Playing Christianity without the Church (1 Timothy 3:14–16)

This post was originally published on August 11, 2014. It was revised and republished on April 27, 2020.

“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.”

—1 Timothy 3:14–16

cosmic-timetraveler-_R1cc2IHk70-unsplash.jpgThe church needs to behave herself; this is why Paul wrote to Timothy. Sadly, many professing Christians aren’t even in a church in which to misbehave. They are intentionally churchless. Occupying the number nine spot in Amazon’s “ecclesiology” category [when this post originally appeared] is Kelly Bean’s How to be a Christian without Going to Church. That’s as comprehensible as a baseball coach offering a clinic, “How to Hit a Home Run without Using a Bat.” Don’t want to use a ball either? Hakuna Matata, baseball leagues are certain to crop up everywhere, all playing the game according to their own desires.

Consider the case of Stott v. Miller and ask yourself which holds up in God’s court. The defendant, Donald Miller, questions himself, “So, do I attend church?” He answers, “Not often, to be honest. Like I said, it’s not how I learn. But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.”  Before moving on to the prosecution let me interject that one thing that church can teach Miller, and every other soul, is to get over ourselves. The late John Stott then addresses the audience (there is no jury, only the Judge), “I trust that none of my readers is that grotesque anomaly, an un-churched Christian. The New Testament knows nothing of such a person. For the church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God.”* Unfortunately, the “un-churched Christian” isn’t so much of an anomaly now, and it certainly isn’t thought to be the grotesque thing that it is.

Paul has written “these things” so that the Ephesians Christians will know how to behave themselves in church. “These things” include praying together (2:1–8), which assumes gathering as the church. These things include elders (3:1–7), which necessitates teaching. These things include discipline (1:20), which means membership is necessary. If there is an out, there must be an in. Being part of a local church is necessary and normal—apostolically so.

We live in an age when it is popular, for “Christians,” to belittle or disassociate from the church. Admittedly, there is much to criticize, but tone is crucial. Any criticism we have for the church should sound like a loving and godly father imploring a wayward daughter. We would do well not to speak lightly of that which Jesus has purchased with His blood. Yet, many who are speaking so negatively about “the church,” aren’t speaking about the church at all, and they need to realize it. You can sharply and righteously expose “a church” that is posing, precisely because you love the church. Biting wit and satire can say, “I know the church, and that ain’t her.”

Many churches and church substitutes aren’t churches, or, at the least, they’re not behaving like one. They’ve lost their dignity. They behave like a silly tween girl at a faddish boy band concert instead of a queen ready to feast at the banquet hall of the King. The deep joys of reverence for the great I AM have been exchanged for the shallow pleasures of dancing before Baal, and, like Manasseh, they do it in “the house of the Lord.” For instance, recently I saw a video of a local church where, on the stage, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker had a lightsaber duel. Then, out of nowhere, Princess Leia jumped in and they danced to Michael Jackson’s thriller, inappropriate gestures and all.

Much of our problem—and let us not for a minute think we are immune as many have the disease but only mask the symptoms better—much of our problem is that we have forgotten who the church is. The church is the church of the living God. She is the household of God; a pillar and buttress of the truth. We don’t behave because we don’t believe. Theological erosion leads to moral corrosion.

*John Stott, The Living Church (InterVarsity, 2007), p. 19

Meridian Church · 1 Timothy 3:14–16 || The Church and the Mystery || Josh King

Where to Deposit the Deposit (1 Timothy 6:20–21)

“Guard the deposit entrusted to you…”

“He killed it.” It matters a great deal if I am talking about a boy and a baseball game, or a boy and his dog. Likewise, when you understand what the “deposit” is, it shades your meaning of “guard.”

What is the deposit entrusted to Timothy? In 1:18 Paul told Timothy to “wage the good warfare.” Paul later tells Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith.” Fighting for the faith isn’t fighting for faith, though we must do that. Nor is is fighting by faith, notwithstanding, that is how we fight. Fighting the good fight is more fundamental than these. It is a fight not for belief, but beliefs; not to believe, but for that which we believe. The fight for the faith is foundational because if we don’t have the gospel, we can’t have faith (Romans 10:17). If we don’t have the faith, we don’t have anything to have faith in.

