Able to Teach

1 Timothy, Church, Leadership, Titus No Comments »

This “quality” for a church elder is found in the list in 1 Timothy 3 right after the words “respectable, hospitable” and before the words “not given to drunkenness, not violent.” Because we’re Campbellites and we’re conditioned wrongly to read the Scriptures like the constitution or a list of laws, we’ve sometimes taken this short phrase and disqualified a candidate for elder because he doesn’t teach a Bible class or he’s not a polished speaker.

Well, I’d rather SEE a sermon than HEAR one any day. Yes? What’s the deal with teaching? How necessary is it?

We get a fuller description of what Paul’s talking about when we look at his list of elder qualities in Titus.

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” ~Titus 1:9

The idea in Scripture isn’t so much the ability to teach a Sunday School class as it is the ability to pass the truth of the Gospel on to members of the flock. You know, you can teach a Bible class and still not have a good grasp of the Gospel. I’ve been in classes like that and you have, too. An elder needs to know and pass on that we are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, not be any good works of our own. That’s the Gospel. Sound doctrine. The truth.

Elders must uphold that truth, they must defend that truth, they must rebuke those who oppose that truth in order to keep the whole church in that truth.

And when Paul writes “truthful message” or “sound doctrine,” he’s not talking about how to organize a congregation or how to conduct a proper worship service. He’s talking about salvation from God in Christ. In Titus, he’s specifically correcting the errors of the circumcision group and the “sound doctrine” he uses to refute that group and to encourage the others is — are you ready? — more faith, more sacrifice, more reliance on the Spirit, more love. He’s talking to them about expressing more fully the truth of Jesus.

The classroom is just one way, but there are many ways to teach and model and pass on the truth of the Gospel.

I would hate for us to read the Bible passages on church leadership through a legal lens that bogs us down on two or three points and distracts us from the heart of a shepherd that’s actually being described. My recommendation would be to put more focus on words like “respectable,” “hospitable,” “gentle,” “not overbearing,” “not conceited,” “not quarrelsome.” Those words describe our Lord. Those words are characteristic of a Christ-like leader.

Peace,

Allan

Husband of One Wife

1 Timothy, Leadership, Marriage, Titus 2 Comments »

For a church elder, WHO he is is much more important than WHAT he is. We respond to our shepherds because of their great Christian character, not because their names are on the back of the bulletin or because they lead the prayers at the end. The New Testament never instructs God’s people to follow a leader because he holds an office or a title. It has everything to do with his character and his life.

That’s what we have in those two lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These are the marks of Christian maturity. These are the distinguishing traits of someone who has grown in Christ and experienced the life-changing power of the Lord. Their character, their consistency, is above reproach. Not perfect — that’s not what this means. If elders had to be perfect, we wouldn’t have any elders. Blameless, above reproach, means that nobody can legitimately accuse them of any conduct which is not fitting a mature disciple of Christ. It means these qualities should exist in a man’s life to such a degree that they should stand out as the kind of man he really is. It’s clear. He’s a model of Christian maturity.

Now, we have a tendency to view these lists as narrow, legalistic qualifications. We use these lists sometimes like a grid, holding it up to each elder candidate to see if he fits, to see if he checks all the boxes. Even then, we’re generally more concerned with two or three of the character traits than we are the others. And I want to specifically address two of these today and tomorrow and attempt to put them in their proper perspectives.

“Husband of one wife.” You find this exact same phrase in both of the lists, both times immediately after the general descriptive term “blameless” and “above reproach.”

The original Greek text in both lists is mias gunaikos aner. Literally translated it’s “of one woman/wife, man/husband.” Yeah, this is weird for us English speakers because gunaikos can mean woman or wife, depending on the context, and aner can mean either man or husband, again, depending on the context. It’s like the German herr can mean man or husband or sir or lord, depending on the situation. Frau can mean wife or woman, depending on when and where and about whom it’s being said. You’re not sure until you understand the context. The only thing I can point to in English that might be close is when we pronounce somebody “man and wife” at a wedding; you know that “man” means “husband” because we’re at a wedding.

For me, “husband of one wife” is the best English translation. But it’s just as possible and just as correct to translate it “man of one woman” or “man with one woman” or “a one-woman man” or just “faithful to his wife.”

See, the verb is present tense. It matches the present tense verbs in both of the passages. They’re all present tense. He is currently right now the man of one woman. He is presently faithful to his wife. The emphasis is on the man’s character, not his marital history. Maybe he’s had a previous divorce. Maybe he’s got sin in his marital past. The concern in these passages is what’s going on with him right now? Is he loyal? Is he sexually pure? Is he faithful to his wife in all things? Is there any indication he might not be faithful to his present wife?

