SHORT NOTES ON THE BIBLE

 

(82)

 

 

The Two Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy

(Part 8)


Chapter 5 (contd.)

2- Treating priests (church elders) - their compensation and accountability (5:17 - 22)

St. Paul counsels Bishop Timothy that priests and elders who labor in the word and doctrine, and "who rule well" are "worthy of double honor."  This is normal, because the Scripture says: "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain" (Deuteronomy 25:4, 1 Cor. 9:9 and 1 Tim. 5:18).  This means that you should not muzzle an ox while it is working on the machine which separates the chaff from the grain, to allow it to eat as much as it needs, thus compensating it for its work. Also "The laborer is worthy of his wages [his food]." (Deuteronomy 24:14,15; Mat. 10:10 and Luke 10:7).  In this way, priests and elders who rule well would be adequately compensated for their work, and would not need to earn their livelihood by some other means which, in turn, would adversely affect their service.

The congregation should also hold the servants accountable, if it is felt that they exceeded their bounds.  Such accusations, though, should be made by more than one person, to guard against the risk of personal biases, grudges and individual lies.  According to the Bible, accusations are permissible only by two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15, Mat. 18:16 and 2 Cor. 13:1); this would ensure the validity of the complaint, and protect the priest against unwarranted slander.

In the event that the wrongdoing is confirmed (it could be a priest, elder or member of the congregation), he should be rebuked in the presence of all, in order to restore him to the right path.  In this way, he would know that none is above the truth, he would not commit the same mistake, the message would be clear to all, and the fear of God, the Church's High Priest, would grow in his heart.

It is important that a bishop be just, unprejudiced, without any ulterior motives, and impartial (James 2:1). The lack of any of these qualities is offensive and conducive to the congregation's loss of confidence in the church and its leaders. St. Paul exhorts Timothy to observe those instructions, charging him before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels.  A bishop's uprightness, conscientious-ness and chastity are pivotal for the safety of the entire congregation.  Consequently, he must choose the servants meticulously, and not lay hands on anyone hastily.  This is because admitting someone, undeservedly, into the priesthood, due to the bishop's negligence or unscrupulousness, incriminates the bishop, making him complicit in an act which harms the church and gladdens Satan.  A bishop should keep his chastity, and refrain from all evil tendencies and deviations from the truth of Christ.

3- Therapeutic advice (5:23)

We read in the Bible that anyone taking the Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:1-21) was required to refrain from consuming any wine or grape juice.  Also, in Jeremiah 35:5-7, we read that the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab refused to drink of the wine offered to them, thus observing their father's commandment: "You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever.  You shall not ... plant a vineyard ...."  The angel of the Lord also said that John the Baptist "... shall drink neither wine nor strong drink." (Luke 1:15) Undoubtedly, Timothy followed all of these ordinances.

In this verse, St. Paul allows the consumption of a small quantity of wine, as a therapeutic measure, to treat Timothy's frequent infirmities, especially his chronic indigestion.  He cautions him about drinking water during his frequent trips since, in those days, there were no water purification facilities ("Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (John 9:7)); the risk of contracting diseases by consuming contaminated water was thus high.  Nevertheless, such advice should by no means either be considered a license to consume alcohol wantonly, or an invitation to make it a habit (some people advocate permis-siveness by taking this verse out of context.)  Drinking wine may have been acceptable in some social events (John 2:1 - 11); however, servants (of God) or any other believers remain banned from regular consumption of, or addiction to, wine or any other alcoholic beverage: "And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit ..." (Eph. 5:18)  It should be noted, though, that wine in itself, like any other substance, is neither evil nor prohibited ("For every creature of God is good ..." (1 Tim. 4:4)). Hence, indulgence is rejected, but consumption solely for deriving benefits should not be cause for concern.

4- Let us leave judgment to God (5:24, 25)

Ultimately, the Judge is Almighty God, since we do not know everything. "Some men's sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment;" and, although the sins of some others are hidden, they will suffer the consequences and, even if they managed to get away with them, nothing is concealed from the eyes of the Lord, which penetrate the curtains of darkness - they will never escape God's justice on Judgment Day.  Similarly, just as "... the good works of some are clearly evident ..." there are others whose uprightness is not apparent, whom we may not know, who are virtuous, and whose good works are done in secret.  Both groups are known to God, and they will receive their blessed reward on the Last Day.

