The majority of the New Testament letters were written by the Apostle Paul. These are the passages you have been reading for the past two weeks. This week you are introduced to some of the other letters in the New Testament. Not only did God inspire Paul to write the Scriptures, but also Peter, James and John. As I surveyed the readings for the week, what came to mind is the distinctive difference between the character of those called as citizens into the kingdom of God versus the attributes of the world. Notice how God uses all the Apostles to call God’s people to be distinctively different from the world around them. We are called to love dramatically; to put little confidence in our physical bodies; to live as “strangers” in the world, and to be joyful in the midst of trial! Wow! What a distinctive picture God paints!
As you read what stands out to you? How are followers of Christ called to be distinct from the world? What prevents us from living in this way? How do you think our neighbors would respond if they actually witnessed us living with such distinctiveness?
The readings this week center primarily around the Apostle Paul’s instruction and encouragement to Timothy. Timothy was mentored in the faith by Paul and was tasked with pastoral leadership in some of the churches founded by Paul. As you read, give thought to the broad picture that God is painting through Paul with regard to the qualifications and characteristics of a leader in God’s church. I have been a part of more than one nominating committee that became so focused on a specific characteristic within a person that they failed to consider the overall quality and faith of the person being considered. What are the qualities God desires in a leader as you read these passages?
Another challenge that some face as they read these passages is the question of whether God’s Word allows for women to lead the church. If you read these passages in isolation it does seem to indicate that only men should be considered for leadership in the church. However, remember that the Epistles are “occasional documents” meaning they were written to a specific group of people on a specific occasion. Therefore, it is imperative for the believer to derive the principles that apply to the church universally from these documents that speak to specific circumstances. Regarding women in the cities and churches to which Paul wrote: women in that culture were rarely considered for leadership in any capacity (ie. government, education, business, etc.) They did not receive training, respect or education to lead. Therefore, it is not surprising that directs his comments about leadership only to men. When you consider, however, that Jesus and the entire New Testament elevated the role and value of women and when you consider the leadership of women in other parts of Scripture (see: the prophetess Hulda, Deborah, Priscilla, Lydia, Mary, etc.) it is right to consider women for leadership in the church today. After all, American women have the same or even greater education and training in leadership than many men. Does this make sense? Any questions?
The editors of the E-100 reading plan picked some powerful and encouraging passages for us to read this week! These five passages are merely a sample of the direction God gave to the churches through the letters written by the Apostle Paul. What I hope you will notice is the incredibly hopeful and joyous message found in these passages. What you may not know is that this message of hope to most of these churches came at a time of great anxiety for the church. Both internal and external strife threatened to destroy the church and this new movement to which the Apostle Paul had given his life. That being the case, what do you think gave Paul reason for the confidence with which he wrote? Where does he find the resources to demonstrate joy even while enduring great trial? What do these passages have to teach God’s church today…..how can we live with joy and hope even in the midst of challenging and anxious situations?