Can a Divorced Man Serve as an Elder?

I come from a Christian family that has been surrounded by the church in every generation.  Recently, I have discovered that my grandfather wants to become an elder in his church.  This is all fine and good, and I am quite proud of him for aspiring to such a noble position in the church.  Unfortunately, I am not sure if he is able.  My grandfather has been divorced.  The questions arise; what does divorce have to do with eldership, and should a divorced man become an elder?  (Disclaimer:  Please keep in mind that this is a scenario in which the hypothetical elder nominee was a Christian when he was divorced.)

 

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The Christian and Divorce

The question may first be raised as to whether or not a Christian is permitted to seek a divorce in general, nonetheless an elder.  But much like in the Old Testament there are situations indicated in the New Testament in which a divorce is permissible. These laws can be found in a summary by Bible.org here. Jesus does call his followers to a higher standard, but in instances of adultery, it is still considered acceptable to be divorced (Matthew 19:9). By all means there should be forgiveness, but divorce is still permissible. The conclusion can be drawn that a Christian can get divorced, but can the conclusion be drawn to mean that an elder could be divorced?

What is an Elder?

An elder is a very important leader in a Christian church.  A local church chooses a plurality of elders to lead the church and oversee the policies and the ministries of the church.  They possess the final say on any situation in the church.  If one were to associate the church to a business, then the elders would be the Board.

Qualifications of an Elder

The qualifications for an elder are listed in two separate places in the Bible: 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-16.  The qualifications can be listed as such:

  1. must be above reproach,
  2. the husband of one wife,
  3. temperate,
  4. prudent,
  5. respectable,
  6. hospitable,
  7. able to teach,
  8. not addicted to wine or pugnacious,
  9. gentle,
  10. peaceable,
  11. free from the love of money,
  12. manages his own household well,
  13. keeping his children under control with all dignity,
  14. not a new convert,
  15. a good reputation with those outside the church,

 

The Question of Divorce and Eldership

As you can see, there is a problem that would arise for my grandpa and his desire to become an elder.  By being divorced and then remarried he is not the husband of one wife, but has in fact been the husband of two different women.  But is that what Paul, the writer of 1 Timothy and Titus, means when he writes that?  Another issue to consider is that these passages explicitly express the fact that they need to manage their households well.  How can one manage a household well when the household has become broken by divorce?  In both the passages they ask how a man who cannot manage his own house could have the ability to manage the house of God?  One final consideration concerning divorce and eldership is the extenuating difficulties that happen due to divorce.  In other words, will the people who were affected by the divorce have problems if the potential elder became one?

“Qualities” vs. “Qualifications” of Elders

There is a debate that surrounds these passages and the qualifications that arise from them.  The debate is whether or not these qualifications are in fact qualifications and not just qualities.  What’s the difference? Qualifications would imply a necessity that all of these things be apparent in the life of the prospective elder nominee.  Qualities would denote a sense that not all of the things listed need to be seen in his life.  He could be respectable and peaceable, but not very hospitable.  Would that disqualify him from being an elder?

There is a plethora of people on both sides of the argument, but I would argue that it depends.  It depends on what is said throughout the rest of scripture on each thing listed.  For example: the love of money is condemned in many places throughout scripture, as is the fact that Christ followers are not to be drunkards or addicted to wine.  Scripture says nothing about it being sinful to lack the ability to teach, nor about being prudent.  Now the argument could be made, “Why would you want someone who cannot teach and is not very wise to be an elder?”  But consider how these people could help with other things that the eldership manages.  At my home church, the elders deal with money.  The elder in charge of that is not very hospitable but he is still an elder because he fulfills that need in the church.

In the first verse of the 1 Timothy passage, Paul says, “… if any man aspires to…”  The definition of “aspires” according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary is “to want to have or to want to achieve something.”  The word “aspire” seems to welcome the interpretation that the characteristics mentioned in the passage cannot necessarily be achieved.  They may be striven for with earnestness, but it does not essentially mean the elder needs to be in possession of these characteristics, so long as they want them.

What does “Husband of One Wife” Mean?

There are some differences of opinions concerning what Paul means when he writes, “μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα.”  The New American Standard Bible translates this as, “husband of one wife,” when in actuality it is directly translated as “one wife/woman man/husband.”  Some people believe that this is a reference to polygamy, because the Old Testament did permit polygamy for the Jews as seen by the lives of King David and Solomon, as well as through the concept of the “kinsman redeemer”.  This is not the case, however, as described by Lance Quinn in his blog.  He says that the Greek expression in question could not be referencing polygamy due to the particular phrasing of the statement, and because other passages of scripture use the same wording to speak about widows needing help financially.  With this in mind, it is suggested that the phrase “one woman man” is, in fact, referencing divorce.

