Choosing and Being Worthy Overseers

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 3.1-3
1 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

Ephesians 4.11-12
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

Reflection: Choosing and Being Worthy Overseers
By John Tillman

Paul gave Timothy guidance as he sought elders or “overseers” to help shape the theology and character of the Ephesian church.

Christians across history have equated “overseer” in this passage to the role of “elder” or “pastor” in the church. However, in the NIV translation the word “pastor” only appears once. It is in a list Paul gives of individuals who are Christ’s gifts to the church. (Ephesians 4.11-12)

“Apostles” testified to the resurrection of Christ. Prophets spoke words of truth about the present and about the future. Evangelists left their cultures and comforts to spread the gospel. The literal meaning of “pastor” is “shepherd” and it is often considered to be combined with “teacher,” making the one role “pastor-teacher” the last role in Paul’s list. Pastor-teachers instructed, led, and guided the “flock” of local communities. These roles today often overlap and combine. Modern Christians may expect the pastor of a church to operate in all of these roles.

Christians today often choose not only our local pastors but other voices to lead and guide us. Podcasts, Tweets, articles, and email lists (Thank you, subscribers!) contribute to our discipleship. We also are shaped and guided by the non-Christian media we choose. In many cases we may be shaped more by secular political media than by Christian voices or our local church. The question is, are we choosing our “overseers” wisely?

There would not be a need for Paul’s checklist if everyone who sought to lead was qualified. Desire to lead does not equal qualification to lead. Even those currently in a position of leadership may become disqualified. Not everyone who cries, “Lord, Lord,” knows the Lord (Matthew 7.21-23) and not everyone who speaks for God, does so faithfully. (Ezekiel 22.27-29)

Who do we choose to shape our theology and character? How would the voices we follow change if we applied Paul’s checklist to them? Additionally, in the church, in our community, or in our homes, one may be called to be a shepherd-teacher. How can we become worthy of this role?

May we choose worthy overseers and, even if we never stand behind a pulpit, may we stand, representing Christ in a worthy manner. May we build up rather than tear down, show hospitality rather than seek quarrels, and act and speak with gentleness rather than violence. May we choose and become overseers who are as noble as the task.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. — Psalm 31.24

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 31 (Listen 3:31)
1 Timothy 3 (Listen 2:10)

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Tyre, Eden, the Temple

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 28.12-19
12 “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“ ‘You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
topaz, onyx and jasper,
lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
16 Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
17 Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.
18 By your many sins and dishonest trade
you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
in the sight of all who were watching.
19 All the nations who knew you
are appalled at you;
you have come to a horrible end
and will be no more.’ ” 

Reflection: Tyre, Eden, the Temple
By John Tillman

Ezekiel references Adam’s fall from Eden and the Temple in Jerusalem to describe judgment on the king of Tyre.

Tyre’s relationship with Israel blessed both kingdoms. The friendship started with David and continued (as trading partners) throughout the history of Israel and Judah. Tyre’s religious practices and beliefs, however, followed Ba’al and other Canaanite gods. Tyre never worshiped Yahweh other than acknowledging David’s God in the perfunctory way a business partner would and supplying many of the materials that were used to build the Temple. Still, God held this foreign king responsible to him for justice and the welfare of others. God holds him responsible for violence and using dishonesty to gain wealth in addition to gloating over Israel’s fate.

Ezekiel’s metaphor of the king being cast out of Eden implies that the sin of Tyre and Adam are similar. Adam didn’t sin by thoughtlessly taking some fruit his wife handed him. Like the king, he wanted to be “like God,” wanted to declare himself wise, and wanted to say for himself what was right and wrong.

The stones mentioned are ones from the breastplate of the high priest in Jerusalem’s temple. This implies Ezekiel’s thoughts about the pride and corruption of the priests and religious leaders. The trappings of power, items of glamour and beauty intended to glorify God, were turned toward themselves. Beauty birthed pride. Splendor corrupted wisdom.

This lament leaves no doubt that, regardless of an individual’s beliefs or the culture’s moral outlook, God will not give a pass to anyone who follows the way of Tyre, Adam, and Jerusalem.

If Tyre, Adam, and the spiritual leadership of the Temple can fall, so can we. The same sins they tripped on strike at our heels. Wealth, power, and pride make us indifferent to suffering. They have us turn a blind eye to corruption. They lead us to accept violence as a means to an end. No ruler of a nation, no CEO, no pastor, staff member, or volunteer leader of a church is exempt.

Let us test our pride: Are we glorifying God or ourselves?
Let us test our power:  Are we serving others or ourselves?
Let us test our wealth: Are we blessing others or ourselves?

And let us have hope in Jesus. When we fail, for the repentant, there is forgiveness. His promises of mercy are as sure as his promises of judgment.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said: “For God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved. No one who believes in him will be judged; but whoever does not believe in him is judged already, because that person does not believe in the Name of God’s only Son.” — John 3.17-19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 28 (Listen 4:32) 
Ephesians 6 (Listen 3:17)

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 29 (Listen 3:43)  1 Timothy 1 (Listen 2:59)
Ezekiel 30 (Listen 4:07)  1 Timothy 2 (Listen 1:38)

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Onlookers’ Delight

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 27.27
27 Your wealth, merchandise and wares,
    your mariners, sailors and shipwrights,
your merchants and all your soldiers,
    and everyone else on board
will sink into the heart of the sea
    on the day of your shipwreck.

Reflection: Onlookers’ Delight
By Erin Newton

In modern terms, Tyre was a supercenter of goods. Like a mega-company that traded with dozens of nations, Tyre was a household name for the ancient Near East. She prided herself in her achievements and her wealth. She was the supplier of purple dye, the symbol of royalty. Tyre was successful and perhaps considered herself indispensable.

