Friday, August 24

1 Timothy 5:1-16: Pastoring a congregation requires not only didactic discipline and skills, such as those treated in the previous chapter, but also social discipline and skills, because a successful pastorate involves dealing with a considerable variety of people and needs. St. Paul speaks of this variety in the present chapter.

Sometimes a pastor must reprimand, but the Apostle forbids him to do it with violence. Older men and women in particular are to be treated with a special deference (verses 1-2), a deference all the more necessary Timothy’s case, in view of his young age (4:12). Young men and women are to be treated as brothers and sisters. In sum, the Christian congregation is to resemble an extended family, and Timothy is to “conduct [himself] in the house of God” (3:15).

A singular care is to be taken for those widows who are wards of the congregation (verse 6; Acts 6:1). This is a reference to consecrated women resolved to live in celibacy, prayer, and Christian service. These, along with consecrated virgins (1 Corinthians 7:32-38), are our earliest examples of Christian nuns, pursuing a special vocation that has been with the Church since the very beginning. Like the pastors and deacons, such consecrated widows should have been married only once (verse 9), and apparently for the same reason. In addition to constant prayer (verse 5; Luke 2:36-37), those women were to work at a variety of useful ministries on behalf of the Church (verse 10). Younger widows, out of fear for their immaturity, were not to receive this consecration (verses 11-14).

Saturday, August 25

1 Timothy 5:14-25: While Paul held, as a matter of theory, that a widow did better not to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:40), he made exceptions when it came to practice. Some women are simply not called to celibacy and must be discouraged from deceiving themselves on the point (verses 11-15). Paul knew, probably by experience, the sorts of scandal that could be given when celibacy was undertaken by those who were not divinely called to it. He spoke of such scandal as giving “opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (verse 14).

The “adversary” here seems to be Satan (verse 15), known to be especially vicious against those devoted in an intense way to the service of God (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7; Zechariah 3:1-2).

The presbyteroi of verses 17-19 are identical to the episkopoi of 3:1-7. The congregation is to recompense them for their ministry (verse 18), and Timothy is to be slow to accept an accusation against them (verse 19). With respect to a man’s qualifications for ordained ministry, only time will tell (verses 24-25). So Timothy is not to take the step of ordaining them hastily. If Timothy ordains an unworthy pastor, he will partake of that pastor’s sins (verse 22).

Finally, Timothy must take better care of his own health (verse 23). Here we gain a genuine insight into the young man’s character. This verse informs us, first, that Timothy, throughout his many labors, also suffered from a poor constitution. It also indicates that Timothy was an ascetical man, whose self-denial and mortification were sufficiently austere to raise the concerns of even so disciplined an ascetic as Paul. Timothy, in short, lived a life of mortified habits and self-control, even to the point of endangering his health.

Sunday, August 26

1 Timothy 6:1-12: Besides those social relations created by the structure of the Church itself, there were specific social relations that were brought into the Church from outside. One of these was the relationship between slave and master, a relationship potentially problematic and sufficiently complex to be addressed several times in the New Testament (verses 1-2; 1 Corinthians 7:21-22; Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; Titus, 2:9-10; Philemon, passim; 1 Peter 2:18-21).

In the present text, verse 1 deals with Christian slaves under pagan masters, and verse 2 treats of Christian slaves under Christian masters. We cannot fail to note that Paul is not offended by the social inequalities inherent in slavery. Indeed, he takes these inequalities for granted, because the Gospel contains no mandate to dissolve all the political and social inequalities in the world.

Paul endeavors, rather, to apply the principles of the Gospel to the world as he finds it, not as a social reformer might want it to be. Although Paul affirmed that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28), he showed not the slightest democratic impulse. Although he insisted that “you are all one in Christ Jesus,” this truth never posed itself to his mind as a basis for an egalitarian political or social system.

In the present instance Paul was concerned that the Christian slave not bring the Church into disrepute by disrespecting his pagan master, and that the Christian slave not use his standing in the Church as an excuse for disrespecting his Christian master.