In Timothy, and throughout Paul, “the faith,” often references those truths and doctrines we believe. Deacons are to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9).” Persons who believe false teaching “depart from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1).” Paul instructs Timothy “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.”

A part of fighting for the faith is guarding the good deposit. The faith is the deposit. “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” The deposit is the faith. The faith was received, by the apostles and the prophets, and, through them, by the church. It is entrusted to the church in one way (1 Timothy 3:15), and to elders as the leaders of the church in another.

When a CIA agent is entrusted with precious information and told to guard it I assume that means he is to keep it secret. Likewise, when I entrust the bank with a deposit, I want them to restrict access to it. Not so this deposit. To guard this deposit is to let it loose, to proclaim it. The safety deposit box that the faith is kept safe in is the hearts of men. The faith, the deposit, is guarded not when it is merely in our confessions, or in out heads, but in out hearts.

B.B. Warfield fought for the faith. he fought against the theological liberals who were infecting the mainline denominations. Theological liberals were using the same terminology but hollowing out the words so that one left their theology market ripped off. One such word was redemption. In their dictionary it meant little more than “God delivers.” But completely absent, and intentionally so, was any idea that a holy God delivers us from His wrath by giving His Son to pay the ransom, the redemption price of His own blood. Warfield knew how to guard the faith—by fighting for the belief of the saints.

I think you will agree with me that it is a sad thing to see words like these die like this. And I hope you will determine that, God helping you, you will not let them die thus, if any care on your part can preserve them in life and vigor. But the dying of the words is not the saddest thing which we see here. The saddest thing is the dying out of the hearts of men of the things for which the words stand. As ministers of Christ it will be your function to keep the things alive. If you can do that, the words which express the things will take care of themselves. Either they will abide in vigor; or other good words and true will press in to take the place left vacant by them. The real thing for you to settle in your minds, therefore, is whether Christ is truly a Redeemer to you, and whether you find an actual Redemption in Him,—or are you ready to deny the Master that bought you, and to count His blood an unholy thing? Do you realize that Christ is your Ransomer and has actually shed His blood for you as your ransom? Do you realize that your salvation has been bought, bought at a tremendous price, at the price of nothing less precious than blood, and that the blood of Christ, the Holy One of God? Or, go a step further: do you realize that this Christ who has thus shed His blood for you is Himself your God? —B.B. Warfield

The Folly of Fancy Fig Leaves (1 Timothy 6:17–19)

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty…”

The sin addressed here is being haughty, not  being rich. Beware of haughtily rebuking the rich. It’s easy to look down on a person with a big head and a big wallet with a big plank in our own big head because of our thinner wallet (Matthew 7:1–5). But righteousness cannot be measured in correlation to the thickness of wallets. Always more obnoxious than arrogant materialism is arrogant legalism.

The reason we so often revolt against pride isn’t because we think it’s a sin against God, but against us. The reason we don’t like materialistic pride is because we have the same ego, but we can’t pull off the dress, or, at least, we can’t afford it. “Who do they think they are? Do they think they’re me? I’m me, and I’m humble. They’re not me, and they’re arrogant. How dare they.”

Materialistic pride is a sin because it’s against God. It’s an expression that one is finding their identity in money. This is like a grown man finding his identity in a Batman costume. Come back to reality. The young man strutting his stuff down the street because he is something big in some virtual video game world, needs to wake up, as do any who place their identity in wealth.

Our identity is first found in this, we’re made in the image of God. Finding your identity in anything else, save one related thing (see number three below) is finding our identity in something less. Imagine a guy with several wonderful children. His quiver is full of golden arrows (Psalm 127:4–5). “You’re children are so well-behaved and talented.” “Yes, but… but… have you noticed my oil can collection?” Likewise, “You’re made in the image of God.” “Yes, but look at this green! Look at all these pieces of paper with no intrinsic value.”

Second, and more detrimental to our ego, devastatingly so, is that we’re all born legitimate sons of Adam, inheriting his guilt and corruption. It’s because of the first identity marker that this one is so serious. It is because we are made in the image of God that our rebellion is so vile. In Adam, we’re covenant-breakers, law-trespassers, and God-haters. Thus, morally bankrupt, at best,and only by grace, we’re beggars.

