1 TIMOTHY 5
Social action played a vital part in the First Century Church. Children and grandchildren need to put their faith into action by caring for their own parents and grandparents, especially vulnerable widows; this is a way of repaying them in part for the many sacrifices they made for you earlier in life, and it pleases God too. If you fail to do this, or neglect to care for your other relatives in need, then you have denied the Christian faith – regardless of how much you read the bible! The churches were encouraged to make an official list of vulnerable widows who needed financial support from them, plus physical protection; but this was a service of last resort: the relatives were expected to care for their own. And younger widows ought to remarry rather than enter the ‘convent’ life young.
For a widow to be put on the ‘list’, she had to be old (over 60), having been faithful in marriage, a good mother, and known for her good deeds and many acts of kindness towards the family of believers. There was a clear sense of the ‘deserving poor’ here! The final criterion was one of need: if the widow had adult children in the church, then it was they who must care for her, rather than her name being put on the social action list.
Some more thoughts about ‘eldership’: the church was, and is, to honour those who work hard in God’s church – particularly those who ministry is preaching and teaching. There is a hint that this might include financial support – as illustrated by the two supporting verses (Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7).
Timothy is not to appoint elders in a hasty or casual way – he must give careful and prayerful thought to whom he should choose. Hence the verse: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands”. (See also 1 Tim 4:14). He must also avoid those candidates whose sins or sinful characters are very evident, and be discerning of those whose sins are hidden. A corrupt leadership will destroy a church very effectively and quickly.
JEREMIAH 41, 42, 43, 44 and 45
‘Previously in Jeremiah’… we saw that Jerusalem had been captured by Babylon and a small remnant of Jews permitted to stay in the city after the majority of their countrymen had been either killed or deported to Babylon. Jeremiah was expressly allowed to remain, and he was placed under the authority of the new Governor, Gedaliah, placed by the Babylonians to rule on their behalf. Gedaliah was a good and fair ruler, but he had received death threats from the local zealots, Johanan and Ishmael. But these threats were not taken seriously.
Big mistake! A surprise attack by Ishmael, with a dozen or so supporters resulted in Gedaliah’s death, along with the deaths of many of his administrators and some Babylonian soldiers. For good measure, the perpetrators then massacred seventy of the official mourners and placed the remainder of the people of Jerusalem into captivity. Ishmael feared the retribution of the King of Babylon and made plans to leave Judah and join the Ammonites. Johanan, his fellow rebel, heard about Ishmael’s crimes and took the army to fight against him and to release the people; however, Ishmael managed to escape before full justice could be done.
Most of the remaining Jews considered that once the King of Babylon discovered what had occurred, there would be wholesale punishment for all. Many made an immediate journey to Egypt, but some first approached Jeremiah to determine God’s guidance for them, promising to do whatever the Lord commanded. “Whether it is favourable or unfavourable, we will obey the Lord our God…”. (42:6).
For some reason it took ten days for the word of the Lord to come to Jeremiah (rather a long time, under the circumstances, but we must learn to be patient even in the prophetic) and the answers was: “If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down…Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear… for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land” (42:11-12). However, if the Jews stubbornly chose to go to Egypt regardless, then they would be overtaken by the sword, by plagues and by famine – all the result of God’s wrath and judgment.
Surprise, surprise! The ringleaders assumed that Jeremiah was lying and acting as a spy for the Babylonians and took all the remaining inhabitants of Jerusalem – including Jeremiah – captive into Egypt. The nation had come a full circle! God brought his word of condemnation via Jeremiah to the Jews living in Egypt, and particularly those who were burning incense to the Queen of Heaven – the Babylonian title for the goddess Ishtar. When these Jews heard the prophecies, they mocked Jeremiah and claimed that they had only had prosperity when they had previously done this, and had been beset with famine, and the sword when they had stopped.
Jeremiah pointed out an important spiritual principle: the judgment does not always immediately follow the sin. God’s punishment on Judah had happened to coincide with a period when ‘Queen of Heaven worship’ was not actively pursued, but it was punishment for the times previously when they had worshiped this false goddess. All of us humans are such short-term thinkers, and we expect that cause and effect will follow each other almost instantly; this is rarely the case in God’s kingdom, however.