Monday, August 27

1 Timothy 6:13-21: The epistle closes with a rousing pastoral exhortation, of the sort useful for ordination services. The expression “man of God” places Timothy in an impressive line that included Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1) and other prophets (1 Samuel 2:27; 1 Kings 12:22; 13:1). He must remember the profession (homologia) that he made at his baptism (verse 12), a profession related to the homologia that Jesus made in the presence of Pontius Pilate (verse 13).

This profession (cf. Hebrews 3:1; 4:14; 10:23) is our first explicit reference to the recitation of a creedal formula at the time of baptism. From the closing verses of Matthew we know that the earliest baptismal creed (like all the later ones that followed it) was Trinitarian in structure and content.

Verses 15-16 seem to be borrowed from an early Christian hymn (cf. also 1:7; 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13).

Timothy’s task as a pastor was essentially conservative. He was to hand on,
intact and carefully guarded, the “deposit” (paratheke) that he had received. He was, therefore, to eschew, not only “profane and idle babblings,” but also the subtleties of argumentative dialectics (antitheseis) that were only a pretence of knowledge (verse 20). Paul manifestly saw the truth of the Gospel in danger of being lost by pastors who replaced it with the working of their own minds (verse 21).

Tuesday, August 28

Judges 4: Early in the history of the chosen people’s occupation of the promised land appears the matriarchal and prophetic Deborah, the only woman listed among the “Judges” that guided Israel’s various tribes during the two centuries or so between the Conquest and the rise of Saul. Most of what we know of Deborah comes from Judges 4-5, an historical account followed by a canticle showing signs of great antiquity. This material, prior to its incorporation into the literary sources of the Book of Judges, was probably preserved for long time in Ephraim’s narrative traditions at the shrine of Bethel, not far from which stood the palm tree under which Deborah was known to sit and deliver oracular guidance to the people. Although we are not explicitly told so, the reference to forty years of peace in Judges 5:31 has suggested to some readers that this was the length of Deborah’s ministry.

The story of Deborah is chiefly preoccupied with two themes, soteriology and the moral life.

First, soteriology. The Deborah story is mainly an account of God’s deliverance of Israel from her oppressing enemies (“And the Lord routed Sisera” — Judges 4:15), and it stands within a lengthy series of such stories united mainly by this common theme. Indeed, if the several traditions within Judges, drawn from quite diverse local settings and tribal traditions, are joined by any element beyond mere chronology, the motif of God’s deliverance is certainly that element. The Book of Judges is essentially a detailed account of God’s repeated deliverance of His people through the agency of charismatic figures prior to the rise of the monarchy. The key to understanding Deborah, surely, is through that general consideration.

With regard to the theme of the moral life, on the other hand, one readily admits that this consideration is of far less importance to the purposes of the Book of Judges. Truly, if the inculcating of moral example ranked very high among those purposes, it would be difficult to explain how some of the juicier stories in Judges ever managed to find their place at all! In the Deborah account, nonetheless, such a moral interest is certainly present, at least in a minor key, and it is to be discovered chiefly in the accented contrast between Deborah and the timid Barak.

Thus, St. Jerome observed that, if Barak had been a brave and decisive man to begin with, Deborah’s intervention in the battle with Sisera would not have been necessary. He went on to compare her to Mary Magdalene, whom the Gospels likewise show to have been a courageous woman at the time of the Lord’s death and burial, in conspicuous contrast to the intimidated, bewildered, and discouraged apostles.

Wednesday, August 29

Psalm 12: The idea is now common that the primary purpose of speech is communication, the sharing of ideas, impressions, and feelings with one another. Language is currently considered to be, first of all, social and therefore completely subject to social control. Human speech is widely interpreted as a matter of arbitrary and accepted fashion, subject to the same vagaries as any other fashion. Thus, the senses of words can be changed at will, different meanings being imposed by the same sorts of forces that determine whatever other tastes happen to be in vogue. Words become as alterable as hemlines and hats.

According to this view, words are necessarily taken to mean whatever the present living members of a society say that they mean, so that the study of language really becomes a branch of sociology. In fact, sociology textbooks themselves make this claim explicitly. Moreover, this notion of speech is so taken for granted nowadays as nearly to assume the rank of a self-evident principle. Nonetheless, it is deeply erroneous.