That’s the way many English translations render this:

NIV – “faithful to his wife”
ESV – “husband of one wife” and a footnote: or “man of one woman”
NIRV – “faithful to his wife”
CEV – “faithful in marriage”
NLT – “faithful to his wife”
MSG – “committed to his wife”

For the Central church, this is our understanding and this is how we apply it: is he currently faithful to his present wife? This fits with the Scriptures and with the function of an elder much better. And it fits much more faithfully to the grace and forgiveness of the Gospel of Jesus than saying any divorce, no matter how long ago and no matter the reason, disqualifies a man from being considered as an elder. Divorce is not an unforgiveable sin — it never has been — no more than if a man at one point in his past had an issue with violence or greed. It doesn’t disqualify him from being an elder today.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the circumstances of a man’s past divorce are irrelevant. If he sinned in his marriage, he might fail some other qualities like blameless, loves what is good, self-controlled, holy, disciplined. Maybe. It needs to be vetted. Is the divorce a past sin that’s been confessed, repented of, and forgiven? Are those sins evident in the man’s life today or is he known as living proof of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power? Is his life an evidence and an example of faithfulness, of a heart saved and changed by God in Christ? Those are the concerns.

Marital faithfulness is a virtue. It has little to do with going through a divorce a long time ago. It has nothing to do with being married twice due to divorce or death. Those things do not reflect on the current Christian character of a candidate.

Peace,

Allan

Eager to Do What is Good

Faith, Grace, Hebrews, Luke, Titus No Comments »

ServantSongsSeriesThere are several places in the gospels where Jesus tells us to fear God. But in those same paragraphs, in that same context each time, Jesus reminds us that we are worth so much more to God than what we might think. We are worth more than the sparrows he tenderly protects. We’re worth more to him than all of nature for which he so faithfully provides. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus says, “Your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

We live in the grace of God, in the grace of his faithful promises. We live in his love. We’ve been given everything he has. What could possibly hold us back? How could I ever be content with just sitting on the bench? I can’t. Much is demanded of someone living in God’s grace.

“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” ~Titus 2:11-14

God’s grace teaches us how to live. And it’s not like everybody else. It’s different. Much more is demanded.

God’s grace does not call you to lay in front of the TV at night. The Spirit is not stirring you to take a big family vacation this summer. Christ’s love is not compelling you to spend this weekend cleaning out the garage (that’s your wife!). Now, none of those things are wrong. But please notice that we’re very quick to prioritize and rationalize our hobbies and our entertainment, but we’re very slow to embrace the high demands of life in the grace of God.

When you live in God’s matchless grace, you don’t just walk through practice and show up for the games. And you’re certainly not just sitting on the bench. God’s gifts compel you to do. God’s grace motivates you to act. To move. To give. to sacrifice. To be active and out there in the middle of it more and more and more each day, not less. You do not get into the Hebrew 11 Faith Ring of Honor by sitting on the couch. Or on your pew.

By faith Noah built an ark. By faith Abraham obeyed and went. By faith Abraham offered Isaac. By faith Moses left Egypt. By faith the people passed through the Red Sea. By faith Rahab welcomed the spies.

And don’t tell me, “Yeah, but I’m not Abraham” or “I’m not Moses.” Because you are. The heroes in the Bible are just like you. They’re exactly like you. A mess of noble intentions and horrible choices. Terribly inconsistent. A fluid cocktail of loyalty and rebellion. A patchwork quilt of ultimate highs and miserable lows. Those people in Hebrews 11 show us lots of good and lots of bad. Just like you. And me. But our God has always chosen to do his greatest work through people just like you and me.

James says Elijah was a man just like us. And he was! He was just as capable of whining and pouting as he was of boldly standing up to 450 murderous prophets of Ba’al. Same with Peter and Jacob, John and Joshua, Mary and Ruth.

When you’re gifted by God’s blessings and protected by God’s grace, it’s never about doing everything exactly right as much as it is about doing something. In God’s grace, you don’t hold back or sit out because you might mess something up or get something wrong. The key is not success. The key is faithfulness.

