Saturday, March 22, 2014

1 Timothy 6:3-10. The Necessity of Making Christ our Treasure


Although I am not an economist or an accountant, I am going to begin by making a very ambitious financial prediction, even more ambitious than what Larry Burkett predicted in his book The Coming Economic Earthquake: you are going to lose everything you have. What is even perhaps more ambitious is that I can give you the probability with which this will happen: 100%. And yes, I am dead serious!

You might have heard the story of the millionaire who died; when his pastor came out of the room where he had just passed away to the gathered family, they were asking each other, “How much did he leave?” Of course they were thinking about the will. But the preacher wisely responded, “Everything! He left everything.” In the same way, when you die, you will leave everything, you will lose everything that you have gained of your earthly possessions.

Now when you realized that I was talking about what you lose at death, you might have breathed a sigh of relief. But why? Could it be because we don’t take seriously enough the reality that what we possess here is only fleeting? Given the fact that it is all going to pass away, should we want to be rich? The apostle Paul would say no, for in his letter to Timothy he warns about an attitude of covetousness that makes earthly possessions one’s treasure: “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” (ver. 9). The fact is most of us are far more serious about attaining and retaining earthly wealth and possessions than we ought to be. Especially in the West, where everyone is rich compared to 90% of the rest of the world, we are continually tempted to prize our money over Christ.

This was one of the problems of the false teachers in Ephesus. They had made earthly gain their treasure instead of Christ, for they supposed that “gain was godliness” (ver. 5). For the last time in this epistle, Paul explicitly confronts them, laying out the origin and development of their heresy. The ultimate problem is that they had abandoned Christ: they had abandoned him for false teaching (vs. 3-5) and they had abandoned him for the love of money (vs. 6-10) – and it could very well be that the latter was the cause of the former. In each case, Paul elaborates upon the consequences of this fateful exchange: abandoning the truth about Christ for heresy results in “perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth” (ver. 5), and abandoning our treasure in Christ for money results in falling into “temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (ver. 9).

Thus these false teachers were leading their followers down a path that led to spiritual disease and destruction because they had ceased to see the glory of Christ and had abandoned him for other things. The frightening thing is that this is not a unique experience and has occurred every time the church has left off following Jesus for the things of this world. In fact, I would argue that we can see these very things happening to the church today. Therefore, the question before us is how can we keep from going down this path, or, if we are already on it, how do we return to the right path?

The answer is obvious: we do it by perceiving more worth in Christ than we do in the glitter of material things. For the root of the problem is found in the middle of verse 3: the false teachers were not consenting to “wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul does not mean by this, “the words which Jesus spoke;” rather, he means, “the words which have the life and ministry and glory of Jesus Christ as their content: the words which are about Jesus Christ.” The failure to have this before their eyes and in their heart was the starting point of all their heresy and sin. But how do we keep Christ before our eyes? According to this text, one of the ways we keep his worth before our eyes is by perceiving the worthlessness of the things of this world. Therefore, I want to do two things with this text this morning: (1) negatively, I want to place before you the utter uselessness of doctrine and wealth unhinged from faith in Christ, and (2) positively, I want to try to show you why Christ should have your heart.

Abandoning Christ for Heresy

Paul had just told Timothy, “These things teach and exhort” (ver. 2). Paul is referring to everything he had been saying up to now and it includes the gospel and its implications for life in the church. The problem was that Timothy was not teaching these things in a milieu absent of opposition to the truth, so Paul immediately goes on to say, “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, etc.” (ver. 3,ff). The phrase “teach otherwise” translates a Greek word which is also behind Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:3, “that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” To “teach otherwise” is to teach a doctrine different from Paul’s. And since Paul got his doctrine from Christ himself (cf. Gal. 1:11-12), the doctrine of the false teachers was ultimately not Christian.

What made it so bad was that it was not consistent with the truth about Jesus. The heart of all Christian teaching is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which teaches that the Son of God became man in order to take the sinner’s place before God, which he did upon the cross, where he “became sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21), and that he was then buried and continued under the power of death for three days, after which he was resurrected and ascended to his Father’s right hand, where he now awaits until all his enemies are made his footstool. The orbit of the Christian’s faith is centered upon these truths. However, the false teachers had denied some or parts of this for a hodge-podge of heresies.