It is also egregiously dangerous to spiritual and mental health, for such a view of language dissolves the relationship of speech to the perception of truth, rendering man the lord of language without affirming the magisterial claims of truth over man. Declared independent of such claims, language submits to no tribunal higher than arbitrary social dictates. Human society, no matter how sinful and deceived, is named the final authority over speech, which is responsible only to those who use it, subject to no standards above the merely social. That is to say, in this view words must mean what people determine them to mean, especially such people as cultural engineers, political activists, feminist reformers, news commentators, talk-show hosts, and other professionals who make their living by fudging the truth.

This current notion of language was well formulated in the declaration of the proud and rebellious in Psalm 12, in a passage manifestly portending the mendacious times in which we live: “With our tongue we will prevail. Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?”

How different is the view of the Bible, where speech is not regarded, first and foremost, as a form of communication among human beings. In fact, Adam was already talking before ever Eve appeared. Human speech, that is to say, appears in Holy Scripture earlier than the creation of the second human being, for we find Adam already naming the animals prior to the arrival of the marvelous creature that God later formed from his rib.

At the beginning, before the Fall, Man was possessed of an accurate perception into reality. He was able to name the animals because he could perceive precisely what they were. His words expressed true insight, a ravishing gaze at glory, a contemplation of real forms, so that the very structure and composition of his mind took on the seal and assumed the formal stamp of truth. Human language then was a reflection of that divine light with which heaven and earth are full. The speech of unfallen man was but the voice of vision.

This primeval human language, the pure progeny of lustrous discernment, flowed forth already from the lips of Adam prior to the creation of Eve, who heard it for the first time when her husband, awaking from his mystic sleep, identified her and told her exactly who she was: “You are bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” Human speech was already rooted in the vision of truth before it became the expression of human communication.

Moreover, the Fall itself, when it came, derived from that demonic disassociation of speech from truth that we call the Lie: “You will not surely die.” Eve’s acquiescence in that first lie was mankind’s original act of metaphysical rebellion. It had more to do with the garbling of Babel than with the garden of Eden. It was human language’s first declaration of independence: “Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?”

Just as truthful speech streams forth from vision, springing from the font of a pure heart, so lying is conceived in the duplicitous heart before it issues from the mouth. Says Psalm 12: “Each one has spoken follies to his neighbor, deceitful lips have spoken with divided heart.” The situation described here is so bad that one despairs of finding any truths left in human discourse: “Save me, O God, for the godly man has disappeared, because truths are diminished among the sons of men. . . . The wicked prowl on every side.”

In contrast to these varied, seemingly universal lies of men stand the reliable words of God: “The words of the Lord are pure words, smelted silver purged of dross, purified seven times.” In this very unveracious world we yet trust that, though heaven and earth pass away, His words will never pass away.

Thursday, August 30

Philippians 1:19-30: In his earlier epistles, it appears, Paul expected still to be alive on this earth when the Lord returned (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15,17). Now however, for what appears to be the first time in his letters, he refers to thee possibility of his death (verse 20). Things look pretty dangerous at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32).

The doctrine most clearly taught in these verses is that of an immediate “afterlife” of the believer with Christ, and this is the source of Paul’s own comfort and strength as he faces the possible prospect of death at Ephesus. We may contrast this perspective with that of Paul’s earliest epistle, First Thessalonians (4:13-18), where the source of Christian comfort is not an immediate afterlife but rather the final resurrection.

This is not to say that in Philippians Paul is no longer concerned with the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. On the contrary, he explicitly speaks of it (1:6; 2:16; 3:20). There is no sense in which we can say that Paul, in Philippians, discards the doctrine of the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.

Here in Philippians, however, the expression “with Christ”—syn Christo (verse 23)— refers to an immediate afterlife, whereas in 1 Thessalonians 4:14,17 it had referred to the time of the final resurrection. The emphasis is on union with Christ in the here and now (verse 21; 3:7-12). The believer is already united with Christ, a truth that Paul would also stress in his next epistle, Galatians (2:20; 3:27; 4:19).

Paul’s hope for an immediate afterlife with Christ, therefore, is based on the experience of his union with Christ already in this world.

