… he may be puffed up with conceit and fall … (1 Timothy 3.6)
NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow, Nov. 18. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon tomorrow morning entitled Devoted: Grow a Spine. Look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous discussion guides.
To explore what it means to develop a spine and to devote it to God.
I’m writing these things to you so … you’ll know how you should behave in God’s household. It is the church of the living God and the backbone and support of the truth. Without question, the mystery of godliness is great: he was revealed as a human, declared righteous by the Spirit, seen by angels, preached throughout the nations, believed in around the world, and taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3.14b-16 CEB)
Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.
1. Here’s a sanctified chance to moan a bit. Do you have back trouble? If so, tell us about it. What’s it like, how does it affect what you do, etc.
2. Tell us about some “aggie-engineering” (sorry Aggies; perhaps I should have said “a Rube Goldberg device”) you used to hold something together one time. Think “over-abundance of duct tape,” etc. How’d that work out for you?
These questions are meant to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.
1. vs. 15 – Compare the wording here in several versions. Thoughts? What is the backbone and support of the truth?
2. vs. 15b – What is “the truth” Paul has reference to here? Answer in context.
3. vs. 15a,16 – How is it that the truths expressed in vs. 16 – “the mystery of godliness” – relate to our knowing how to “behave in God’s household?”
These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.
1. If truth is truth, how is it truth needs any “backbone” or “support?”
2. What singular item of the six aspects of the Lord Jesus Christ – “the mystery of godliness” (vs. 16) – do you think of most often? Why? Least often? Why?
3. What does it do for you to know that God is counting on you to courageously and consistently support with your life what he defines as “the truth” in this world?
4. How have you seen the church powerfully living out some of God’s truth?
5. Someone tells you that all “truth” is subjective? How would you respond?
6. Pray together as a group for God’s people – yourself included – to have discernment for what truly matters, what does not, and to have a strong spine for the former.
They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching. They shouldn’t be addicted to alcohol or a bully. (1 Timothy 3.2b-3a CEB)
In our haste to understand what Scripture means to us today, we often get in trouble by not first considering what a text meant to those to whom it was first addressed. Don’t forget now, whenever we’re reading Scripture we’re “reading someone else’s mail” first. When we fail to consider a statement’s original meaning, we’re virtually guaranteed to misunderstand a passage by (knowingly or unknowingly) overlaying the text with our own assumptions, concerns, and questions.
Another hurdle to clear in understanding Scripture involves the fact that we all too easily and frequently “read around” a passage, assuming we understand the meaning of the words used in the text. On occasion, the translation of Scripture we’re using can actually help fuel this fire of misunderstanding.
Both of these factors come into play in a common mistaken impression of Paul’s words to Timothy (1 Timothy 3.2) regarding elders and their teaching.
Quite a number of Christians I’ve come across through the years have indicated to me that they have the impression that an elder/shepherd must regularly teach a Sunday or Wednesday night Bible class in order to continue to be fit to serve as an elder. When I’ve asked them where they got this idea, without fail they’ve consistently steered me toward the King James Version’s rendering of a portion of 1 Timothy 3:2, which reads “apt to teach.” Quite often when I’ve encountered this viewpoint and I’ve noted to the party concerned that the word “apt” deals with “aptitude” and “ability,” I’ve received a great look of surprise in response along with some statement to the effect that they had always taken the word “apt” to mean something of a combination of “willing” and “frequent.”
This is another good example of where simply comparing different English translations of Scripture can greatly open our eyes to matters. For example, notice some of the renderings of the relevant section of 1 Timothy 3:2:
What Paul has in mind for elders here:
And as for teaching what you and I would know as a Sunday or Wednesday Bible class, we need only note that such things did not exist until only relatively recently in human history. Paul was not thinking about a particular type of teaching in a specific setting on set days of the week, but had in view sharing the good things of God at any given time or place.
Note, too, how the order of the words, and not just the words themselves, as they appear in 1 Tim. 3:2-3 are relevant to this very matter. Immediately preceding the concept of an elder being “skilled at teaching” (CEB) is the directive to “show hospitality” while the qualities of not being “addicted to alcohol” and not being “a bully” immediately follow. Imagine an elder taking in and housing a traveler for the night (“hospitable”). In the course of getting to know the traveler, the elder learns they are teaching or living something completely at odds with Christian faith, but perhaps even doing so even in Christ’s name. The elder’s proper response is neither to join in with them in their riotous way of living (“addicted to alcohol”) nor to brutalize them (“bully”), but to consider this an opportunity for the way of the Lord to be taught more accurately to someone. While the instruction may fall on deaf ears in the moment, who knows what seeds planted might germinate and grow later on?
In summation, yes, someone who would serve as an elder in Christ’s church needs to be ready and able to convey to others, in the best of ways, the gospel of Christ, with their live and their words, but no, they do not have to teach in a certain way and at certain times in order to qualify to serve as an elder.
For more concerning elders and teaching, note the Scriptures and eight questions posed under point #9 (“Are they teachable and given to teaching?“) in a recent outline of mine posted on Mar. 12.