Today’s reading: 1 Tim 4
Paul is continuing to encourage Timothy in his new role as Bishop of Ephesus. He reminds him of how to address some of the false notions that are being advocated. Then Paul basically tells Timothy to go in and take charge (but also set a good example) because he has divine authority. Paul says,
Command and teach these things. …
In other words, Timothy’s teaching is not just one opinion among many. The faithful must comply with his teaching. And how did Timothy get this authority?
Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you. 1 Tim 4:14
In other words, this did not come upon him through his internal machinations and feelings from the Holy Spirit. He most likely felt a calling to ministry but the gift he has comes from the laying on of hands by the council of elders (the Apostles).
The laying on of hands comes directly from the Old Testament and was used by Moses, at the direction of God to ordain priests. It shows that the old law is fulfilled in the new. Under the Old Covenant, the ordination to the priesthood was hereditary, now it is restored to the ordination of all those who are called but they still must be formally ordained. The candidate must be confirmed by the Church and must be publically given authority. This helps ensure fidelity to the truth and the preaching of the one true Gospel – which is basically what Paul’s letter is about. If your pastor, preacher, Reverend, holy man, etc did not have hands laid on him by someone with divine authority to do so then their teaching is just one opinion among many.
Next, Paul says,
Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Tim 4:16
This is like a theological nuclear bomb in the middle of the New Testament. It seems to be saying that you can save yourself! I hear so often from my protestant brothers and sisters, “It’s not you, it’s all Jesus. We can’t save ourselves! Without him, we are nothing.”
Does Paul disagree?
It seems so, but … not so fast.
This is why it is so important to have a proper teacher. This is why it is important to understand scripture in context as part of an organic whole. This is why Paul has elsewhere said that scripture must be interpreted in light of the traditional teaching he has passed on orally. When Paul writes that Timothy can “save himself” he is writing KNOWING that Timothy has spent YEARS with Paul discussing these topics. He knows that Timothy has received the Holy Spirit in a special way by the laying on of hands. He knows that Timothy will teach Christianity that is consistent with the Church’s doctrine. He knows that if there is a question that the Church will meet in council and decide the matter as they did in Acts 15. He knows that the Holy Spirit will prevent the Church from teaching error. Paul does not write in a vacuum, he writes knowing Timothy has been trained, ordained and faithfully dedicated his life to the Church.
What then is the context? What does it mean that we can save ourselves?
Recall that Paul has written that we are the Church and that the Church is the Body of Christ. And the Church, as the Body of Christ, is the physical manifestation of Christ in the world, the “fullness of him who is all in all.” Thus, there is nothing lacking in the Church. And the Church is the Bride of Christ. “And a man shall leave his mother and cling to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” This is true for the Church, which is the Bride. Thus, Christ is one with – in perfect union with – his Church. In his epistles, Paul calls himself a father to his congregations and the Scripture tells us that through Christ we are the adopted sons and daughters of the Father. Jesus says that if we follow his teaching we are his family and closer than his mother and brothers. Scripture tells us that if we give a glass of water to someone who is thirsty out of love of God we give it Christ himself. Jesus says that he will separate the lambs from the goats by what we did for the least fortunate in his name. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “Father, let them be one as You and I are one.”
Can you not see what should be apparent to you?
We are not just “brothers and sisters in Christ” in the simple sense. We are more than a family. We are integral parts of a whole. We are so close, so radically connected to each other through Christ that we cease to exist being separate (yet we retain all of our individuality). This is why that what we do to the least we do to the Lord. This is why Paul says, “it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me.” This is why Paul writes we are one body and that foot cannot go without the hand. And this is now, Today. Right here, right now, as you sit and read this, you are not separate from your fellow Christians. Through Christ, we are intimately and radically joined together. So much so that we manifest Christ for each other and for the world.
And this is why our works in this life can have merit for the next.
When, because I love the Lord, I give a glass of water to someone who is thirsty I don’t just give it to the physical man, I give it to the Lord. When, because I love the Lord, I forgive my brother and show him charity it is not just I who forgive him but Christ who allows, intensifies and helps me to forgive and show mercy. It is because of my radical union with Christ that any good thing I do is even possible. And therefore, when out of love for the Lord, I do an act of kindness, of charity, of mercy – any good work – it has INFINITE value. It adds to what cannot be added to. It becomes part of that which is already done. It fills up and that which is already completed and finished. That is why Paul wrote in Colossians,
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. Colossians 1:24
So we do not save ourselves of our own accord, but we do contribute to our salvation (and the salvation of others) through our union with Christ.
Why then do we hear so often the refrain in Protestantism of “we do not save ourselves” and “I have the Holy Spirit in ME” and “I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ”? Why does one part of Christendom focus on this personal relationship aspect and almost completely ignore the heavenly union of believers that forms the one Church in Heaven and on earth?
Sadly, it is because you can’t sell what you don’t have.
Our radical union with the Lord is established at Baptism but it is PERFECTED over the course of your life through the Eucharist. This is why the last thing Jesus did before beginning the Passion was to establish the Eucharist at the Last Supper and why he said, “Do this in memory of me.” The Church teaches that the Eucharist is the glorified and resurrected body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Christ. It is not a symbol, it is the Lord. And through it, we enter true Communion with Jesus and each other. By giving our willing consent to this mystery and believing on faith that which Jesus said we strengthen the heavenly bond with the Jesus and the Church. That is why on Passover, one year before the Last Supper, Jesus said,
55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. John 6:55-56
Christ was talking about the Eucharist and the union it creates between him and his followers. When you receive the Eucharist, Jesus “abides” or lives within you.
Today I am sad. Writing this makes me sad. I talk a lot about doctrine, about how to know right teaching and about authority. But all that is relevant really only for one reason – only a properly ordained bishop or priest can consecrate the Eucharist. All of theology, all of history, all of the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord, all of heaven and earth, all of it – EVERYTHING – is there in that moment. There is no divide between God and man. There is no difference between heaven and earth. There is no yesterday or tomorrows, only the present and the eternal now of God and perfect Communion with the Lord. But for my Protestant brothers and sisters, your Pastor’s teachings are just one opinion among many, the bread and wine are just crackers and juice and you can’t sell what you don’t have.
Tomorrow: 1 Tim 5