It doesn’t matter how it’s packaged, or what good it might do in the short run, in the end heresy is unhealthy and spiritually destructive. Thus, Paul compares their teaching to the “wholesome words” – healthy words – of the gospel. In contrast, those who abandon the truth about Christ are “proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings [slander], evil surmisings [suspicions], perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth” (vs. 4-5). The word for “doting” denotes illness – these men had a sick craving for unhealthy teaching. It is sick because it comes from a corrupt mind and leads to corrupt practices. Though orthodoxy has had many detractors over the years, including those who claim that it is unnecessary to the life and health of the church, this text stands as an eternal reminder that truth is of first importance, especially the truth about our Savior.

First of all, abandoning the truth leads to arrogant ignorance: “proud, knowing nothing. . . destitute of the truth.” Any philosophy or religious teaching which denies the gospel is, in the end, empty of any real truth content. It may seem very sophisticated and it may have its intellectuals on its side, but it cannot save. Christ himself said, “This is eternal life, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). The gospel is the only doctrine which is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16,17). It is that alone which is “able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). 

What the false teachers placed such great importance upon was really nothing more than “questions and strifes of words” – quibbling over pointless questions. It reminds me of the practice of students in medieval universities who, to practice their debate skills, would argue for hours over questions like, “Whether it is better to lead a pig to market by the nose or by the tail.” That’s sort of what Paul is saying these guys are doing. Of course, there are still those in the church who make mountains out of mole-hills, and who will make a man an offender over a word, who would debate you for hours over supralapsarianism versus infralapsarianism (or vice versa) and put a line through your name in their book if you don’t agree with them!

The result of this was predictable: envy, dissension, slander, suspicion, and wicked disputings. Far from leading to godliness (which is what many false teachings claim to focus on), heresy inevitably leads to ungodliness. It’s inevitable: truth will lead to holiness and error to sin. Instead of bringing harmony to believers, heresy brings friction [ESV translates verse 5 by “and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth”].

I cannot imagine an uglier picture that what Paul sets before us in these verses. I know that many people accuse the church of these things, and unfortunately, there are too many churches in which these things happen. But they are not the result of the gospel; they are the result of people in the church failing to take the gospel seriously. Moreover, the fact of the matter is that the world is full of these things, and often the people who accuse the church of envy and strife are themselves the worst perpetrators. The only way to really get out of the sludge is to follow Christ and believe the truth about him. He alone can transform us and make us into loving and kind and longsuffering and patient people.

Abandoning Christ for Money

Remember that the false teachers were not themselves duped by the heresy they taught: their lies were taught in insincerity (4:2) – they knew that what they were teaching was false. So what motivated them? Paul makes it very clear at the end of verse 5: “supposing that gain is godliness, from such withdraw thyself.” In other words, they realized that orthodoxy was not the quickest way to make a buck in the religious world so they improvised. They figured out what would draw the crowds and bring in the money and so that’s what they settled on. Greed, not godliness, ran their ministries.

Greed is so awful and destructive spiritually that Paul spends the next five verses talking about the danger of greed and the blessing of its opposite, contentment. 

What is this contentment of which Paul speaks? The word was used by the Stoics to describe the self-sufficient man; the picture is that of a man bravely facing on his own whatever the fates had to throw at him. But this is not what Paul is talking about: for him, contentment is not about self-sufficiency, it is about Christ sufficiency. After all, when he spoke about contentment to the Philippians, he said this: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:11-13). Paul found his contentment in Christ, for godliness is just devotion to Christ; and Paul found his contentment through Christ, for the way he achieved this state was through faith in him.

The fundamental problem was not that the false teachers were going after gain: the problem was that they were going after the wrong kind of gain. For Paul, gain is not found in things but in Christ: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all thing but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and do count them but dung, that I may win [gain] Christ, and be found in him, not having my own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:7-9). “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Christ alone can make that which causes the loss of all earthly possessions to be gain. Thus, in contrast to the greed of the false teachers, Paul prescribes contentment: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Whereas the false teachers saw godliness as a means to an end, Paul says that godliness with contentment is the end, and that it alone gives what the false teachers were seeking but missing.

Paul then gives three reasons why this is true.

First, in verse 7, he reasons, “For we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” That is, the passing nature of earthly things ought to teach us to hold on to them lightly. Covetousness is unreasonable because it places a value on things which is worthy only of that which is permanent. We will lose everything earthly. None of our wealth, prestige, and place in this world will follow us into the next. Jesus told us that many who are first in this world will be last in the next. We are of dust and to dust we shall return. As Job put it, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). 