Third, for the saints, we are a new creation in Christ. He is our righteousness. In Jesus we’re adopted as sons, fellow heirs with the Prince. Therefore, for a rich Christian to boast over a poor Christian is like once billionaire boasting over another billionaire because he has more Monopoly money. Come back to reality.

Imagine two pilgrims journeying to an eternal kingdom of bliss where they are to both be joint heirs with the prince of that realm. One chap is dressed exquisitely, the other in rags. The richer joe’s nose is upturned during the journey. Finally, though sinfully, the guy in rags responds, “You know, your clothes are so this age—faddish. They’re going out of style because of the prince. That swoosh won’t mean anything there.”

But, if indeed we are joint heirs in Christ, there is no need to respond in sinful, haughty, insecurity. We can rebuke our brother in love, because it’s not about us. The gospel strips all of us of our green fig leaves, and clothes us with the Lamb.

God’s Joy is All Over the Bible the Way Blue is All Over the Sky (1 Timothy 6:15–16)

Our God is the blessed God. The only other instance in Scripture when God is described in precisely these terms is 1 Timothy 1:11. How many times does Scripture have to say something for it to be true? Once. But God’s blessedness isn’t the neglected attribute of God, sparingly mentioned, uncritical to the plot line. These may be the only instances in which God is described in precisely these terms, but His blessedness is all over the Bible the way blue is all over the sky. Once we know what blessedness means then we can look for other words and phrases that express the same truth.

What does blessed mean? Happy. Happy in the deepest of senses. We see a person with an attractive spouse, nice house, new car, fulfilling job, good health, well-rounded children, talent, and good looks and we call them blessed. In a limited sense this is true. But is this how Jesus defines blessedness?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5:2–10 (ESV)

Is there a uniting core to the blessedness Jesus speaks of? Yes. The kingdom is the saving reign of God in Christ. Those comforted are comforted by God. The earth inherited is a redeemed earth illumined by and declaring the glory of God. The righteousness hungered for is a hunger to be like God. The mercy received is mercy from God. The peacemakers are called the sons of God. The pure in heart see God. What is the common denominator? God. What is blessedness? God. We didn’t get very far did we?

God is blessed.

What is blessedness?


But actually we’ve learned much. You cannot define blessedness outside of God. Jonathan Edwards captured this well, “[God’s] happiness consists in enjoying and rejoicing in Himself; so also does the creature’s happiness.”

When you know this you can see how God’s blessedness is all over the Bible the way blue is all over the sky. When you see men hungry to know God above all else, you’re seeing the blessedness of God. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11, ESV).” The clearest places in Scripture we see God’s blessedness is at the baptism and transfiguration of our Lord. The heavens are rent, the Spirit descends, the Father declares, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This is how the Trinity has eternally related; infinitely delighting in that which is infinitely perfect. God’s joy is fathomless. If your joy is in ice cream, your joy will be as big as your bucket is deep. God’s bucket is never empty. But the most astounding thing is that in His baptism, Jesus was acting as our representative. When God declares He is well pleased with Jesus, He is well pleased with those Jesus represents. God’s joy in us is God’s joy in God.

I once was at an ordination council where a pastor probed the one seeking ordination, “What is the overarching mood of the Bible?” Cue puzzled silence, by all. He admitted it was an awkward question and then proceeded to answer. “The overarching mood of the Bible is grief. God’s grief over man’s sin.” I didn’t consider myself to be part of this ordination council. I came to endorse and support the one seeking ordination. I kept silent thinking that this wasn’t my shindig and that I was there to encourage my friend, not fight others, but I wish I had spoken up because I couldn’t disagree more strongly. The overarching mood of the Bible is joy! God is so happy in God, that He gave His Son so that we might know that happiness. This is precisely what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:11; our gospel, the good news we declare, is the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. We trumpet the good news of just how happy our God is—boundlessly.

Salvation is a river of joy that we get swept up in. The fountain of this river is God’s joy in God. The ocean this river empties into is God’s joy in God. The fountain is the ocean. God is the Alpha and Omega, and the beginning and end is God’s joy in God. Is God angry at sin? Yes. Is He grieved at His children’s sin? Yes. But in Jesus, God has dealt with sin. God is eternally, indestructibly, infinitely happy in His Son.

