Today’s reading: 1 Ptr 5
My footnotes define “Presbyters” as “official appointed leaders and teachers of the Christian Community”. Many translations use the term “elders”.
Peter speaks about them today in chapter 5 of his first letter:
So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed. Tend the flock of God in your midst, [overseeing] not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Likewise, you younger members, be subject to the presbyters …
1 Peter 5:1-5
Notice all the things Peter conveys in this passage.
First, there are presbyters or elders who are officially appointed leaders. That shows hierarchy and it’s in the bible and it’s in the infant new Church from the beginning.
Second, Peters says, “as a fellow presbyter”! In other words, the presbyters appointed in the local Churches are like Peter. We know that Peter is a priest, thus it follows that they are priests. We know that Peter has authority, thus it follows that they have authority.
Third, the presbyters are to “tend the flock of God in their midst’s”. In other words, presbyters are shepherds. Just like Jesus told Peter three times to “tend his sheep” and “feed my lambs” so Peter is telling his presbyters that they have the same job, the same role as him. The presbyters are shepherds of the congregation.
Fourth, Peter then switches to the “young members” and he tells them to “be subject to the presbyters”. So that means there are some people who are presbyters and some who aren’t. And those that aren’t are under the authority of those who are.
So what we have here is Peter, who everyone agrees Jesus made the head of the Church, clearly identifying and instructing the leaders of the local churches. We have authority and hierarchy in the Bible from the beginning of the Church. We can see that those leaders are the same as Peter that means that they are priests. This is the Church the same today as it was 2,000 years ago.
Tomorrow: 2 Ptr 1
Today’s reading: 1 Ptr 4
Today we read one of the Christians proposed solution to the question as to why we suffer. Peter writes:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1-2
So suffering causes us to cease from sin. This is something we know from experience. How many of us have heard of (or lived ourselves) someone “hitting rock bottom”? When we suffer, we instinctively examine the cause of that suffering. Often, it will lead back to some sin. Since suffering is unpleasant it prompts us to give up that which caused the suffering.
Peter tells us another thing that is “common knowledge” but here we see is also biblical.
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 1 Peter 4:10
So our gifts from God are for use to serve others. Again, to the Christian, this is not a surprise.
Tomorrow: 1 Ptr 5
Today’s reading: 1 Ptr 3
Today Peter makes a statement that must seem strange to some. He writes:
… because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ …
So “baptism now saves you”.
He compares this directly to Noah, the ark, and the flood. In the flood, Noah and his family were saved physically from the water by the Ark. They were also saved spiritually by the water washing away all the evil in the world. Thus, so it is with baptism.
Peter says that baptism is not a symbol. It is not the washing off of dirt from the body but “an appeal to God for a good conscience”. It can also be translated as “a pledge of a good conscience”. Peter is saying that like the water actually saved Noah from evil so does baptism actually save your soul (your conscience) from the sin that was there. This is, of course, done through the power of Jesus Christ who told his apostles “go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
This passage helps establish the concept of “sacraments”. When physical things have actual spiritual effects. We see it here when Peter says, “Baptism now saves you”. He does not say that baptism is a symbol of your salvation. He doesn’t say that baptism is an outward reflection of a past event. He says it does what it is intended to do. When you think about it that makes perfect sense. Jesus came and fulfilled the old law. In the old law, there were many things that were done but were ineffective. Remember the book of Hebrews says that it was impossible for the sacrifices of bulls and goats to actually take away sins. Jesus ends that old ineffectual system but He does tell us to do new things. It does not make sense that Jesus would replace one system of ineffectual signs with a new system of ineffectual signs. Thus, the signs instituted by Christ must be effectual signs or sacraments.
We see this elsewhere in the New Testament. In Acts 8, we see the Apostles travel from Jerusalem to Samaria to lay hands on some new converts. We are told those converts have been baptized by the deacon Phillip yet Peter himself (with James) goes to Samaria and lays hands on the converts and calls down the Holy Spirit upon them “because they had not yet received it”. Why would he do this? This was very shortly after the resurrection of Jesus (as Peter was still in Jerusalem). It is fair to infer that the Apostles were told to do this by Jesus. We see in today’s reading the Peter considered Baptism to be effective yet he still goes again to lay hands on the converts. From this, we get the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation, when the Bishop (the successor of the Apostles) confirms the work done by his assistants. It completes the converts unification with the Church by connecting them directly to the Bishop and filling them with the Holy Spirit in a new and different way.
We also see the sacrament of the “anointing of the sick” very clearly in the book of James:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Notice what it says here. The sick person is anointed with oil and the others pray for them. The sick person does NOTHING yet, “the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up”. That’s a sacrament; the physical workings of others have an actual effect on salvation.