Paul is simply reiterating what Jesus himself said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). If we realize that nothing of this earth is sure, then our heart will value that which is truly worth our affections. In the same way, Paul is reminding us that we will not carry our things to heaven in order to take our heart off of greed and onto Christ.

Second, in verse 8, Paul says, “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” He is arguing that contentment is superior to greed because the fact is that God simply has not promised material wealth. Greed is often borne of an attitude which believes that God owes me a certain lifestyle. God has promised food and clothing (cf. Matthew 6:24-34), but he has not promised more than that. Though some say that the word for raiment in 1 Timothy 6:8 includes shelter, we must also remember that our Lord himself said that “the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).

Finally, in verse 9-10, Paul reminds us of the destructive end of covetousness: “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. 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.” Those who “will be rich” – that is, those who inordinately desire it – plunge into an ocean of hurt. First, they expose themselves to special temptations (all men are tempted, so the temptations Paul speaks of here must be unique to greed) which then lead to a snare. Often, when Paul speaks of a snare, he has the devil in mind as the one who sets it, and this might be the case here (cf. 1 Tim. 3:7; 2 Tim. 2:26). The result is “foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction.” This is a sad description of men and women whose greed has led them to make choices that they otherwise would have viewed as both foolish and hurtful. The words for “destruction and perdition” are very strong and very probably refer to perishing eternally. In fact, this is almost certainly the case, for Paul is describing those who have abandoned Christ for other things. One is reminded of the words of the Wise Man: “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death” (Prov. 10:2).

Paul’s words remind me of a short story by Leo Tolstoy, entitled “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” It is about a Russian man named Pahom, which begins with his wife quarrelling with a cousin over the merits of country life versus city life. Pahom’s wife argued that the peasant’s life was better, and Pahom agreed, but thought that he would be better off if he just had more land. So throughout the story, Pahom acquires more land and more status, thinking that by the next purchase he will finally be satisfied. Satisfaction never comes, however, and when he is told of cheap land in another part of Russia where only some ignorant tribesmen live, Pahom leaps at the chance to get it. When he arrives to look over the land, he learns the amazing condition with which the land is acquired: he can have as much land as he can traverse in a day for only 1000 rubles. The catch is that you have to end where you start at the end of the day or you lose your money. So early the next morning, Pahom sets out to mark out his possession. Greed gets the better of him, however, and he ends up traversing too much land, so much that he has to run without stopping for the last few hours in order to make it back by the end of the day. The result was that he died of exhaustion as he reached the end. Tolstoy ends the story with these words: “His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.” What irony! In the end, Pahom only needed six feet of land, and this was only necessitated by his greed for more land than he really needed. Tolstoy was trying to teach the same lesson Paul wants us to learn: that by seeking to possess all things we end up losing everything.

It’s not that money itself is bad, or even wealth. After all, Paul will later exhort the rich to enjoy their wealth, albeit with an attitude that is consistent with faith in Christ (6:17-18). And here, Paul does not say that money is the root of all evil, but that the love of money is the root of all [sorts of] evil. Poor people are just as susceptible to this as the rich. It’s not the possession of wealth that is wrong; it is the way we enjoy it. If we don’t make it our god, and see these things as gifts which are less than the Giver, we will be all right. But if we put God’s good gifts on the throne of our heart, we will err from the faith and pierce ourselves through with many sorrows (ver. 10).

Conclusion

There is a song that goes, “I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold.” Every Christian should be able to echo this sentiment. Why? Because he alone can give us true satisfaction. Money and status and ease and comfort can never give you eternal life or forgive your sins. Things cannot fill a heart that was made for God. Gold rises and falls in price but Christ alone is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Riches can be taken away and lost, but the salvation that is in Christ can never be lost. Wealth cannot give you love – though it might win you many false friends – but Christ is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, who is with you to the end (Matthew 28:20). Therefore, should you not “flee these things” (ver. 11) and flee to Christ? May the Holy Spirit prompt you to do so, and if you have, may he enable you to continue to flee to him and away from the passing pleasures of sin.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Holiness in the Ministry -- 1 Timothy 5:19-25



The Scottish evangelist and pastor Robert Murray M'Cheyne is noted for his passion for Christ, for the conversion of the lost, and especially for holiness.  In an ordination sermon, he reminded a fellow minister that holiness was key to a God-honoring ministry: “Study universal holiness of life!  Your whole usefulness depends on this.  Your sermon on Sabbath lasts but an hour or two, -- your life preaches all week.  Remember, ministers are standard bearers.  Satan aims his fiery darts at them.  If he can only make you a covetous minister, or a lover of pleasure, or a lover of praise, or a lover of good eating, then he has ruined your ministry forever.  Ah! Let him preach on fifty years, he will never do me any harm.  Dear brother, cast yourself at the feet of Christ, implore his Spirit to make you a holy man.”