Just like wet is all over the ocean, joy is all over the Bible. It’s the very gospel itself.

Fighting Like a Gentleman (1 Timothy 6:11–14)

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. —1 Timothy 6:11–12 (ESV)

Timothy is told to flee and pursue. These two always go together, they must. If you don’t do both, you don’t do either. If you only flee sin, and don’t pursue Christ, then you’re only fleeing from one sin to another. If you only “pursue” Christ, but don’t leave your sin, you’ll find a judge instead of a Savior. These are inseparable twins. They often go by different names in Scripture. In Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 they go by “put off” and “put on,” as well as “old man” and “new man.” Romans 6 speaks of us dying to sin and being raised in Christ. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and follow him. Most familiar to us is the language of repentance and faith.

Timothy is to flee the things of the false teachers and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness; which basically means that Timothy is to flee sin and pursue Christ. The righteousness Timothy is to pursue is a righteousness before God and for God. Godliness, by definition, means devotion or piety towards God. The faith Timothy is to pursue, is faith in God. Love may mean love toward man (I don’t think that’s Paul’s intent), but if so, it must mean love toward man as an expression of love toward God. Steadfastness is faithfulness to God and His Word. And then there is gentleness. Gentleness seems like that odd cousin at the family reunion. Where did he come from? But he’s actually the one who brings everything back into contextual focus.

Gentleness is the cousin that relates the family of v. 11 to the family of v. 12. From gentleness we go into fighting. How does gentleness relate to fighting? Perfectly. Biblically. Gentleness is coupled with fighting so that the fighting is godly and righteous. Fighting is coupled with gentleness so that the gentleness isn’t compromising, and thus ungodly and unrighteous. There is a time to call wolves wolves, but there is also a time to plead with them. 1 Timothy 6:11–14 has a twin in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. The resemblance is enlightening.

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will [emphasis mine]. —2 Timothy 2:22–26 (ESV)

Wisely Spurgeon taught his Timothys,

Try to avoid debating with people. State your opinion and let them state theirs. If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections.

Jesus called the Pharisees serpents, but at times he also pleaded with them both as a group and as individuals. Wisdom is called for. Here are two helpful principles. First, determine if the heart is hardening or softening. Lets your words match the heart. Second, love should always be the chief motive. If sheep are involved, love demands we yell, “Wolf!” Otherwise, be gentle, but firm; fighting for the faith. The faith that declares Jesus saves sinners.

Tis the Soloist, not the Choir (1 Timothy 6:3–10)

Often it’s said that truth divides, but just as often this is misunderstood. When a church gets antsy under a humble pastor, one who’s placing himself under the Word, and tells him to quit preaching doctrine because it’ll divide the church, it’s they who are the enemies of unity. Truth divides, but it doesn’t divide the church. It divides sheep from goats. Jesus said His sheep hear His voice. When Jesus’ words are taught, and animals start scattering, the church isn’t being divided, but purified.

Have there been clumsy shepherds who unwittingly whack the sheep with the Sword causing them to stray? Guilty as charged. But in such an instance, it wasn’t the truth that divided, but the ham-fisted handling of it. Have immature sheep strayed when they should’ve stayed? Certainly, but clarity on that in a bit. For now, neither one of those things should keep us from affirming the truth, that truth unites, and false teaching divides.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:3 to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The command isn’t to make unity, but to maintain it. For the church, unity is, and the unity that is, is in Christ. Paul elaborates, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4–6).”  This oneness is reality for the church. Maintaining unity means living out this reality. Teaching concerning this reality, so that one can live it out, is called doctrine. True unity cannot be had without doctrine. Deny these truths and you deny the glue of the Spirit by which He bonds the church together.

So, when the immature Christian leaves the church because true doctrine is being taught, what’s really happening is that some previously inculcated lie is being exposed. It wasn’t the truth that destroyed unity, but the lie. Achan has been hiding something, and the truth is exposing it. Truth may purify, but it doesn’t divide.