In total there are seven (7) sacraments. Here we have seen scriptural evidence for Baptism, Confirmation and the Anointing of the Sick. The other four are: Confession, Eucharist, Matrimony and Holy Orders. It is a great tragedy, of infinite proportions, that the sacraments are lost to most Christians. In fact, some Christians even have hostility toward the idea of sacraments. Enamored with the doctrine of faith alone they jettison the touchstones that Jesus gave us. We are material beings and Jesus provided for our material well-being. For some, sadly the very things the Christ established to connect our material bodies with the spiritual world become not the doors of access to the spiritual as they were intended to be but burdens seen as too cumbersome to carry. Let us together reconsider the promise of the sacraments, not as meaningless signs but as spiritual tools to aid us on the road to salvation.
Tomorrow: 1 Ptr 4
Today’s reading: 1 Ptr 2
In today’s reading, twice Peter reminds us that we are a new nation of priests:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
This is a fulfillment of the Royal Priesthood of Israel:
And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.
Now we know that Israel was a kingdom of priests and that they had a high priest, and a ministerial priesthood that offered sacrifice at the temple. So in the New Testament, the kingdom of priests is fulfilled in the baptized, the high priesthood is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the new high priest. Doesn’t it follow that the ministerial priesthood must be fulfilled as well? Of course, we have seen that it, in fact, has been.
However, notice what else the passage says,
Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Ptr 2:4-5
If we are priests, we must offer sacrifices. What sacrifices? Spiritual sacrifices.
What are these things? It can be anything. Anything offered to God when we are properly disposed. Our lives, our jobs, our kindnesses, our forgiveness of others, etc.
How is this done? Most simply it is done through prayer. By habitually turning our will and thoughts to God.
And notice, these sacrifices are ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. How is it possible that anything a mere finite, imperfect, creature does is acceptable to the infinite Father? It is simple, it is acceptable to God because it is offered THROUGH the son, Jesus Christ. This is a hard concept to understand (I know because it is a hard concept to explain in writing). Through baptism, we are united to the son. This is a radical union. It makes us born again and a new creation. We are so closely united to the Son that we become his body in the world. Since we are united to the son our sacrifices can be offered through him and be acceptable to the father. What has a finite value and is imperfect gains infinite value and is perfected.
Peter CONFIRMS THIS UNDERSTANDING:
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Here Peter confirms we must use our free will for good works. Thus, we must become a Christ-like example to everyone. Further, in life, we will suffer but as God, he took our sins and our suffering to the cross. On the cross, he used our sins and suffering and combined them with his suffering. He, therefore, sanctified our suffering. Thus, on the cross Christ experienced what we suffer, therefore our suffering can be and in fact are meritorious.
Further, notice what Peter says about salvation:
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
If we are to “grow up” in salvation, can salvation be complete at the moment of our conversion? This is an important concept to understand. Scripture describes salvation as a past act, an ongoing process and a future state:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, …even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…” Ephesians 2:4-5.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith…” Ephesians 2:8,
“Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. 9 As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9
“Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” 1 Peter 2:2-3
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; …” Philippians 2:12
“Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; …” Romans 13:11
“If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” 1 Corinthians 3:14-15
“…you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 5:5
Hopefully, if you see the verses laid out next to each other it is easier to understand. What is important to remember is that we cannot focus on one aspect of salvation to the exclusion of others. We cannot say, “I have been saved” and think we can sail through the rest of our lives. Equally so, we cannot say, “I’m working out my salvation” and deny the sufficiency of the sacrifice on the cross. Finally, neither can we take a fatalistic view and say, “God decides and there is nothing I can do.” Rather, we must seek to humble ourselves before the Lord. We must decrease so that he may increase in our lives. We must pray, repent, do penance and give alms. We must do good works, for they both are pleasing to God and help to perfect us strengthening our will, habituating us to the good and by purging our sinful natures of our tendency to sin. We must go to Church, particularly the Mass, and receive the Eucharist.
Finally, notice one last aspect of Peter’s instruction:
Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. 1 Ptr 2:2-3
In other words, we cannot drink of false doctrine. It is valueless. It is the pure milk that causes us to grow. Many people call themselves “truth seekers” and this is good but one cannot just seek the truth partially. You must not be satisfied with a partially right answer. Milk is good, pure milk is better. And you must be a person who LONGS FOR IT. What does one do when they long for something? They relentlessly search it out. They do their own research. They let no obstacle stand in their way. They spend time and effort on it. When they find it? They run to it. They abandon their old ways, their old assumptions, their old habits and completely dive in and embrace the new.
Tomorrow: 1 Ptr 3
Today’s reading: 1 Ptr 1
Today we begin the First Letter of Peter. The letter was written by Peter, likely dictated to a secretary, probably Silvanus, who had also traveled with Paul. Peter was martyred in Rome in A.D. 64. We can tell from the text that it was written in the later part of his life after some persecutions of Christians had taken place. Thus, the letter can be accurately dated to between A.D. 60 and 64.