Holiness has never been cherished by this world, and today is no different.  But what seems strange to me is that the whole concept of holiness seems to have fallen on hard times in the church.  Today, being “authentic” is seen to be more important than being holy, and if a man has a thousand moral blemishes, it's okay as long as he's willing to own up to them – even if he doesn't seem to be making much progress in sanctification.  Or the language of tolerance has replaced in the church the vocabulary of holiness.  What's worse is that not only has the place of holiness been diminished by the new virtues of authenticity and tolerance, it has been branded as legalism so that any emphasis on sanctification is likely to have one marked out an unchristian moralist.

Today, among evangelicals there has been a renewed interest in being “gospel-centered.”  This is, of course, a very good and very Biblical emphasis.  All our hope is in Christ.  We are saved by the grace of God, not by the grade on our lives.  However, though I hope I'm wrong, it does seem to me that some in this camp are so focused on telling the good news that all our righteousness is in Christ that they are giving the impression (whether intentionally or not) that holiness really doesn't matter that much.  For example, recently a leading evangelical leader wrote a piece on the parable of the Good Samaritan, claiming that the true point of the story is that Jesus is the only Good Samaritan – clearly implying that any sermon encouraging people to “go and do likewise” not only misses the point of the parable but is in fact legalistic.  I agree with one response to this article: that Jesus is not just interested in us getting the first use of the law (to show us our sins), but also with its use in showing us the way to be more like Christ.  After all, Christ came “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Rom. 8:3), not merely by imputation but by sanctification as well.

You cannot read either the Old or New Testament rightly without being properly impressed with the necessity of holiness.  What did John the Baptist preach but that men should repent (Matthew 3:2)?  And did not Jesus himself say that he had not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32)?  And when Jesus sent the apostles out, did he not send them out to preach repentance (Mk 6:12; Luke 24:47)?  Did not Paul himself say that he taught all both repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21)?  And what is repentance but turning from sin and turning to God?  In other words, you do not rightly invite people to hope in the gospel without simultaneously calling them to forsake their sins.  To do so is not to become legalistic, and to fail to do so is to compromise the gospel itself. 

Or consider the words of the author of Hebrews: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).  Thus, not only is holiness to be pressed upon those desiring to enter the kingdom of God, it is the requisite mark of all who would claim to be in it.  Holiness is not meant to categorize a subset of the family of God on earth; it is the mark of all who claim the name of Christ.  The apostle John tells us, “No one who abides in him [Christ] keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you.  Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 5:6-9, ESV).  Holiness is not just for the “super-saints” – it’s for every one who professes the name of Christ.

Holiness in the Ministry

But if holiness is so important for the church, it must be very important for those who are placed in positions of leadership in the church.  Thus, in 1 Timothy 5:17-25, where Paul is instructing Timothy in some very important matters relating to elders in the church, it is not surprising that the majority of his instruction is either directly or indirectly related to safeguarding holiness in the ministry.

First, we see it in Timothy’s charge to safeguard the reputations of faithful pastors and to rebuke those who sin.  Paul writes, “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.  Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (verses 19-20).  As regards elders in the church, Timothy must turn a deaf ear to baseless gossip but not a blind eye to open sin.

As regards the first, Paul evidently knew how damaging gossip could be, and how easily such lies could tarnish the reputation of the church.  Throughout this epistle, we have noted how sensitive Paul was to behavior that could be misconstrued by the world and used to damage the name of Christ.  Paul certainly would have put slander in this category.  Nothing has the potential to kill a ministry faster than a damaged reputation.  And nothing can kill a reputation faster than slander.  Holiness in a spiritual leader carries a good reputation with it, and which ought to be cherished by the church.  A good reputation can be undone, however, not only by sin in the man but also by slander in the church.  And so Paul is eager to stop all such groundless defamations at all costs.