The only unity the church has, is unity in Christ—unity in truth. Anything else is just an illusion. “Unity” in indifference doesn’t count. Say two peewee baseball teams meet for the last game of the season. One team has lost every game and not one player wants to be there. Each of them is thinking of something different they’ll do after the game. Concerning the game, win or lose, they don’t care. They all have the same spirit, but no one comments “Wow! They’re so unified.” The second team has won every game that season, and they want to make it a perfect season. They’re unified. The church isn’t to be a collective of people singing, “I don’t care,” but “Jesus is Lord!” This is the tune of the church. Doctrine is music ed. False teaching attempts to alter the song. Saying truth divides is like saying that playing the right notes divides the orchestra. No! Tis the fat-headed, glory-craving, improvising virtuoso soloist who rebels against the Composer/Conductor. You can’t improve this song. Different not only divides, it defaces.

Sticking with the Bible beyond the Kiddie Rides (1 Timothy 6:1–2)

1 Timothy is conducive to squirming. False teaching, male and female roles, church leadership, church discipline—all those politically correct topics—can cause us to shift in our seats. And now, slavery! Squirming saints should be as a young boy on his first big roller coaster, shifting nervously, putting on a face, yet crying, “I don’t want to,” on the ascent, then exclaiming, “Do it again!” at the ride’s conclusion. Saints may squirm, but they must stick in their seats.

Squirming is serious. It’s for fear of texts like these that many abandon the Bible as God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. The one thing we mustn’t do is explain away such texts. We must not antiquate them, making them obsolete relics of the past. Small compromises here lead to big falls; gradual slopes turn suddenly into violent plummets. Differ with Douglas Wilson where you will on how slavery should have been addressed, this is a wise word:

If those who hate the Word of God can succeed in getting Christians to be embarrassed by any portion of the Word of God, then that portion will continually be employed as a battering ram against the godly principles that are currently under attack. In our day, three of the principal issues are abortion, feminism, and sodomy. If we respond to the ‘embarrassing parts’ of Scripture by saying, ‘That was then, this is now,’ we will quickly discover that unembarrassed progressives can play that game even more effectively than embarrassed conservatives can. Paul prohibited eldership to women? That was then, this is now. Moses condemned sodomy? That was then this is now.

This isn’t 1+1=2. This is calculus, but the problem is workable. When conditions are similar, and I doubt they will ever be even close to identical, obedience should look similar. Squirming?

We hear words through a filter. A particular word might be thought dirty, when it isn’t the word, but the filter. “Damn” is a word that is oft abused, but it can be used truthfully. To be damned isn’t a good thing (for the damned), but the Bible’s word on damnation is good (for them to hear). “Slavery,” isn’t good (for a man to be in), but the Word’s word on slavery is. When the Bible says, “slave,” don’t think you need to clean the Bible. You need to clean your ears. If a filter were immersed in mud, and then clean water put through it, only a fool would say, “The water here is putrid. This is what it looks like after I ran it through this filter.” God’s mouth never needs to be cleaned, but our ears often do.

If you squirm at the Scripture’s mention of slavery, rememberer that our dark history was their dark present. That ought to alleviate some twitching, but in case you’re still doing the truffle shuffle, let’s do some ear cleaning. Don’t assume you know exactly what Paul is speaking of when he says “slavery.” Ancient slavery was different in many ways. It wasn’t based exclusively on race. Reasons for being a slave ranged from being captured in war, to selling yourself into slavery. Day laborers had the harder existence, living in poverty and doing hard menial labor while slaves acted as cooks, artisans, doctors, and teachers with their needs provided for. It wouldn’t be rare for you to be better educated than your master, or for you master to see to your education. You could be ransomed or you could ransom yourself. Ancient slavery was unique. Hebrew slavery according to the Pentateuch more so. Yet, to the degree that a person finds themselves in a similar situation, even that of employee/employer, they are under similar obligations. The Word stands.

Lap bar now secure and fastened, some jitters should be alleviated, but only one thing can convince you the ride is good. Only one thing can make you shout, “Again! to this ride, “Amen!” to these truths—the gospel that Paul bases all these commands on. We must see the gospel as the more stunning and surprising reality in this dark world. Slavery should appall us, but not as much as the gospel awes us. The more surprising thing isn’t that slavery is, but that the gospel is. In sum, here is Paul’s point, the gospel is to be goal (v. 1) and grounds (v. 2) of all our behavior, even in ghastly situations. One might labor to end human trafficking, upon the grounds and for the sake of the gospel, while another obeys his master, upon the grounds and for the sake of the gospel. When a man so lives, as a slave of Christ, it matters not if he is in human chains, he is free.

