Friday, May 6, 2011

1 Timothy 5

The gospel had been in Ephesus at least ten years earlier. There would be several congregations and a thriving community of faith. The New Testament model was drawn from that of the first church in Jerusalem, with one exception. Since very few of the Gentile members would have had their extended families involved in the church, virtually every congregation would have been organized as spiritual families, emulating the same care and nurture of the Hebrew extended family. That there were fewer blood ties should hardly hinder the normal familial operations. Whatever else it might be, each congregation was first and foremost a family.

In such a setting, we would naturally expect the gentle treatment between individuals. Timothy would be new to this apostleship business, and Paul reminds him serving as the ranking representative of spiritual authority was not like the military nor a business. It's a household. Everyone is treated with the same respect as your own blood kin. Elder men who ruled in a household were expected to entertain appeals to their decisions, and younger men were future leaders. Elder women were respected as if they had once changed your diapers, and younger women were treasures.

In such a setting the issue of widowhood could easily get confused. In ancient times, it was common for women to outlive their husbands, as it was rare she didn't marry someone one or two decades older. The Hebrew community had a long history of dealing with this as a mark of their justice, insuring widows were not turned out on the streets. Her extended family was commanded by God to take care of her, and we see this same ethic brought forward into the church.

It's bad enough a great many people would join the church, initially at least, without their spouses. Some would lose their spouses, and in other letters Paul spoke of letting your unbelieving spouse go, as one who was spiritually dead. Some women would then be separated from their husbands as widows-in-effect. Given the Old Testament community would have naturally provided for such women, we see the first church in Jerusalem did the same. A woman without local blood kin relations would naturally turn to the church as her new family. We would expect such women to then be free to devote themselves to the business of the church, as they would the needs of their own household. Women still raising children didn't have time for that, and it was hard to find a place for them. Besides, younger women were still likely to be lonely for male companionship. Only those who had reached the age of sixty were likely free of such things. Paul urges Timothy to resist too quickly adding a woman to the list of widows for church welfare programs.

The first church in Jerusalem had an issue with widows requiring the appointment of elders. The churches in Ephesus had almost no organic elders; virtually all of them would be appointed. Paul notes ruling elders carried a heavy burden, and doing it well was worthy of special notice. A critical task for Hebrew elders was teaching the Law; elders in Gentile churches would do something similar. Pastors lead in spiritual matters, observing the Heavenly concerns, whereas elders governed by the Laws of God and taught practical matters. Paul said they should be paid, for the same reason the Law of Moses forbade muzzling an ox while it threshed the grain. The elders should not have to earn an outside living any more than a clan elder was expected to do physical labor. He retired from such things so he could be free to manage and lead. And it would shatter their leadership if they had to worry about every petty challenge to their decisions, so Paul's answer was to require a measure of formality to reduce the silly carping. With their limited immunity came a higher burden of responsibility, so when they were found to be in the wrong, it should be dealt with in front of everyone.

Timothy was reminded to be as unbiased as possible in these matters. Paul also advised him to drink wine, because water alone was not only regarded as extreme asceticism with most people, but wine would offset the affects of questionable water quality in that part of the world. Timothy need not be embarrassed how it would look. In the real world, we all know a sinner may not be obvious at first, but sooner or later his evil will slip out. The same with a good man, whose actions may at first seem a little odd. Once they saw Timothy acting truly magisterial, silly questions become obviously silly.