How do you put a stop to lies like this?  You simply don’t listen to them.  So Paul tells Timothy not even to receive an accusation unless it is before two or three witnesses.  This is based on the principle given in the Law of Moses: “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established” (Deut. 19:15).  If someone comes to you with a salacious detail about a minster (or any believer, for that matter) and you have no way of verifying that it is true or not, you should gently but firmly put a stop to the conversation and make it clear that you have no interest in listening to such things.  And certainly, we should not have any part in spreading such accusations.  It is simply not Christian.  We are to “speak evil of no man,” as Paul put it to Titus (Tit. 3:2).

On the other hand, Paul does not want Timothy to circle the wagons around a fellow minister if he is caught red-handed.  If an elder has fallen into disgraceful sin, he should be dealt with.  The Greek verb used for “them that sin” indicates that what is to be rebuked is ongoing sin.  In other words, Paul is not saying that every time an elder does something wrong he is to be hauled before the church and publicly rebuked.  Rather, what Paul seems to be saying is that if an elder keeps on sinning, despite past warnings, he should be rebuked before the church. 

There is some question as to who Paul is referring to by the phrases “before all” and “others.”  Do they refer just to the other elders or to the church as a whole?  I think “before all” refers to the entire local church because Paul puts no limitation on “all” in the context.  Sinning elders are to be publicly rebuked before the entire church.  It is not that elders are to be held to a higher standard; this, after all, is exactly what our Lord said should be done when he addressed a similar circumstance in Matthew 18:15-20.  Toward the end of the disciplinary process, our Lord commands that a non-repentant brother is to be brought before the church: “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (verse 17).  That is what Paul is saying should be done here.  On the other hand, I think by “others” Paul is probably referring to the other elders, for “others” seems to be distinguished from the “all” before whom the sinning elder is to be rebuked.  Paul wants the other elders to take note, and to fear – of course, the entire church will hopefully get the message as well!

This is absolutely essential, because “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6).  This is especially true if the leaven in the lump is a leader in the church.  Thus, Paul wants Timothy to create a culture in the church in which sin is lovingly but firmly confronted and dealt with, and especially among its leadership.

Second, we also see Paul’s emphasis on holiness in the ministry by Timothy’s context in the presence of God.  Paul goes on to write: “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality” (verse 21).  The solemnity of Paul’s charge to Timothy in the previous two verses is highlighted by the context in which Timothy is to carry out his responsibility.  Timothy is doing all this in the presence of God.  In other words, God cares very deeply about these things. 

It seems that by placing Timothy in the context of God, Christ, and the elect angels, that Paul is carrying Timothy to the judgment seat of Christ, and reminding him that he is to judge as God does – justly and impartially.  For it is God the Father and Son who carry out the final judgment by the instrumentality of angels (just read the Book of Revelation; see also Matthew 13:41; 25:31,34).  In doing so, Timothy will defend the sanctity of the ministry.

And this defense is to trump every other relationship.  Timothy is not to allow his closeness to any believer blind him to their sin.  He is not to confuse his loyalty to a friend with his allegiance to Christ.  Timothy is to free himself from all fear of man or any loyalty to man that would trump his loyalty to God.  The only way to find such freedom is to live in the presence of God, to see things from his perspective, and to be so claimed by his glory and majesty that you cannot be bought by any man.

Like Timothy, we need to see that God cares about holiness in the ministry.  If we do not guard the reputations of holy men, God will hold us accountable.  If we do not rebuke those who have soiled their reputations by sin, God will hold us accountable.  And if we do not do these things in a way that is consonant with God’s own holiness, God will hold us accountable.

Third, we see the emphasis on holiness in the ministry by Timothy’s care in selecting future elders: “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure. . . .  Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after.  Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid” (verses 22, 24-25).  The language of laying on of hands is uniformly used by Paul to denote the formal commissioning of a man into the service of Christ (cf. 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).  So here, Paul is referring to Timothy’s involvement in the ordination of elders.

In particular, Paul warns Timothy against being too hasty in ordaining any man to the ministry, and he gives three reasons for this.  First, he should use caution because Timothy himself is implicated in the sins of those who have been ordained too hurriedly.  I think this is what is meant in the phrase, “neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.”  For example, if a man is ordained too early, he might be “lifted up with pride and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6).  And Timothy, as the one responsible for overseeing the ordination process, would be partly to blame for it.