Peace,

Allan

Be Assured of Salvation

2 Timothy, Dallas Mavericks, Ephesians, Fellowship, Grace, Jude, Promise, Salvation, Titus No Comments »

The Mavericks played the absolutely best game they possibly could have Saturday night and still lost to the Thunder in OKC. Durant and his boys are going to take it in five games. Last night Derek Holland looked overmatched, Josh Hamilton pulled something in his back, Ron Washington got tossed out of the game on his 60th birthday, and the Rangers lost their first series since last fall. And the Cowboys used their top draft pick on a guy who just set the record for the lowest score on the Wonderlic intelligence exam in NFL draft history. Tough weekend.

~~~~~~~

Let’s resume our chapter-by-chapter look at Leroy Garrett’s “What Must the Church of Christ Do to Be Saved?” The book is a compilation of suggestions Garrett makes for us if the Church of Christ is to have a redemptive role and an effective ministry in our rapidly changing world. We reach the halfway point of the book today with suggestion number ten:

Have an assurance of our own salvation.

Garrett claims that our members “do not know we are saved; we hope we are.” I know what he’s talking about. I hear it all the time. My own brothers and sisters in Christ talk about their eternal salvation in hesitant, halting, uncertain terms. “I hope I am.” “I pray that I am.” “If God will just give me a tiny back corner in the basement of heaven, I’ll be happy.” “I’m trying as hard as I can.”

The by-product of such uncertainty is a lack of joy. One thing Church of Christ people aren’t, in spite of many noble qualities, is a joyous people. We have little joy because we have little assurance. We don’t talk like people who are assured of their salvation. We don’t sing that way. We don’t pray that way. That is why our singing is unexciting, our prayers dull, and our services generally boring. Take a look at our Sunday morning service at most any of our churches. Is it a funeral? Where is the spontaneity? Where is the joyous excitement of being a Christian? Who would seek solace from a troubled world among folk who go at their religion with a yawn and a sigh?

Garrett says Church of Christ people are scared to live and afraid to die. We have no joy because we’re not really one hundred percent sure we’re good with God. Despite the clear teachings of Holy Scripture, our people have doubts and fears about their standing with God. They’re uncertain. They wonder if they’re doing enough. They wonder if they’re good enough. They wonder if they’ve loved enough or served enough or worked enough. (By the way, the answer to those questions is “No, no, no, no, and no.”)

Garrett’s dead-on analysis is that we really don’t believe in the grace of God. We would never say it, but the reality is that, for the most part, Church of Christ folks actually believe in salvation by works. We’re taught this at an early age. We think and talk this way. We practice this way. It’s been unambiguously modeled for us and by us for decades. Seriously.

We are saved by being baptized in exactly the correct way for exactly the right reasons. We stay saved by taking communion on exactly the correct day — and only on that correct day — in exactly the correct way. We keep ourselves saved and we save others by studying our Bibles and reaching the exact same correct conclusions about all the exact same doctrines. This is what makes us unique. This is what makes us distinctive. This is what sets us apart from all the others. We’ve got it down right. And since we know so much about God’s plan and God’s will, we’d better be about doing it exactly right.

No wonder we’re so uncertain and nervous! Who could possibly measure up to all that? If I’ve misunderstood a part of that doctrine or I’ve misinterpreted part of God’s will or I’ve done something in a worship service that’s not entirely in the proper order, then my salvation must be in jeopardy. I’d better figure things out and get right with God.

We must start believing in the Gospel of the grace of God, the basis of which is that salvation is his free gift to us. There is no work that we can perform to attain it. There is no way for us to buy it. We can’t be good enough to deserve it. There is no power that can wrest it. It is a gift, a free gift, that is ours only because of God’s philanthropy. In short, we must come to see what has been in holy Scripture all along: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

“[God] has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” ~2 Timothy 1:9

“I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” ~2 Timothy 1:12

“He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” ~Titus 3:5

“To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy!” ~Jude 24

Look, I don’t believe in “once saved, always saved;” but I sure don’t believe either in “once saved, barely saved.” We are saved by God’s grace. We are redeemed by his mercy. It’s a free gift from our Father. And if we can ever all get our brains and our hearts and our souls around that, we’ll be freed from our own hangups to live and praise and worship and serve with great gladness and joy. Finally, we’ll be able to forgive people we haven’t been able to forgive before because we’ll be drawing on God’s goodness instead of our own. Finally, we’ll be able to accept those we’ve never been able to accept before because we’ll be depending on Jesus’ righteousness and not our own. We’ll be able to love every man, woman, and child on this planet in ways we’ve never been able to love before because we’ll be experiencing God’s unconditional love in our lives and not applying our own very conditional love to others.

It’ll be a huge shift for us. Huge. Radical. Dramatic. It’ll change us. It’ll mature us and grow us up. And it will have an eternal impact on those around us who just might see Christ in the Church of Christ for the very first time.

Peace,

Allan