Because Christ is already his life, death will be for Paul an advantage, a step forward, a kerdos. “For Paul to live is Christ, and this is a life which by death will be set in full communion with the One who lives in him,” writes one commentator (in TDNT 9.547). There are similar sentiments throughout early Christian literature, especially in the context of martyrdom (cf. Ignatius of Antioch, Romans 5.3; 6.1-2; 7.2). In Christ Paul is possessed of a life that he cannot lose by death (cf. Romans 6:11; Colossians 3:3; John 11:23-26; Ignatius of Antioch, Ephesians 3.2; Magnesians 1.2).

Unlike the Platonic tradition, Paul does not call death a “release” or “escape,” but a “gain.”

When he wrote Philippians, then, Paul had come to the persuasion that an immediate afterlife with Christ follows the death of those who have died in Christ.

It is important, however, that we do not misinterpret this observation. Individual union with Christ after death never becomes the goal of Paul’s ultimate striving. Jesus dies to save the whole man, not just man’s soul. Until the body itself is raised in Christ, the Christian hope remains unfulfilled. Paul never wavers in this affirmation, not even in the present epistle (3:10,11,21; cf. Romans 8:11,23; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55). Death in Christ, then, is not our goal; it is only a step towards that goal, a “gain.”

Friday, August 31

Philippians 2:1-11: There were forces of disunity active in the Philippians congregation. These seem to have been based on differences of personality and temperament (cf. 4:2), rather than doctrine, but they were nonetheless disruptive and painful. Paul was especially sensitive to these Philippian problems, because he was suffering from similar difficulties, such as jealousies and rivalries, at Ephesus (1:15-17,29-30).

In the present chapter, therefore, Paul exhorts the Philippians to unity. This unity, based on “communion of the Spirit” (koinonia Pnevmatos), is expressed in “the comfort of love,” with “affection and mercy” (literally “heart and mercies”—splanchna kai oiktirmoi, words that the early Christians liked to join. See verse 1; Colossians 3:12; James 5:11). Paul is asking the Philippians to consult their experience of God in comfort, consolation, communion, and mercy, and then to live accordingly.

All the Philippians must cultivate the same set of mind (to avto phronete, have the same love (ten avten agapen), be of one soul (sympsychoi), and “think the same thing” (to hen phronountes). It has long been recognized that all four of these expressions mean the same thing. Thus, in the fourth century St. John Chrysostom commented, posakis to avto legei, “he several times says the same thing.”

Twice in the list Paul uses the verb phroneo, meaning “to think,” or perhaps better “to have in mind,” “to dwell on in thought.” The verb has as much to do with attitude and sentiment as it does with thought or reason. In this epistle uses this verb ten times (cf. also 1:7; 2:5; 3:15,19; 4:2,10), more than in any other of Paul’s epistles.

The attitude encouraged by Paul is opposed to all forms of “selfish ambition or conceit” (verse 3). The first of these words, eritheia, is perhaps better translated as “factiousness” or “party spirit.” In the first chapter Paul had used this same word to describe the problems at Ephesus (1:17), and he writes of the same evil elsewhere (Romans 2:8; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:19-20). Other early Christians warned about this evil as well (cf. James 3:14,16; Ignatius of Antioch, Philadelphians 8.2). It refers to partisan attempts to gain power and control in the Church. The presence of this word (which before Christian times is found in only one pagan Greek writer, Aristotle [Politics 5,1302b4 and 1303a14) in so much earlier Christian literature suggests that this was an ongoing problem.

The opposite of this vice is tapeinophrosyne (recognize here the root we just looked at?), which means lowliness, the internal sense of humility, personal modesty, humbling oneself (thus Jesus, in verse 8, “humbled Himself”—etapeinosen heavton).

It is instructive to note that this word is never found in pagan Greek literature. It conveys an ideal and state of mind alien to pagan culture. It is a distinctly biblical word. Indeed, the word had to be made up by the first Greek translators of the Hebrew Scriptures to express the sense of Proverbs 29:23 and Psalms 130 (131):2.

This humility means self-abnegation in the sight of God, the chief example of which is God’s Son, who emptied Himself and took the form of a servant and then humbled in obedience unto death. This is the model that Paul holds out to the Philippians (verses 5-11).