The second reason that Paul gives is that not all sin is evident immediately (verse 24).  Sin is adept at hiding, and sinners are often gifted at deceiving even those closest to them.  Not all sin announces itself ahead of time with drums and fife.  However, sooner or later the truth will out.  Whether sin is conspicuous and obvious apart from any judgment on the part of God, or whether it hides and is not obvious – eventually sin will appear and become plain to all.  Thus, Timothy is encouraged to exercise caution and to proceed slowly with commissioning men into the ministry.  If he does not, he might ordain someone whose sin has not yet become apparent and end up doing irrevocable damage to the church.

The third reason Paul gives is the converse of what he says in verse 24: just as sin is not always obvious, in the same way the good deeds of some are not always obvious either.  A failure to use caution and discernment might not only lead to the ordination of unworthy men, it might also lead to the passing over of worthy believers who really are called and gifted for ministry (verse 25). 

This advice was particularly relevant for Timothy, because one of the main problems at the church of Ephesus was elders that had gone sour.  Men who wanted to be teachers of the law, but who used it wrongly.  Men who taught contrary to the gospel of Christ.  These guys were constantly giving Timothy a headache – or should I say, a stomach-ache!  It’s possible that the problems surrounding Timothy’s confrontations with the apostate elders were in large part responsible for his stomach problems and his “often infirmities” (verse 23).  Thus, Paul admonishes his son in the faith to “drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.”  (It should be noted that this verse is no justification for social drinking; its use here is purely medicinal.  Also, note that Paul encourages the use of a little wine!)

Any church that fails to recognize the importance of holiness in the ministry will not fail to be plagued with problems, both moral and theological.  As M’Cheyne put it, holiness and usefulness under God go together.  As I end, I want to leave you with three final reflections on why holiness is so necessary for the church in general and for the ministry in particular.

Why the Necessity?

First, we are taught in Scripture that you can’t love and serve others if you are not holy.  Despite the fact that people often pit holiness against love, the Bible does not.  You don’t love people by sympathizing with them in their sin, or by turning a blind eye to it.  We must never forget that love is a definite thing in Scripture and must not be confused with our culture’s ambiguous feeling-based definition of it.  In particular, Paul gives a functional definition of it in terms of what it does, and this is what he says:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7, ESV)

That’s not Hollywood love.  That’s holy, self-sacrificing love.  Or consider how Paul put it to the Romans: “Let love be without dissimulation.  Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Rom. 12:9).  There, side by side with the exhortation to love is the command to hate evil and do what is good.  In other words, unless you hate sin and love righteousness, you are not truly a loving person.  And therefore, you are not really able to love and serve others in a way that brings honor to Christ and ultimate good to those you serve.

The Underground Railroad was an escape network prior to the American Civil War that enabled slaves to escape to freedom.  But this network was not operated by slaves; it was operated by free men, black and white, who helped those who had no freedom to get it.  In the same way, if you want to help those who are enslaved to sin, you cannot yourself be enslaved; you must be free.  Only those who know freedom can help those who have none.  And only those over whom “sin shall not have dominion” (Rom. 6:14) can help those who are groaning under its bondage.

Second, you can’t model gospel behavior without holiness.  Christ came to free us from our sins.  Certainly, forgiveness and justification before God are part of this, but freedom from sin is more than just freedom from the penalty of sin.  It is also freedom from the power of sin.  The church is not meant to display to the world the message that God forgives sin but can’t do anything about it.  After all, a person who is genuinely burdened over her sin, who sees her need of forgiveness, is also going to want to be freed from its tentacles in her heart and affections and will.  Though the last thing such a person needs to see is self-righteousness, the very best thing such a person can see is a humble, happy, holy Christian who loves Jesus and is striving to be more like him every day.  Such a person is doing Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Finally, you cannot expect to be used by God without holiness.  It is true that God uses broken instruments, but it is also true that these broken vessels are holy vessels nonetheless.  As Paul would later put it to Timothy, “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor.  If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:20-21).  I began with a quote from M’Cheyne; I think it is worthwhile to end with one:  “Do not forget the culture of the inner man– I mean of the heart. How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his sabre clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, his instrument– I trust, a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name.  In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

The Christian Work Ethic: Ephesians 6:5-8

Back in chapter 4, we noted that the apostle commends and commands labor.   In other words, he speaks to the morality of labor: “Let ...