We are met again with a passage that does not speak about Israel. What is central to this chapter? Wealth. Extensive amounts of wealth. A long list of trade partners fills verse after verse. Imagine a business today with that sort of revenue. Tyre’s hope is not bound to one source; she is linked with every nation in the area. There is a feeling of financial security. But downfall is coming. God tells Ezekiel to speak a lament to the people.

How does one lament great wealth? The wise sage of Ecclesiastes surveyed the accumulation of wealth and ended with a lament, of sorts.

Ecclesiastes 5.10 says, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” Wealth can never be fulfilled. It always wants more and more. Tyre, seeing Israel destroyed, immediately assumes that destruction would result in benefits for herself.

Ecclesiastes 6.2 also says, “God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.” With vast amounts of wealth, those who labor to obtain it die before they can fully enjoy such treasures.

Wisdom would tell us that wealth is not inherently bad: “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it” (Proverbs 10.22). The message about money is a mixed bag. It can be good. It can be bad.

There is an attitude that must be examined in the texts about Tyre. It is Tyre’s pleasure of Israel’s misfortune that causes her judgment. Pleasure derived from another’s demise is called schadenfreude. It expresses the joy and thrill experienced when another person suffers. It highlights the inner perversion of love.

Wealth alone was not a problem. Somehow the desire for riches turned the treaty of brotherhood into a den of vipers.

God calls us to love one another. We would never take joy in our failures. Loving our neighbors means not reveling in theirs. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
The Lord is King; let the people tremble; he is enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth shake. — Psalm 99.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 27 (Listen 5:15) 
Ephesians 5 (Listen 3:42)

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God’s People as Bystanders

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 26.2-3
2 “Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper,’ 3 therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves.

Reflection: God’s People as Bystanders
By Erin Newton

Along the coast of the Mediterranean was an island called Tyre. Its location as a natural port created endless trading opportunities for all the major nations. It was an advantageous port coveted by the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians. No one could defeat Tyre, instead, multiple trade agreements were made.

One such agreement was made between Israel and Tyre. It was an agreement to supply each other with goods and was confirmed through the marriage of Ahab of Israel and Jezebel of Tyre.

Jezebel is the most recognized connection between Israel and Tyre. She was responsible for the increased Baal worship and the infamous showdown between Elijah and false prophets on Mount Carmel. It is hard to imagine that the trade partnership could be spoken of positively. Amos, however, spoke of it as a “treaty of brotherhood” (Amos 1.9).

Yet when the Babylonians conquer Israel, we hear the laugh and ridicule from Tyre, “Aha! … now that she lies in ruins I will prosper!” Tyre is ignorant. Without Jerusalem as a buffer, Babylon will target her next.

In this prophecy, Israel is a silent bystander. It is not a prophecy against Israel for making such a partnership. It is not a prophecy that predicts the retaliatory vengeance of Israel. Israel is weak, wounded, and silent. God alone is the active character in the prophecy.

Prophetic passages such as this can be difficult to apply. God’s people are not part of the message. In fact, they are only mentioned in passing. We don’t usually like to read things that are not about ourselves.

What do we do with a message such as this? We examine what this message says about God. Here, God is supreme. God not only tends to the welfare of his people but for the world. For a moment we take our eyes off our own situation. The rhythms of power, abuse, prosperity, and camaraderie fall under the surveillance and authority of God even if his people are not beating the drum.

Our God is a multidirectional God. He can be 100% committed and attentive to our personal needs while also 100% committed and attentive to the affairs of the world. He uses people and nations in accordance with his will. Not a single ruler of this world is outside of his authority.

We often falter in trying to make God too human. We forget that he is omnipotent.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 26 (Listen 3:45) 
Ephesians 4 (Listen 3:58)

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A Glorious Mystery

Scripture Focus: Ephesians 3.1-6, 14-15
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

Reflection: A Glorious Mystery
By John Tillman

Paul’s Ephesians 3 prayer, beginning in verse 14, is well known. It is often memorized. Portions of it are often in liturgies or prayer guides. But it is an interrupted prayer. What is so important Paul would stop praying?

Paul begins to pray in verse 1, but after just getting started, he breaks in the middle of a sentence. Most modern translations include a dash: “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—…” 

Paul just can’t go on without making sure that the Ephesians remember something: the mystery of Christ.

When you read or watch a good mystery, the revelation of the truth is, by design, a surprise. However, with the best sort of mysteries, once we know the truth and reflect on the plot and the clues, we think, “Ahhh! It was so obvious!” If the clues don’t make sense or if the vital clues were kept from us, the revelation isn’t as satisfying. Only highly skilled authors can write mysteries that do not violate this principle of fairness.

The mystery of Christ is that God always intended people of every race, not just Jews, to be part of the kingdom of God. No tribe, tongue, or nation will be unrepresented and the Gentile nations will not be second-class citizens or immigrants. God isn’t just handing out green cards or worker permits. (Joshua 9:20-27) Not only will all people be full citizens, they’ll be family. All ethnicities will be “heirs together with Israel.” Heirs of God’s promise. 

This mystery surprised many people in the first century, including Paul himself and Jesus’ closest disciples. However, this mystery does not violate the principle of fairness. When we look back through the scriptures, as seen through Christ, (Luke 24.25-27) we say, “Ahhh! It was so obvious!” The clues were right there all along.

When we read the Old Testament, we are reading the mystery backward. Knowing the solution, the truth, we can see more clearly the clues that God, a highly skilled author, placed there.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, in which he prays to “God the father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name…” makes more sense when we understand this mystery. From many peoples, God is making one people. From many families, God is making one family.  It is more than we would imagine he would do—a glorious mystery.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. — Psalm 92.12

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 25 (Listen 2:50) 
Ephesians 3 (Listen 2:41)

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