Monday, October 27, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 13)

Paul writes that “The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money.  He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity” (1 Timothy 3:2-4).  Putting flesh and blood on these words and remembering that this is a letter to a real person in a real church full of real people in a real community that would have functioned according to the ideals of honor and shame, then this list of “requirements” appear to be a way to screen out those that would, according to accepted customs and practices of the wider community, normally be expected to preside over the meal assemblies of the church. 

Indeed, Paul may very well have specific people in mind that are subtly addressed and ruled out as overseers by what is here insisted upon.  One may think this harsh, but the primary concern is the strengthening of the church body, and those who are possessive of honor and standing outside the church are those that most need to understand the humility and the embracing of shame demanded by the way of the cross and the kingdom of the Creator God.  One way for such people to experience shame is for their honor to mean nothing inside the assembled church. 

Conversely, it might very well be the case that Paul is less concerned with making sure that the most holy or least sinful person (by the popular and not overly helpful way of thinking) is overseeing the church’s gathering (again, this is not about an overseer in the way so many are programmed to think), and more concerned that those that would normally be considered less honorable are the ones that take up this function, thus making the point that those that society considers to be more honorable are to be subject, at least inside the assembly that is supposed to represent the kingdom of Israel’s God to those that are considered less honorable by that same society.  This subjection is not one of a heavy hand, but it is a subjection rooted in the counter-cultural egalitarianism of the church.  It is by these instructions that the culture is countered, and through which Timothy and the church are forced to broaden their scope and manner of thinking. 

The directive is expounded upon, and one can be further convinced that there are, in fact, specific individuals in mind when going on to read “But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?  He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact.  And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap” (3:5-7). 

It is helpful to look at these as being person-specific---directed towards an individuals or small group of individuals, rather than as ideals left up to subjective analysis.  Since it has been established that Paul is not writing about pastors or church leaders in the traditional sense of the term or of those that meet specific qualifications as determined by a council of elders, but rather, those that are overseeing the meal-based gathering of the church in the home of one of the believers, functioning as the host of the meal (with this rotating regularly so that one person does not accrue undue honor or prestige), it is possible to glean the principle and make the application that is so very prevalent in the Pauline corpus, which is that of equality amongst believers and the need for the church to be strengthened, with self-sacrificial love and the preferring of one another (eschewing honor and embracing shame, as demanded by the cross) the transcendent ideal to be embodied in the assembly.  

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