Chapter 6

1- Concerning slaves (6:1, 2)

St. Paul often discusses the issue of slaves in his epistles. Slavery was a problem in the early days of Christianity, especially as the Roman Empire harbored millions of slaves - and many masters and slaves had converted to Christianity.  As a consequence, some homes had Christian masters, Christian slaves, or both.  There were no problems associated with cases of Christian masters; since this resulted in improved master-slave relationships, such as elimination of haughtiness, cruelty and humiliation.

However, there were potential problems in those homes where the only converts were slaves; St. Paul instructs those slaves to ".... count their own masters worthy of all honor," hence, willing obedience without indignity, without rebellion, and without the superiority feeling that, while they know Christ and salvation, their master is slated for perdition.  Continued obedience to the master, while serving with increasing honesty, are requirements, "so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed."  This is because the new faith would be blamed, if the slave's conduct were to worsen following his conversion.

In cases where both master and slave had converted to Christianity, St. Paul instructs the slaves to refrain from despising or belittling their masters, on the grounds of equality through the Christian Faith, leading to equal rights and the elimination of master-slave barriers; such a perception could lead to laxness in service, disobedience, and the expectation that they will not be punished.  Paul stressed the opposite, hence, "... those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved."  Put differently, slaves in these cases, having become brothers and sisters of their masters in the Faith, must be more honest and giving in their service, since they now work of their own free will, with no human pressure, while expecting their reward from the Lord, rather than from their master; also, they should neither be negligent nor lazy while serving beloved believers.  In this regard we are reminded of Onesimus, who fled from his master Philemon, and travelled a long distance to see St. Paul in the Roman prison; Paul sent with him a letter to his friend Philemon, asking that he take back Onesimus not as a slave, rather, as a brother (Philemon 16).

We note here that the Church adopted a very wise position, namely, it did not call for the abolition of slavery by abrupt or harsh means.  The Romans always regarded slaves as enemies, and violently quelled any slave uprising.  Furthermore, whenever an escaped slave was caught, the penalty was either the death sentence, or a letter branded in the forehead, marking him for life, that he was an escaped slave.  The Church therefore refrained from fanning the embers of racial discrimination, thus avoiding the conflagration of a civil war.

With the passage of centuries, and with the spread of Christianity in various communities, slave emancipation became a viable option, rather than a decreed requirement.  Societal change does not take place forcibly or via laws, rather, by means of a change of heart, through the gradual permeation of Christ's Spirit throughout the society.  The alternative is constant bloodshed, violence, counter-violence, grudges and vendettas.

Christianity emphasized that accepting the Faith neither eliminated social classes nor promoted rights without dues; it also affirmed that the Christian Faith did not call for complacency, or a worker-master relationship characterized by negligence, merely because of their equality in the Faith - rather, whoever does not work, does not eat.  Conversely, a Christian worker seeks to please his heavenly Master, even when unsupervised.  The honesty and citizenship of a Christian worker should be an example for all, and his rejection of bribery which spoils his integrity must not be compromised.

                     (To be contd.)

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From the writings of St. Irenaeus

            The Aim of the Incarnation:
            the Universal Recapitulation

   Thus there is one God the Father, as we have shown, and one Christ Jesus our Lord, who came by a universal dispensation and recapitulated all things in Himself (Eph. 1:10). But in “all things” man also is included, a creature of God; therefore He recapitulated man in Himself.

   The invisible is become visible, the incom­prehensible is become comprehensible, and the impassible passible; and the Logos is become man, recapitulating all things in Himself. Thus, just as He is first among heavenly and spiritual and invisible beings, so also is He the first among visible and corporal beings. He takes the primacy to Himself and by making Himself the head of the Church, He will draw all things to Himself at the appointed time.

Against Heresies III, 16, 6.