul saying what one must do to be a good minister: If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus (1 Tm 4:6). So that is what a good minister must do: put these instruction before the brethren. The next question is, what does these refer to? It might seem to refer to the 5 preceding verses, but Paul goes on to say more and then says, Command and teach these things (v. 11). And then the last verse of the chapter also has a general scope, saying what will bring about salvation for both Timothy and those who hear him, Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (v. 16). 

Looking before and after chapter 4, some clues indicate where this section begins and ends. [This is where I get distracted by the letter as a whole, but thankfully I can narrow down the consideration.] In rough outline, here is what Paul discusses up to this point:
  • 1. Thanks to God for all
  • 2. Exhortation to prayer
  • 3a. The offices of bishop and deacon
Because section 3a seems to be so particular a consideration, but what follow is more general I'm taking it as a break. Section 3b starts at 3:14 which says, I am writing these instructions to you. Those are probably the same instruction referred to in 4:6, the ones which will make Timothy a good minister if he teaches them. The consideration gets more particular again at the start of chapter 5, when Paul discusses how to treat elders, widows, slaves, etc. The instructions of Paul are divided as follows:
  • 3b. Mystery of our faith
  • 4a. False doctrine about creation
  • 4b. True doctrine about creation
  • 4c. Commands to Timothy
Mystery of our faith
Here is the text from St. Paul on "the mystery of our religion" (from 3:16):
  • He was manifested in the flesh, 
  • vindicated in the Spirit, 
  • seen by angels [messengers?], 
  • preached among the nations, 
  • believed on in the world, 
  • taken up in glory. 
This is a very brief summary of what we believe about Jesus Christ. God became man (in the flesh) accomplished the work of teaching and suffering, his divinity was manifested by many signs (in the Spirit), witnesses brought this word to men who believed in him, and then he was taken up into heaven. This is our faith.

Teaching about Creation
The task of teachers is not only to teach those things which God has revealed to men in Christ Jesus, but even to teach things concerning the natural order which relate to God, and which are not seen by men who are deceived.

An interesting side note. In Patristics class, we are currently reading about the Gnostics and the Christian response to them. The Gnostics basically held that they were taught by spirits, some forbid marriage and certain foods, and they all taught that the material created universe is evil, born out of sin. Marcion, one of these Gnostics, held (most of) the Gospel of Luke and 10 of Paul's letters to be canonical. He did not include this letter. Why? Probably because it speaks directly against him about the goodness of creation and the fact that God is the one who created (Gnostics taught that an evil god, the Demiurge, created all material things). One other stab at the Gnostics was in the preceding chapter when he calls the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth. Not Gnostic teachers who learned from spirits, but the church, those who saw received the witness of Christ's resurrection.

In summary though, God created everything and therefore all things are good if they are received with thanksgiving. One can use creature for godlessness (and then your action are evil, not the things), but creatures are meant to lead us to God and they will be as good as they can be if they succeed in doing this.

[Bad teaching] 1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  
[Good teaching] 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. 6 If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed. 

Commands to Timothy
I always find it helpful to see lists of things in Scripture actually formatted as a list. The Medievals always use numbered lists as a memory tool (12 steps of humility, 7 virtues go with 7 gifts of spirit go with 7 beatitudes). It helps me remember too.
  • 7 Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. 
  • Train yourself in godliness; 
    • [reason] 8 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. 9 The saying [namely, that there is a life to come] is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 
    • [another reason] 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.  
  • 11 Command and teach these things.  [what things? all of them]
  • 12 Let no one despise your youth, but 
  • set the believers an example 
    • in speech 
    • and conduct, 
    • in love, 
    • in faith, 
    • in purity.  
  • 13 Till I come, attend 
    • to the public reading of scripture, 
    • to preaching, 
    • to teaching. 
  • 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you.  
  • 15 Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, 
    • [not a reason, but a desired effect] so that all may see your progress.  
  • 16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, 
    • [reason] for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 
In summary, to be a good minister teach and do according to what you have received concerning Christ and all creation.

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