What is especially interesting it that it was written from Rome. We know this because of a reference in Chapter 5 to “Babylon” which was code for Rome. Most likely, Peter was already a wanted man by the time the letter was written.
That Peter was in Rome and martyred there is of important significance. We know that Peter was crucified upside down. At his request, he deemed himself unfit to die in the same manner as the Lord. We know that his body was taken out of Nero’s circus and buried a short distance away. Tradition says the grave was marked with a red stone.
When Christianity was legalized in A.D. 313, a Church was built over the traditional spot, but the grave itself had been lost. The Church was added onto and expanded and lasted over 1,000 years. However, in the 1400′s it had fallen into such disrepair and a new Church was commissioned to be built over the ruins of the old. Through the 1400′s and 1500′s, the new Church was constructed.
In the 1950′s archeological excavations under the Church revealed an ancient street that had been buried for centuries. The street leads to a smaller church. Multiple tombs were found, including one that had written out the outside, “Here lies Peter”. Tests revealed that is was a first-century man of approximately 60 years old. Other evidence confirmed it was the tomb of St. Peter. After being pressed down for 2,000 years the bones had been petrified, literally turned to rock.
Then a miraculous realization: measurements of the position of the grave determined it is exactly under the altar of the Church above. Having not known the location of the tomb, there is no way the altar could have been placed so precisely but yet for 500 years, the Church above had been standing with its center point directly over the petrified bones of the first pope. Peter, had quite literally, become the Rock on which the Church was built. That Church is, of course, St. Peter’s Basilica of the Vatican.
You can learn more about this story and see a virtual tour of the tomb at:
Tomorrow: 1 Ptr 2
Today’s reading: Titus
Today we read Paul’s letter to Titus. It has many similar themes as his letters to Timothy. Paul had sent Titus to Crete to lead the Christian community there.
First, Paul gives the criteria for the ordination of clergy, which Titus is to appoint:
This is why I left you in Crete so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. Titus 1:5-9
What is important to understand is that this is a minimum. This is what must be present in this era of transition from paganism to Christianity. In this time the men most likely to go into the clergy were already married with families. The Church was not going to break up families. Thus, responsible men who had demonstrated a life of upright moral character could become clergy.
Paul also makes the point that correct doctrine matters:
They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Titus 1:16 – 2:1
So sound doctrine is important and that is why Paul is sending Titus to Crete, to ensure sound doctrine. This is a key thing to understand. With hundreds (if not thousands) of Protestant denominations all teaching different doctrines knowing which Church is the one true Church, whose doctrine is protected by the Holy Spirit, tradition and teaching authority is critically important.
Tomorrow: 1 Peter 1
Today’s reading: 1 Tim 6
Today we read the chapter with one of the most famous passages in scripture.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:10
We all know this passage and we know that we shouldn’t make money a false idol. In fact, Paul says that once we have food and clothing we should be contented. It is a lifelong struggle to reject avarice and not succumb to the temptations of wealth. Jesus himself said that “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.”
Does this mean that anyone who is rich is lost? Of course not. As we read earlier, Jesus tells the rich to give away their the wealth in proportion to how attached to it. If you have money but aren’t prepared to give it away to those that need it, then you might be falling into the sin of “love of money”. In this chapter, Paul tells the rich how to have a correct relationship with money:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Notice, Paul directs them to do good works! He tells them to give to charity (share). The rich can also be saved but only if they treat their money as a tool for the glory of God.
Today’s reading: 1 Tim 5
In today’s reading, we see further evidence that the early Church already had leaders and a hierarchy. Paul writes:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 1 Timothy 5:17-18
So the elders, particularly those who are preaching and teaching, are to receive double honor. Obviously, that means they are to be respected more than others. Not in the natural way in which everyone deserves respect, but in a formal way as good rulers.
Notice also, here Paul is quoting Luke and/or Matthew (Luke 107 and Matthew 10:10) and already refers to them as “scripture”. Thus, the very early Church was already recognizing that some writings were inspired and equivalent to the Old Testament. This recognition by the early Church would become a tradition and would form the basis, in part, as to how the Church later canonized the Bible.
There is also another interesting passage later on:
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, 1 Timothy 5:22
We have already seen that the laying on of hands is how authority was passed on to another person. Here we see Paul reminding Timothy to be fastidious in who he chooses to convey authority. This is strong proof that the Apostles (Paul) passed authority to the next generation (Timothy) and intended for them to continue to pass authority on going forward.
