Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Taking sides?

Blatant:  brazenly obvious; overt; undeniable; obtrusive.  Ever wonder why we can do some things which are definitely wrong and never appear to have anyone notice, then we do one thing "small" and we get noticed right off?  It is like we can do the same thing over and over again, seemingly unnoticed - then one day, the "thing" is out in the open.  Paul puts this in perspective for Timothy when he says some sins are just blatant (obvious), others don't show up until some time passes.  I think this is what Mom always meant when she said not to tell lies because they had a way of catching up with you.

The sins of some people are blatant and march them right into court. The sins of others don’t show up until much later. The same with good deeds. Some you see right off, but none are hidden forever.  (I Timothy 5:24-25 MSG)

Paul has spent a great deal of time giving Timothy, a new church leader, great instruction in the "care and maintenance" of his church members.  If we see these in progression, maybe what he tells us in these verses will become a little clearer, because scripture is always meant to be taken in context.  So, just what did Paul instruct Timothy about the church?

* Be kind to your elders.  Elderly men and women have a great deal to offer to the younger.  Show them the respect they deserve.  Being harsh or impatient may be our natural response to them, but when we respond this way, we cut ourselves off from the vast wisdom they have to offer.  It is easy to get impatient with the elderly - they move slow, their thoughts come to them slower, and they even have trouble finding the right words on occasion.  Yet, if we slow down enough to show them the respect they deserve, we might actually learn from them.  

* Take care of the widows.  Remember, the times in which Paul wrote to Timothy there was no "welfare" system outside of the church.  The church was to take care of those who had no means of taking care of themselves.  The widowed were to be given not only a means of "continued" care, but they were to be honored in doing so.  For the most part, the family was to come alongside the widow - assisting in meeting their needs.  If no family existed, the church had the duty.  Family is to help out family.  I had never really seen the specific instruction in this passage before about taking care of the widows as it related to a Christian woman who has widows in her family (vs. 16).  It actually says if a Christian woman has any widows in her family, she is to take them in and care for their needs.  Interestingly, the widows with family are not to be taken care of by the church.  This limits the need for the church to support those who have other means of support with the family.  

* Take care of your spiritual leaders and those who serve well in the church.  The idea of working hard and being deserving of your pay is laid out here.  So, church leaders are to take good care of the flock and in return, the flock is to take good care of them.  Those who teach and preach are called out here.  Remember this - the one who lays their life out there in teaching and preaching in a genuine manner is worth being paid well.  So, we honor our elders, because they have much to teach us.  We take care of those unable to take care of themselves because life has left them without.  Then, we remember to take care of those who lead us, giving us instruction for life.

* Be careful about gossip and backbiting.  Taken in context, this passage deals with not listening to the complaints about those who lead the church unless there is a group of witnesses to the fault in question.  I think this complaining really begins with the little "tidbits" of gossip and the malicious "seeds" of backbiting.  The idea is to be very guarded about finding fault with those who lead.  Those in the position of leadership are under the most critical of scrutiny sometimes, are they not?  When we hold this in check by requiring our "scrutiny" to be tempered by the mouths of two or three witnesses, sometimes we squelch the desire to find fault.  Here's the key, though - we need to surround ourselves with "reliable" witnesses.  We cannot just find others who will "agree" with us.  We need to rely upon the sage counsel of those who know a little more than us!  Maybe this is why he tells us to pay attention to the elders we have around us!

* Call sin into question.  Now, unless we have done the other stuff well, just hanging our hat on this point will be kind of harsh.  Paul tells us:   "If anyone falls into sin, call that person on the carpet. Those who are inclined that way will know right off they can’t get by with it." (vs. 20)  He is still speaking of the church leaders here.  If they fall into sin, call them on the carpet.  What Paul is saying is that we have a responsibility to not dismiss their sin, sweeping it under the carpet, but helping our leaders to be above board, even as it comes to admitting their sin.  We do very great harm when we support sweeping things under the carpet because much is learned in the humility of admitting a sin and then seeing how God works out the restoration in the life of the sinner.

* Don't take sides.  Isn't this the easiest thing to do when we are finding fault with someone?  We choose which "side" we will stand on - either "for" or "against".  There really is no "neutral" ground when it comes to sin.  Paul reminds us to avoid the tendency to either be too harsh or too weak on sin.  Instead, encounter it, help the one engaged in it to be restored, and then all will learn from it!

This is where we come to our passage above - some sins are obvious (blatant), while others are less so.  We aren't supposed to be constantly "ferreting" out sins in the lives of others, but when they are evident, we have a responsibility to encounter these.  Be sure of this - sin will one day be exposed - it cannot stay hidden forever.  Looking again at what we see in this chapter, Paul tells us to rely upon the wisdom of our elders - they bring great balance when the zeal of youth may want to charge in without thinking.  Take care of your own family first - implying we need to be aware of our own sin before we take care of the sin of another.  Sin needs to be exposed, but we don't do it harshly - take care not to wound or destroy the character of another.  Just some thoughts on how we deal with God's kids!