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What about “Manage His Household”?

The phrase “manage his household” concerns the prospective elder’s children and his wife.  It refers to the question of whether or not his kids are Christians.  If they not, it will reflect a lack of teaching and control over his children.  If his children are not under control, and do not understand the faith of their father, how will he be able to help a congregation grow in faith and obedience?

There is also the possibility that “manage his household” may include the wife of the hypothetical elder.  If he is divorced, then how can he be in control of his family life?  If he cannot be an elder because his children are not Christian, which represents a poorly managed household, how then can a divorced man be an elder when the household is broken and therefore mismanaged as well?

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Divorce, Eldership, and the Community

Divorces are always messy.  There is always someone who gets hurt in the transition.  Even if it is not the two who were married, there is always someone who is bitter about how the whole thing happened, putting blame on one or the other, or both.  If this were the case for the potential elder, then he would potentially not meet yet another qualification in our list; having a good reputation with those outside the church.  If the prospective elder is holding people back from the church because of his “messy” divorce then there would be an issue with appointing him.

Social Trends, Divorce, and Eldership

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The whole argument about whether or not a divorced man should be an elder has been more contemplated as divorce becomes more rampant in society.  The discussion arose from the idea that it is increasingly difficult to find people who fit into the qualification of being the husband of one wife.  This is true.  The figure above is a graph from The Family In America which shows how the amount of marriages that end in divorce have risen from 1960 to 2009.  Though we cannot deny that divorce is on the rise, the question is not about whether divorce happens and at what rate, but rather if a person who is divorced can be an elder.  As Christians, we are held to a higher standard than the rest of the world.  Our elders are to be held at an even higher standard as our leaders.  That said, and having explored the passages in question, it is suggested that a prospective elder, because of his divorce, should be disqualified.

 

Much of my thinking and opinions have come from my own personal study and from taking Pastoral Epistles, taught by Professor Eric Stevens, at Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri.  If you found this blog helpful, I invite you to read other blogs written by CCCB students here, or for more information about the school, to visit cccb.edu.  If you really like what you see, feel free to apply online!

Why Do Good?

It’s clearly evident in scripture that we, as Christians, are to do good works or deeds. The debate isn’t whether or not we are to perform them, but what exactly their purpose and place in our faith is. I’m sure you’ve read passages like Titus 1:16, which talks about false teachers being “worthless for any good deeds,” and thought to yourself, “why are good deeds so important anyway?” My goal in writing this is to explore and define the purpose of good deeds and in so doing to explain why they’re so important to God. My scriptural home base for this blog is the Pastoral Epistles (aka the books of 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus); therefore I will also delve into what good deeds look like in regards to the Pastoral Epistles.

Good Deeds Defined
Before we get too far into the discussion of their purpose, we should figure out what exactly good deeds are (I use the phrases“good deeds” and “good works” interchangeably). In his commentary 1 Timothy Titus 2 Timothy Gareth Reese, a co-founder of and current professor emeritus at Central Christian College of the Bible, defines good deeds as “loving acts of service to others”. He further breaks it down by pointing out that simply feeling love isn’t a good work, but feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick are.

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Biblical Examples of Good Works
In 1st Timothy, Paul speaks of honoring and caring for widows and specifies what an honorable widow looks like. In the description, he has a list of “if” statements, each of which refers to different example of good works. It is important to recognize that these statements do not only apply to widows, but to all Christians.

  • “If she has brought up her children”
    This seems to be referring the manner in which she raised her children. A Christian is to bring up their children in a godly way. It seems this is not only one of our first duties as Christian parents, but it also counts as a good work.goodworksblogb
  • “If she has shown hospitality to strangers”
    This is something that is taught heavily in Scripture, including notably in one of the greatest commandments, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • “If she has washed the feet of the saints”
    This is something that isn’t done for the most part now-a-days, but was very much the norm in Biblical times. The roads were dusty and people’s feet got quite dirty because of that. If we look at Jesus’ example of feet washing in John 13, Jesus used it to teach a lesson on serving. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he was showing them what ministry should look like—to have a willingness to serve. This example is similar to Reese’s description of being in service to others. (Note: Christ and Paul weren’t setting feet-washing itself as an ordinance here; they were using it to show what it looked like to be a humble servant. If it was an ordinance, why would it be in a list with other good works?)rome-1051030_1280
  • “If she has assisted those in distress”
    This is more of an attitude of willingness—willingness to reach out and help those who are struggling in some aspect of life. That struggle could be physical, emotional, or spiritual, but it is a good work to reach out to them.
  • “If she has devoted herself to every good work”
    This is reiteration of the latter if statements, and also the culmination of them. Think of it as the “if-statement caveat.” It means that this isn’t the end of the list, but rather a small list of examples of what good works look like. In summary, good works can be several things. There isn’t really a cap on what counts as a good deed. Good deeds are, moreover, a result of having an attitude of service with one’s eyes fixed upon Jesus. If your attitude is right and your heart and mind are set on Jesus, good deeds will follow suit.