Water, Chop, Plant (1 Timothy 5:17–25)

Timothy is a tree farmer. The species “elder,” calls for special notice, so Paul instructs Timothy to water the good, chop the bad, and test the saplings. So simple, but, alas, this arboreal wisdom doesn’t translate to ecclesiological wisdom, or, in other words, we’re naturally better tree farmers than elder farmers.

Here is a good tree, what are we to do with it? Many Christians think, “Leave it be. Don’t want to mess it up.” There are two plants, one is thriving, and one is dying. So they put all their efforts into the bad tree, a tree that any unbiased arborist could see was beyond hope. What happens? Now they have two dead trees. Water the good tree and you get more good fruit. Water the bad tree and you get more rottenness. It is true that if there is no water, there will be no fruit, but it isn’t true that if you just keep watering, then there will be fruit. When a tree is bad, more water won’t make it good. Therefore, following “no water, no fruit,” the second lesson of spiritual dendrology is “no fruit, no water.”

If the tree is bad, chop it down. Of course, first you check to see if  pruning and fertilizing might suffice. But if an elder persists in sin after you’ve lovingly sought his repentance, he is to be publicly rebuked. The reverse is regrettably frequent. Satan loves to redirect the water that the good is worthy of, channeling it to the bad. The honor good elders deserve is directed to the bad; the rebuke the bad deserve, he heaps on the good. Petty accusations weigh down the good, while the sinful elder is not only overlooked, but honored as if here were no mere elder, but an apostle. The church was founded on the apostles, grand redwoods of grace and revelation, he isn’t one, by a long shot, but they treat him as though he were. This isn’t without reason. The only way such a poser’s ministry could carry any clout is if his word was regarded as the Word, because they bear no resemblance otherwise. He has to play an apostle because he is so far from them. Such a tree makes for putrid fruit, but excellent fire wood (Matthew 7:15–20).

Finally, there are saplings that potentially could be either good or bad. Saplings are to be slowly and thoroughly tested, so as to ensure that good trees are planted, because, honestly, chopping is painful and hard work. Whereas chopping is an occasional work, planting is to be a continual work. No one wants to chop. We should want to plant. Unfortunately, many don’t value planting because they don’t value trees. They don’t value trees because they’ve invested too much in bad trees and are sick of rotten fruit. Score have only experienced a dark forest of spiritual leadership bearing fruit that leaves you in your deadly slumber. Further, say you wanted to plant some good saplings, sadly, many Christians have never seen one, so how are they to recognize them? Aha! Paul has given Timothy the identifying markers. The arborist’s check list is in 1 Timothy 3:1–7. There Paul tells Timothy what a good tree looks like. He looks like Jesus.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

—Psalm 1

Appreciating One Sunset and Cultivating Another One (1 Timothy 5:1–16)

First Timothy, like all the Bible, is a two edged sword. The instructions written to Timothy are also written for the church. If we could translate the last sentence of the book into Texan this would be clear, “Grace be with y’all.” This means when Paul tells Timothy to let no one despise his youth, but to set them an example, that the church isn’t to despise Timothy’s youth if he sets them an example. Maturity in the faith, not in years, is the better instrumentation to observe and keep from crashing.

But just because a church is to value maturity over age doesn’t mean that the church is to disregard age altogether. Again, Timothy is instructed on how to relate to those older than him, notably when he has to confront them due to some sin. But, in so doing, Timothy is setting the Ephesians, and us, an example of how the church should relate to those older and younger.

Timothy is to treat those older as a father or mother. Paul was Timothy’s father in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2). In between all the lines of 1 Timothy you can read Timothy’s love for Paul. Imagine that Timothy saw a sin in Paul, a sin Paul was blind to, can you hear Timothy’s respectful, humble tone? Timothy also had a model of faith in his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5). How Timothy would approach his mother, to whom he was so indebted, is how he ought to treat older women in the church?

