One of the principles of scripture study that I try to practice is avoiding cherry picking verses and using them out of context. Having recently preached a sermon while cherry picking a verse out of context myself, I am feeling a bit bruised as I write this post. Nevertheless, the principle is important, even if I carelessly violated it. Fortunately, I did remember this principle and practiced it as I tried to respond to the broken-hearted pastor I mentioned in my previous post..
I grabbed my bible and began to look at the entire book of 1 Timothy. It wasn’t long before I was challenged by 1 Timothy 1. In the first chapter, Paul is setting the stage for writing Timothy, his young disciple, a letter filled with practical advice to help Timothy create a faithful congregation. It was of particular interest to me that Paul took the time to remind Timothy (surely this is a rehash of old news for Tim) that he, Paul, was only faithful because Jesus gave him the strength to be faithful. He reminded Timothy of his (Paul’s) wayward youth of persecuting Christians; and then he set forth a doctrinal truth:
This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ – and I’m the biggest sinner of all. But this is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me first of all. So I’m an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life.”
1 Timothy 1:15-16 CEB
Does this mean that Paul is disqualified from being a supervisor (CEB language) in the church? Or does this mean that it is ok to have once been naughty, but make sure to take care of those issues in order to move into a leadership position in the church? And while we’re at it, let’s consider that lengthy list of qualifications:
So the church’s supervisor must be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse, sober, modest and honest. They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching. They shouldn’t be addicted to alcohol or a bully. Instead, they should be gentle, peaceable, and not greedy. They should manage their own household well – they should see that their children are obedient with complete respect, because if they don’t know how to manage their own household, how can they take care of God’s church?”
1 Timothy 3:2-5 CEB
Must. Be. Without. Fault. This caught my eye and I began flipping through the gospels, garnering a bit bigger scriptural context. I began listing all the faults that people found with Jesus while he was in the midst of his three years of public ministry. Jesus taught with authority, exorcised demons, raised the dead, healed the sick, and recruited a core team for building his church. He turned water into wine, he attended dinner parties, and he fed 1,000’s out of a kid’s lunchbox. But he was accused of working on the Sabbath, colluding with the devil, hanging out with bad company, yet he had his authority questioned at every turn and was eventually found guilty despite no evidence of wrongdoing and crucified. I was ready to call my friend back.
In my next post we will talk about all this and more.