Why are we Supposed to do Good Works?
The answer to this is pretty simple—because Jesus said to. I know that isn’t probably the answer you were looking for but it really is that simple. We will, however, go more in depth. 1st Timothy 6:18 is a companion to our previously mentioned passage in 1st Timothy 5:10. This time, Paul is telling Timothy what to tell the richer members of his congregation: “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works.” This is a command to seek to be wealthy in terms of our good deeds rather than wealthy in a materialistic way. Much like the widows were to be devoted to good works (as are we), the rich are to seek to be rich in good works instead of money or possessions. My thinking here is the same as in 1st Timothy 5. It may be directly applied towards those who are rich in Timothy’s congregation, but it also indirectly applies to us Christians today—especially if you are reading this from the U.S. We have the means to perform good works.

Okay, I see that, but Good Deeds Don’t Save Us, Do They?
I won’t speak much on this because it isn’t the topic of my blog, but I will give my belief on the subject. In short, no. But it isn’t quite that simple. Only Jesus saves—we are saved by Grace, through faith in Christ, who died on the cross to redeem us from sin.

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Another passage to look at is James 2:14-24. The basic principal of the passage is that faith, if it isn’t accompanied by good works, is dead. Like I said earlier, when you have faith in Christ and your eyes are fixed on Him good works should follow suit. If they don’t, your faith isn’t true and that faith can’t save you. We are not justified by works alone, nor are we by faith alone.

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So if the Bible Says so Much on Good Works, Why Choose the Pastoral Epistles as Your Home Base for This Blog?

I am writing this blog for new Christians who want to further their knowledge on the topic at hand. When searching for resources on good deeds, I found many articles pertaining to such works in regards to salvation (I would venture to say that was the bulk of them) but I didn’t find many actually explaining what good works were and why they are stressed so much in Scripture. When looking for passages about good deeds in Scripture and thinking about the target audience for this blog, the Pastoral Epistles seem to be the most logical place to start—they were, after all, letters from the Apostle Paul to Timothy who was in charge of teaching congregations full of new Christians. They show many real examples of what good deeds look like in modern Christianity. They also teach the overall idea of good works as a lifestyle rather than a one-time event.

In Conclusion
Let’s wrap things up.

What are good deeds? They are acts of service done in love because of our faith in Christ.

Is there a set list? No; good deeds are any voluntary action of love that naturally accompanies one’s faith.

Do they save us? Not good works by themselves.

Why do we do them? Jesus commanded us to. If we do not show our faith by good works, our faith has no bearing on anything and is dead.

Why the Pastoral Epistles? They provide an insight on what exactly good deeds are, by linking them- as well as other principles and ideas- to congregations of new Christians.

I strongly suggest reading the Pastoral Epistles if you haven’t already done so. They have so much insight on how a Christian should live—even more than just good deeds. I realize that Jesus also talks about this in other places (such as the Beatitudes), but the pastorals are unique in that they are letters to a church whereas modern Christian churches weren’t established when Jesus was teaching. I hope that this blog has aided you in your understanding of good deeds and that you now will strive to live a life of good works, not thinking of them as a religious check list but an expression of your love for and fellowship with Christ.

If you are interested in learning more about this and other Biblical topics and finding more community, affordability, and Bible at Central, apply today.


 

Post contributed by Central student Dalton Neas

Is the Position of Modern Preacher/Pastor Biblical?

Description of the modern preacher/pastor:
Normally, the preacher is a professionally trained seminary graduate. As in a secular job hunt, he sends in his resume and perhaps even a sample of his preaching to prospective churches in his search for employment. Usually, he is a stranger to the churches where he sends his resume (which is why he goes through this process). When a church takes interest in him, he is eventually invited to preach, teach, and become acquainted with the congregation. If the congregation and church leadership approve of the preacher, a contractual agreement is made concerning salary, vacation time, benefits, job duties, etc. After that, the preacher is hired by the church leadership.

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The preacher usually gives the sermons, teaches Sunday school, does most of the pastoring, and is involved with different aspects of administration of the church, among other duties. The preacher can leave the congregation for another congregation for any reason and the church leadership can fire the preacher for any reason- whether it be immorality found in the preacher, doctrinal disagreements, personality clashes, or boring preaching.