We live in an age that idolizes youth and has forgotten the dignity of age. Proverbs 16:31 tells us that “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Here is the general principle, when you see a seasoned gray head, it often got there by being less a fool than other heads, and gained wisdom in the process. We’re fools for treating glory as faded goods to be discarded. The elderly are treated as dead weight or a detriment, when, they are really a blazing sunset that we should pause and appreciate, for the blaze will soon be gone and the world will be a darker place for the setting.

The old are to be looked up to, but the young are not to be looked down on. Concerning those younger than him, Timothy is to see them as peers. God is our Father. We are all sinners saved by grace, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. When you see someone younger in sin, don’t give them a scolding, but speak with them as one who knows the discipline of the Father as a good thing.

Here is a good principle for us all, for this sword is two edged eternally, look up to those older than you, across to those younger than you, and down upon none.

In Which I Try to Shave and Play a Man (1 Timothy 4:11-16)

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. —1 Timothy 4:12

Along with any verses in the Bible that mention fire, 1 Timothy 4:12 ranks high on the list of verses mangled by youth groups. But for a teen to spout off this verse is akin to a high school quarterback bringing an edited copy of a NFL contract to his coach saying, “Here are my terms.” Sure, there is some correspondence between the document and your reality, but you’re trying to put a kitty in a lion’s den. Timothy is a minister of the gospel, an apostolic delegate. Can you wear those tennies? Further, “youth” here refers to a man under forty in contrast to the older men Paul mentions in 5:1. Basically, by youth, Paul intends men who aren’t sage grandpas; men who don’t have enough salt in their pepper to be a respect magnet in the way that Paul was with all his gospel battle scars. Taking what we have in Acts, and our best guesses at when Paul wrote this letter, Timothy was probably in his mid thirties at this time.

Dear teen, I’m not scolding you as much as I’m wanting to take this sword from your hands so that the weight of it rests against my own big fat head. Hilt in hand, blade to my noggin. This isn’t suicide; this is surgery. Are there principles that a teen could glean from this field? Yep. But this food is meant for the “clergy,” young ministers to be more exact. All may get nourishment here, but ministers are to get full. Full on humility, which means empty of themselves. The gospel minister wants respect not because he is a big deal, but because the Word that he is to command and teach is (1 Timothy 4:11). See the connection between v. 11 and v. 12? The young godly pastor wants respect so that he won’t be hindrance to the ministry of the Word. He wants respect so that he isn’t a big deal.

If you quote this text in an attempt to garner some R-E-S-P-E-C-T, be you a seventeen year old who is on fire for Jesus, or a young pastor, you’ve demonstrated your stupidity and shown that you don’t know what you’re talkin’ bout. You’ve not only failed to understand the text, you’ve sinned against it. Rather than standing under the Word, you’re trying to stand over it and use it for unholy purposes and the seasoned saint is wise to warn, “Kid, put that thing down before you hurt yourself.” The Word of God is a holy sword. Woe to those who try to wield it for unholy purposes. You aren’t Arthur, and Excalibur is a butter knife by comparison. The Sword of the Spirit is for His glory, not yours ours.

Timothy is to see to it that no one despises his youth, but how is he to do so? By setting an example. So when the arrogant lad demands, “Don’t look down on me for my youth!” it is good to lovingly and firmly respond, “It’s not because you’re young. It’s because your speech is often foolish or filthy, it’s because your conduct is erratic, it’s because your love is selfishly conditional as demonstrated by your demand for respect, it’s because your faith comes in spits and spurts, and it’s because any purity you do have clearly seems owing to lack of opportunity. You’re not respected for the same reason the fifty year old man who lives just like you isn’t—you’re not respectable.”

John Stott summarizes the point well, “People would not despise his youth if they could admire his example.” Young minister—self included, I know I’m pressing this blade most firmly to my own skin, trying to act like a man by shaving with it—if you don’t want to be looked down on for your age, live so that you are looked up to for your maturity in Christ. That’s a principle that will apply across the board, and that’s so, because in living this way, Timothy would be an example.

By grace, as I look at this text, I don’t see it as something my church needs to read. I get more cred than I should. They are a loving and generous people. As I read this I pray “God help me!” because I want them to be better than I am, and that means that I must be better than I am. God help me.