Theme: Seeing the Church as a Family
In this week’s lessons, we see how Christians are to regard and treat one another in the church.
Scripture: 1 Timothy 5:1-3
As we come to 1 Timothy 5, we reach a section that deals with Christian relationships. I suppose it’s partly because I’m a preacher, but one thing I appreciate about the apostle Paul is the logic of his ideas and the fact that he doesn’t always have to express that logic on the surface. When I first began to preach, I used to be very conscious of outlines. I had a habit of announcing at the beginning what the outline would be. But I found that as you speak more, and especially as you develop more sermons, it’s not that you have an outline any less, but you find that it’s less necessary to call attention to it. I think that is what has happened with the apostle Paul. Certainly, his thought was logical, and he had a disciplined mind and always saw the correct sequence of ideas. When you read the book of Romans, you’re well aware of the way in which his mind worked. But he doesn’t always make his logical flow of thought so obvious. It’s there, but it’s below the surface, as it were.
Now we have the same sort of thing in this letter to Timothy, in which Paul is giving this younger pastor advice in his ministry. Although it is true that it does not have the formal structure of thought the way Romans does, the logic is still there even as it retains the feel of having a freer flow of ideas, as we would expect a letter to a friend to have. As Paul begins to develop these themes, it’s evident the way in which they’re connected. First, he talks about doctrine. He begins with this because he wants Timothy to be faithful in his adherence to the Christian faith, not to adopt another doctrine that is contrary to the truth. When he gets to his second letter to Timothy, he’s going to stress even more the need to guard the gospel.
But Paul is also aware that you can hold to orthodox theology and still be a discredit to Christianity if that doctrine does not determine how you live. Consequently, he moves in the next major section of the letter to talk about godliness. All he’s really saying in that section is that if you understand the doctrines rightly, it will affect how you live. If you’re not changed, you don’t understand them properly; those doctrines haven’t sunk down into your heart and begun to make a difference.
As we now come to a new section, Paul begins to talk about relationships, which we can think of as a third major section of this letter. He began with doctrine, because that is the foundation. Then, second, he went on to say that doctrine will affect how one lives. Now we come to the third point, which is that how we live as Christians will inevitably affect our relationships with other people. Godliness, you see, is also to be expressed in human relationships, as well as in our relationship with God. If we claim to have a close relationship with God and yet have bad relationships with other people, Paul would ask, “Well, what kind of godliness is that?” You have to put true godliness to work, as it expresses itself in the interchanges of life. It ought to be seen in how we treat our family, in how we conduct ourselves at work, and even in how we regard people whom we meet on the street. Even if we know hardly anything at all about them, do we recognize them as men and women made in the image of God? All of these things, you see, are expressions of our relationship to God, and demonstrate the depth of our godliness, if by his grace we really are becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ.
Beginning in 1 Timothy 5:1 and going through 6:2, Paul talks about the relationship to those who are older and to those who are younger, whether they be men, women, widows, or elders. He even has a few words about slavery and those who, because of the system of the day, found themselves in that position. Thus, this is clearly a very practical section of this letter.
He begins chapter 5 by putting this whole instruction in terms of family relationships. We read that and pass over it easily, but it’s much more significant than we might think. Notice what he says: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.” Paul’s telling us how to act toward older men, and gives a pattern for this by referring to the family. We’re to regard the older men as fathers. Then he continues this family pattern: “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
What this indicates is that the church of God is a family, and we’re to understand our relationships with one another as we would within the context of the human family, and the different relationships that exist within it. What does that word, “relationship,” suggest to you? Well, I suppose it’s a commentary on our culture that what some people first think of when they hear that word is a sexual relationship. That’s a very common way we understand the idea of a relationship today. Certainly, that is a type of relationship, and when such relationships are honorable and blessed by God, it’s a very great thing. But the way it’s often understood and practiced in our culture is a very dishonorable and superficial idea. It involves personal pleasure, manipulation, and selfishness. People engage in such relationships too often for what they can obtain from the other person, and once that is attained, the relationship ends and each goes looking for the same things from someone else. There is little or no interest in any actual commitment to one another, and certainly not over a long period of time.
List the three major sections covering chapters 1-5. How are they connected to each other?
How is it possible to discredit Christianity if one holds to orthodox doctrine?
What image does Paul use to describe the relationships that are to exist between Christians?
Prayer: As you read these studies this week, ask the Lord to make your relationships within your church all that they ought to be.