Why Does this Matter?
Why ask the question, “Is the position of the modern preacher/pastor biblical?” What is the purpose of such a question? Why should you care? There are two reasons.

1. The state of the Church in the world today is tenuous and worth seriously examining. Christians today are not known, it seems, for their love but for their hypocrisy. More and more people are leaving the Church. Much of the Church is quickly becoming biblically and doctrinally illiterate. Also, many of the Church’s members are nominal and lukewarm. Why is this? Much of the time, things become corrupt and fall apart because of the leadership. We see this truth demonstrated in the history of Israel over and over.

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2. If we say the Bible is our rule of faith and practice, we should then examine ourselves to see if our faith and practice matches up with the Bible. We so often assume wrongly and imagine that the way we do things today is the biblical method or how they have always been done. We also often read into the scriptures our own beliefs and practices when they are not present in the text. So I ask again, is the position of today’s preacher/pastor biblical?

Where Should We Start?
We should start with the Bible, of course. Specifically, we will want to look at what the New Testament can shed light on because the Church is under the New Covenant. What are the pertinent passages that we should look at in the New Testament? The main texts I will look at here are:

Who are these People?
Apostles – There are two kinds of apostles. The first kind are the big “A” Apostles. They are the individuals who saw (and, for the most part, walked with) Jesus in the flesh and were personally appointed by Him to be Apostles. They received the gospel from Christ Himself and the Holy Spirit led them into all truth and inspired their writing to the churches. They planted and organized churches, appointed elders and deacons, and preached and defended the Gospel. (Acts 1:21-26, Gal. 1:11-12)
The second kind are little “a” apostles. They are sent out sometimes by both the church and the Holy Spirit and many times just by a church or churches to be ambassadors of the Gospel and plant churches. (Acts 13:1-3, 14:14)

Prophets – Someone becomes a prophet by the gift of the Holy Spirit. There are two functions of the prophet. The primary function is to preach the message of God. They reveal the Gospel (which was a mystery in times past) by the power of the Spirit. The secondary function is to prophesy future events. (1 Cor. 12:28)

Teachers – Someone becomes a teacher by the gift of the Holy Spirit too. A teacher is someone who is gifted in effectively communicating the gospel. The Didache, an early Christian document written around 50-120 A.D. and now in the public domain, sheds some considerable light on the function of the apostles, prophets, and teachers.

Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not. But if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet. (Didache, Chapter 11)

We see that most of these apostles, prophets and teachers were itinerant ministers who functioned as proclaimers and instructors of the Gospel and provided leadership for the then-infant churches. Since these ministers were unknown to the congregations, they were to be tested and the congregation was to discern if they were true ministers of the Gospel or heretical teachers. The Didache also goes on to say that if the apostle, prophet, or teacher was found authentic and desired to stay with the congregation, they could be supported by the congregation especially if they did not have a trade. This is why Apostles like Paul and John warn congregations of teachers that come to them preaching a false gospel as in 2 John 1:7-10.

Evangelists – Timothy and Titus were evangelists. They functioned as little “a” apostles. They were trained by the Apostles and later evangelists were trained by elders and the congregation. They were often supported as Paul was but, like Paul, they also would work if the situation called for it (1 Cor. 9:1-18). They did not get a salary but were supplied for according to their need. They planted and helped fledgling churches be put into order and grow, both spiritually and numerically. They were a part of the selection and appointing of elders and deacons (Titus 1:5-9). Once the church was healthy enough, they left to help other churches.

Elders – Elders, also called overseers (bishops) or shepherds, were appointed by apostles, evangelists, and the congregation. As the name suggests, the elders were mature both in age and in their spirituality. They were to be permanent replacements of the apostles, prophets and teachers.

The Didache says,

Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. (Didache: Ch. 15)

The elders were not imported into the congregation from a Bible school or seminary but were already a part of the church and trained by apostles, evangelists, or existing elders. The elders were to, in the words of a handout written by my CCCB professor Dr. Stevens,
Lead – The Elders are to lead the local congregation. In Ephesians 4:11-12 it says that they are to equip the people of the congregation for works of service. This suggests that Elders play an important role in deciding how the congregation will carry on the work of God and also in involving the members of the congregation in that work. The Elder knows the members of the congregation and meets their needs.
Feed – The Elders are to be teachers of the Word of God. This is a requirement. This means that they know God’s Word, that they apply it successfully to their lives, that they can communicate the truths of God’s Word to others.
Guard – The Elders have a responsibility to protect the congregation from false teachers. They must know God’s Word well enough to identify false teaching and they should know people well enough to identify false motives. They should not allow a false teacher to address the congregation.”