Tomorrow: 1 Tim 6
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
Today’s reading: 1 Tim 3
Today we read 1st Timothy, chapter 3. The chapter starts out with Paul reminding Timothy of the qualifications for a Bishop. Paul says that Bishops should only be “the husband of one wife” and therefore this passage is often referenced in conversations about celibacy of the clergy. However, if we only focus on that aspect we miss the more basic issue.
WHY is Paul reminding Timothy of the qualifications of Bishops? Sometimes the implications of this passage are so apparent they are like the purloined letter, hiding right in front of our eyes. The answer is simple – Paul and Timothy have been together for a while but now Timothy has been left on his own to be in charge of a local Church. In time, Timothy will have to find men and appoint them to be new Bishops. Therefore, Paul is reminding him of the rules.
How can Timothy appoint new Bishops if he is not a Bishop himself? Think about it, a Captain in the army cannot appoint someone a General. It takes another
General (or higher) to raise someone else up to the rank of General.
What we see here is Paul preparing the Church for the future. Paul loved Ephesus. It was one of his first outposts, we know he spent time there with Luke and most likely, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Now he is giving up direct supervision, he has appointed one of his most trusted companions, Timothy, who co-signed six of Paul’s letters, to be the new Pastor of Ephesus. Here Paul is like a parent seeing their son off to college, reminding him one last time of all the little things he needs to know. Timothy is a Bishop, he has been given responsibility for not just a geographical area but for the very future of part of the Church itself.
Notice what else Paul says about the qualifications of Bishops. He must be:
… able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
So a Bishop must be “able to teach”. Teach what? It’s a simple question with profound implications. First, we know that Jesus sent out the Apostles, not with Bibles to distribute, but with Authority to TEACH. Thus, what we see here is an indication that bishops like Timothy are successors to the mission of the Apostles. Furthermore, if they are to teach, they must teach the same things that have already been taught. They must pass on truth. This passage shows that basic doctrine is already being established. That is why it is so vitally important to know that the first Christians, the Fathers of the Church, believed and taught. Without knowing the doctrines that were taught in the first century we cannot be sure that we believe the same things taught by Jesus.
Notice WHY it is important for the Bishop to be qualified? We are told the answer at the end of the passage, because … his job is to “care for God’s church”! Do you see here that the Church is not a loose collection of believers? It is an established organization with a leader who must be qualified. And it is His Church, God’s Church, not a church established by men with doctrines not taught by the Apostles.
There are many Protestant denominations. There are many debates about theology between Protestants and Catholics. Always it comes back to the question, how do we know who is right? We are, after all, talking about eternity, our immortal souls, and an infinite God. How can we know the answers to these, the most important questions we will ever consider? Often the answer you will get back from Protestants is, “the Bible tells us”. However, this always proves to be a wholly inadequate answer. We endless debate what Scripture means. Of course, the Bible is the inspired word of God but when we disagree about what it means, where do we go to get a definitive interpretation?
Paul tells us:
14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, 15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. 1 Tim 3:14-15
But what is a bulwark? Some of us suburbanites, living with our lawns and picket fences might not realize what it is:
bul·wark (blwrk, -wôrk, bl-)n.
- A wall or embankment raised as a defensive fortification; a rampart.
- Something serving as a defense or safeguard: “We have seen the necessity of the Union, as our bulwark against foreign danger” (James Madison).
So the Church, not the Bible, is the safeguard, the defender of the Truth. Notice what Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, has done here. He has laid it all out for us. The Bishop must be a holy man who is qualified to teach in God’s Church which is the defender of truth. This should not be surprising to us. Paul is simply reiterating that Jesus himself told us:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Matthew 18: 15-18
Notice, there is no penalty for not listening to your brother. There is no penalty for not listening when you are confronted by two or three witnesses. However, there is a penalty for not listening to the Church! If you fail to listen to the Church you are considered as a Gentile or tax collector – an outsider! One of those who was not part of the chosen people of Israel.
And realize the Church cannot be wrong in these things. Jesus says, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven…” Can error be bound in heaven? Of course not. This is really a simple matter for God. If God can inspire fallible men to write infallible scripture, surely he can inspire a succession of fallible men from formally binding something on earth that would be an error.
This doesn’t mean that every Bishop and Pope will be perfect. Jesus himself says that weeds will grow up with wheat and that he will separate them at the end of days. It just means that when the Church seeks to teach something formally it will do so free from error. This is how the Church can be the bulwark of truth. The Apostles had this Authority directly from Jesus and as Paul passed it on to Timothy, so too has every Bishop passed it on to his successors.
Finally, the connections of the Church to the truth run deep. Jesus says he is the “way, the TRUTH, and the life. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth, the “fullness of him who is all in all.” Thus the Church is the physical presence of Jesus in the world while we await his return. Therefore the Church is the bulwark of Truth. The safeguard and defender of truth here on earth.
Tomorrow: 1 Tim 4