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The elders were typically supported monetarily for their shepherding. Again, they did not have a salary like a secular job provides but they were supported just as the church supported the apostles, prophets, teachers, widows and orphans. If they worked hard in teaching and preaching they were entitled to double support. Also, there was never just one elder to a congregation but a multiplicity.

Deacons – The word deacon simply means “servant”. They were under the authority of the elders and focused on the physical aspects of ministry. For example, they would help in the feeding of widows and orphans.

Which Group of People Does the Modern Preacher/Pastor Fall Under?
As they function now, the modern position does not exactly fit any of them. They are not appointed personally by Jesus nor were they specially gifted by the Holy Spirit at the time of their baptism with the gifts of prophecy or teaching (there is a whole discussion to be had about whether or not there are still Apostles and others who have miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit but I will refrain it in this particular blog post). In general, modern preachers do not work to train up and appoint elders and deacons or have as their goal to build up the congregation to where they are healthy enough to be independent. Most congregations do not consider the preacher to be an elder and, many times, they could not even qualify as one. They are certainly not merely deacons.

If they do not exactly fit under any of the groups, are they at least similar to any of them? I would say yes. Today’s position of preacher most closely fits under the group called evangelists. Mr. Reese, a prolific author, professor at and co-founder of Central Christian College of the Bible, and leader in the Restoration Movement, agrees with me. Read his Special Study #4 and #5 from pages 192-216 in his commentary entitled New Testament Epistles Timothy and Titus: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, for a more thorough look at the office of evangelist.  In the same work he comments, “Evangelist is similar to today’s preacher, and is not the same as the office of elder.”

What Should We Do Now?
Can we redeem the position of today’s preacher? Yes. Since many churches are rather unhealthy, I would argue that we still need the position of evangelist. There do need to be some changes in how it functions in a modern day context.

First, the preacher especially needs to not think of the ministry as he would a secular job. The preacher should perhaps not even call what he does a “job” but a lifelong ministry career he has a burden in his heart for. He should not be looking for the church that will pay him the biggest salary and give him the most benefits but he should be looking for churches that need the most help and thinking about how he can best serve the congregation. If we can’t break away from the use of salary for various reasons, at least the preacher should try and take from the congregation only what what he truly needs.

Second, the preacher needs to have an end goal in mind. The preacher needs to make it his priority to make the church healthy. If there are no elders and deacons, he needs to train up some. If there are elders and deacons, he needs to make sure they are strong in the knowledge of the Word and devotion to Christ. They need to make sure all the congregation’s members know the Gospel and are on a path of spiritual maturity. When the church is well established and able to be independent, he should begin to prepare to move onto the next congregation in need.

Third, the congregations themselves need not presume to be able to “fire” the preacher for any reason. If they are so unhealthy or immature that they need a preacher to come and help them, they should submit to the preacher’s guidance and teaching unless the preacher falls into immorality.

If we- the preachers and congregations- make these adjustments, then I believe the Church as a whole will start to become more and more healthy, mature and wise. As a result of that, the Church will be more known for not its hypocrisy and ignorance, but its love.

Why was this Blog Post Made?
I am a student of Central Christian College of the Bible (or CCCB) and the creation of this blog entry was a direct result of the encouragement of my professor Dr. Stevens while I took the class Pastoral Epistles from him. Because of his push to do this blog, I got to think about and study in more depth the original pattern of Biblical leadership. I have grown in my knowledge of the scripture and in my faith as a result of my time here at CCCB. If you would like to learn from quality professors about the Pastoral Epistles or the Bible in general, become a student yourself. Apply right now!

Embracing the Wilderness [and why we don’t]

Taking the Hard(er) Way

Why do we prefer slavery in Egypt over following God in the wilderness?  

In more practical terms, why do we tend to gravitate back to former sins or unhealthy situations rather than draw near to God through the hard times of life?  

Why do we try to take control of life by digging our own cisterns (broken ones) instead of submitting to God and letting Him lead us through life?

Why do we resist God’s way of purifying us through pain and hardship and turmoil?  Instead, we choose to do our own thing which actually delays our maturity and STILL leaves us feeling empty, lonely and beaten down.  

Why we Avoid the Wilderness

I cannot speak for the Christians abroad but God has given me an insider’s  perspective of the American church.  I grew up as the son of a preacher and elder.  I preached my first sermon around the age of five.  I attended five years of Bible College and, later, another five in Seminary.  I’ve preached in several churches.  I’ve attended several more.  I’ve been blessed to counsel hundreds and thousands of Christian people.  And I am left to wonder, as I ponder the Church and ESPECIALLY my life, why don’t we just embrace the spiritual and emotional deserts that are part of the Christian journey?  

For many, the answer is simple.  The wilderness is barren and difficult and leaves us feeling emotionally and spiritually dry and thirsty.  The wilderness forces us to leave our comfort zones and, for most of us, we gravitate stubbornly towards retaining those places of respite.  Many of us hate the wilderness simply because it is tough, and we don’t like that.

For others, there are more complex answers to this question.  It may be that the wilderness forces us to be patient and to wait, which is excruciating for those who are geared to be active, the “Type As” in our population.  The idea of simply “waiting” on the Lord is a foreign concept in its application to life, if not in theory.  Many people speak of “waiting on the Lord” while never living out this mandate.  Truly, we seem to be more comfortable “doing” than “being”. 

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Perhaps the wilderness forces some to face issues that they have spent years avoiding- trauma of some kind or sources of insecurity in themselves.  Maybe we don’t like the wilderness because it often reveals the worst parts of who we are, the parts that we have spent years trying to hide from view.  The trials of the wilderness certainly uncovered the worst parts of the Israelites.  In the years we see them wandering we see the wilderness reveal their lack of faith, their tendencies towards idolatry, and how easily they could wander from the Lord, even as His presence guided them.  Maybe the wilderness reveals the same sinful core in most of us and we hate that.

God Shapes us in the Wilderness

I know most of these answers already.  In fact, I don’t just KNOW them, I have thought about them.  I have LIVED them.  The desert is no fun.  Let’s just be frank and admit this truth.  The deserts of life are difficult.  Wilderness times steal our laughter, break down our confidence, and expose our anxieties about making it through life.  The wilderness leaves us worrying about our bills, our future, and our families.  Most of all, it is in the wilderness that we often wonder the most about God…and maybe that is the main point.

Doesn’t God use the wilderness to test our limits?  Doesn’t He test us to find out if we’ll trust Him even when things look hopeless?  Moses outlined some of God’s reasons for “wilderness-walking” in Deuteronomy chapter 8, right before the Israelites entered the Promised Land:

“Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that He would know what you were made of, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  He put you through hard times.  He made you go hungry.  Then He fed you manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don’t live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God’s mouth.  Your clothes didn’t wear out and your feet didn’t blister those forty years.  You learned deep in your heart that God disciplines you in the same way a father disciplines his child.”

Wow. Why can’t we get it?  Why can’t I get it?  God’s purposes in the wilderness are, really, very clear if we will just open our eyes.  First of all, God wants to test us in the wilderness.  He desires to push us to our limits in order to reveal what we are made of, not for His knowledge (since He is omniscient) but exposing it for us to see and for the world to know.  He proclaims, through wilderness testing, our inner strength and true mettle and purifies us as through fire.  In the crucible of the wilderness, He hones our spiritual muscle in order to prepare us for the future adventures He has in store as we serve Him.  In the wilderness, He tests our resolve and enhances our strength.  

He also tests our faithfulness to Him in the wilderness.  How many times did the Israelites turn to false gods because of their discomfort in the desert?  He uses the wilderness to test whether, under pressure, we will continue to draw near to Him or succumb to our natural desire to “grab the bull by the horns” and go our own way.  

God also uses the wilderness as a tool to humble us.  Sometimes the desert is a form of God’s discipline, designed to humble us as we realize that we have strayed far from Him.  Hebrews affirms that God disciplines those He loves, just as an earthly father tenderly and firmly disciplines his own children.  It is in the wilderness that God can get our attention and teach us lessons about obedience, purity, and the consequences of sinful living.

hebrews126  Wilderness-times are also effective in instructing us about submission.  If there were no other reason for the wilderness, this would be enough.  It is submission that God desires.  It is through submission that we gain freedom from sin and the pressure that comes with living life our own way.  And yet, it is a life of submission that seems so difficult for many of us to attain.  Yet, without it, there is no freedom in Christ.  Without submission, God cannot fully use us as warriors in His kingdom.  Without submission there is no spiritual power.

Finally, God uses the wilderness as a chance to show us how much He wants to come through for us.  It’s true.  God loves to come through in the nick of time.  He relishes the idea of being the cavalry that emerges over the horizon, just as time is running out.  It is in the wilderness, when we exhaust all our own efforts, that God gets to save the day.  It is a role He loves and a part that He plays most powerfully in the heat of the desert.  It is in the wilderness when God’s power is most on display because it is in the wilderness where our power ebbs.  When we are on the precipice of disaster and all our efforts have gone for naught, THAT is when we can see His power with the most clarity.  It is in the wilderness that we are most able to see the Lord.

The Wilderness is about More than Enduring

And so, as I reflect on the wilderness, my spirit cries out, “I embrace it, God!  I WANT to grow in You, mature in You and be the man You want me to be” while my flesh screams, “God, why have you forsaken me???  Why are things here so hard?  Why can’t life be easier?  Why are finances so tight?  Why is marriage so difficult?  Why is parenting so painful?  Why can’t I just WORK my way out of this wilderness?”

And God answers, “Because you’re my son and I love you.  I love you too much to leave you to your own passions and ways.  I love you too much NOT to pursue you and hone you and humble you.  Because, my child, I don’t want you to settle for the pleasures in Egypt (sin and self-reliance) where slavery also abounds.  I want you to be READY for the Promised Land,  for what I have in store for you is infinitely better than you could imagine.  But you must wait, and endure, and learn to trust in Me.  Not in your own strength.”  

So, my goal is to EMBRACE the wilderness.  It is a goal that I fail in more often than I succeed.  And yet that is my goal.  See, I know that the pleasures and luxuries of this world offer nothing in the long run.  They are a dead-end street.  So what I really want is to see the Promised Land, whether that is here on earth or in the world to come or both.  I want to learn to trust, even when my bank account is overdrawn, when I fight with my wife, or when my kids push me to the point of insanity- even when life is hard.  I want to learn what it means to lay it all at God’s feet, not just in word but in action, so that I can see the ways in which God shows up.   I’m eager to let God’s hand mold and shape me into the person He designed me to be, so I am ready for whatever journey lies ahead.

Learn and Grow

That is my challenge to you as well.  Instead of fighting against the deserts that God puts us in, instead of complaining to Him about how hard everything is, instead of taking matters into your own hands before the Lord gives you the go-ahead, EMBRACE the wilderness.  Set your face like a flint and move forward, turning your eyes to God instead of your own ideas.  Embrace the lessons God wants you to learn:

  • Trust Him instead of you
  • Be humble instead of proud
  • Be alert to how HE shows up and provides

Most of all I implore you to be malleable to the blows of His hammer. Bend to the shape He wants to make of you.  Rest on the anvil of His work, trusting that He is preparing you for the joys that lie ahead.  I promise you His land of milk and honey is way better than the pleasures and slavery of Egypt.  It is a land of freedom and joy, a land of peace and prosperity, a land where God’s presence is always near…but a land that is rarely reached except through the wilderness.  


awblogAaron Welch has several years of experience
in counseling, teaching, and ministry.
He is currently the head of CCCB’s
Counseling Ministry department.

 

Saved Through Childbirth?

A Confusing Passage
Perhaps you have stumbled across the passage in 1 Timothy 2: 14-15 that reads,

savedthroughchildbirth

Maybe some of you have just glossed over this passage with little to no thought or confusion. For others though, this passage has been a huge area of concern and has generated many questions over time:

  • How are women “preserved” or “saved” through childbearing?
  • What does that mean for women in general?
  • What about Christian women who:
    • cannot bear children
    • whose husbands are infertile, or
    • who remain unmarried?

Four Points of View
This blog will explore the differing viewpoints of four New Testament commentators regarding the questions raised by this passage. We will attempt to discover through these four voices what Paul originally meant and the implications this has for the modern churchgoing woman.

View 1: William Hendriksen
Verse 15 comes at the end of a discussion where Paul is instructing the church at Ephesus regarding how women are to behave in public worship. Hendriksen makes the point that in verses 13-14 Paul refers back to Genesis, emphasizing that Adam was created prior to Eve and that Eve then led the way into sin when she was deceived. Instead of following Adam, Eve chose to lead and thus led them into sin. Hendriksen argues that because of the order of creation and because Eve was created as the helper, those roles should not be reversed in public worship. Hendriksen then concludes that women should not reverse the divinely established order. Women should not be encouraged to do what is contrary to their nature.  Women should not assume roles that were not intended for them. According to Hendriksen, no woman should teach, lead, or rule in public worship. Rather she should learn, obey, and follow.

This background information is necessary to inform the reader how Hendrikson answers the question of women’s salvation through childbirth. According to him, women attain to real happiness and salvation through bearing children: “Childbearing will mean salvation for the Christian mother, for what Christian mother does not experience inner delight, joy, blessing, and glory in seeing the image of her savior reflected in little ones who belong to Him?” The way that leads to salvation is a person’s obedience to God’s ordinances. It is the will of God that a woman influences humankind “from the bottom up” (through child rearing), not “from the top down” (through the leadership roles that should belong to a man). The curse given to Eve included both submission to her husband and painful child-bearing (Gen 3:16). Due to God’s grace the curse of child bearing was changed into a blessing here in verse 15.

hendriksenquote

View 2: Gordon Fee
In Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, NIBC, he asserts that while in verse 14 Paul has said the woman was deceived, he then in verse 15 says she will be saved. Between these two verses there is a slight shift from Eve to the women in Ephesus. In verse 14 Eve serves as the representative woman who, through her deception in the garden by the serpent, became a sinner. Likewise in 1 Timothy, Timothy was facing false teachers who were leading many Christians astray and some women had already turned away to follow Satan (1 Tim 4:1; 5: 15). Paul is not referring to Eve’s salvation but to the salvation of the women in Ephesus.

It is how women are saved that has caused many problems for readers of the New Testament. Many suggest an alternative clause: “will be kept safe through childbirth.” This idea, however, is refuted because many godly mothers have died in childbirth. In addition, Paul’s use of the word “saved” has always related throughout his letters to the idea of redemption from sin and the attainment of eternal life. Paul uses a different word to connote the idea of being “kept safe” (2 Tim 3:11). Fee believes Paul is saying that a woman’s salvation from sin and for eternal life is to be found in her being a godly woman and a model who is known for her good works, which include marriage, bearing children, and keeping a good home (1 Tim 5: 11, 14). “But Paul could never leave the matter there, as though salvation itself were attained by this ‘good deed,’ so he immediately qualifies, ‘Provided of course that she is already a truly Christian woman,’ that is, a woman who continues in faith, love, and holiness.”

In his book Hard Sayings of Paul, Manfred Brauch observed that Paul spent much of his ministry preaching that salvation could not be attained through works or exercising a specific role but only through Jesus (Acts 4: 12; 2 Tim 1: 9). Therefore Brauch concludes that this passage is not referring to personal salvation. In Timothy’s situation, there were heretical teachings being circulated against the validity of marriage. Marriage and the bearing of children were viewed in a negative light and were considered unworthy of the truly spiritual community of “saved” believers. Brauch is suggesting that in verse 15 Paul may be affirming that child bearing, a natural function of a woman, is perfectly acceptable and does not keep her from the community of saved believers:

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View 3: Ben Witherington
In Ben Witherington’s commentary Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, he gives special attention to the definite article placed before the word translated “child bearing”. Because of this, verse 15 is referring to a single specific birth- namely Jesus born of a woman (Gal 4:4). The curse acquired by Eve is reversed through Mary.

The fall came through a woman but then also salvation was brought through a woman. The term “women” used in 1 Tim 2: 15 is likely referencing women in general and “child bearing” is referring to a specific birth, the birth of Jesus. Women are saved by Jesus’ coming, dying, and resurrection.

View 4: Gareth Reese
Gareth Reese, author of New Testament Epistles: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on 1 Timothy, Titus, 2 Timothy and professor at Central Christian College of the Bible, affirms that this passage is a promise to women for the forgiveness of sins through the incarnation of Jesus. This promise was given to Eve early in Genesis. The verb “preserved” or “saved” is in the passive voice. “This ‘deliverance’ is wrought for her by someone else. It is future tense, and points forward from Eve to the promised future deliverance ‘through the childbearing.’”

Reese notes that the Greek for “childbearing” is singular. Like Witherington, Reese also pays special attention to the definite article. The definite article can easily be explained as pertaining to the virgin birth of Christ. It is, however, difficult to explain the presence of the definite article if this verse is referring to childbearing in general. Rather, the “child” is the intermediary that provided salvation from sin and condemnation to Eve and other women. At the end of verse 15, Paul is reminding the Christian women in Ephesus of the need to remain faithful until death. It is crucial to observe how God’s part (the reference to the virgin birth) and man’s part (continuing in love, sanctity, and self-restraint) in salvation are both evident here.

The problem with the first two interpretations of these verses is that Hendriksen and Fee are claiming salvation is dependent on a woman’s works, contrary to other places in scripture where it says salvation cannot be attained through works but only through Jesus (Acts 4: 12; 2 Tim 1: 9). In addition they do not answer what this means for unmarried women or Christian women who cannot bear children. Will they not be saved because they did not bear children? Will their sins not be forgiven? Gareth Reese points out that Paul mentions elsewhere in scripture that the single life can be perfectly acceptable to God (1 Cor 7:25-35). Both the interpretations of Witherington and Reese harmonize best with what is found in scripture elsewhere, which ultimately states that women (like all believers) are saved by the birth of Christ who is the only source of salvation.

Much of this material has been studied at Central Christian College of the Bible in the class Pastoral Epistles taught by New Testament professor Dr Eric Stevens. I have really enjoyed digging into the Pastoral Epistles and many other classes of this nature. If this idea is interesting to you as well, consider applying here.


 

Hannah Dunn is currently a student at Central Christian College of the Bible.