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)

Read more about Hearing the Groans of the Prisoners
He hears the cries of all those oppressed by their rulers. He judges all rulers and leaders who conduct themselves with pride and irresponsibility.

Read more about Christless Forgiveness is the Absence of Justice
Without Christ, forgiveness is anarchy. What Christ offers, however, is a unique definition of forgiveness and justice.

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)

Read more about A Mutual Conversion
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

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Christ destroyed the dividing wall of hostility…Let us not, therefore, allow some Christian voices to entice us to rebuild these walls.

Don’t Rebuild Walls Christ Destroyed

Scripture Focus: Ephesians 2.11-22
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Reflection: Don’t Rebuild Walls Christ Destroyed
By John Tillman

Paul’s writings counter the cultural pressures to separate along racial lines and his ministry shows us how he resisted this pressure. 

Paul traveled with, taught alongside, and ministered to Jews, Greeks, men, and women. He associated with Roman government officials, wealthy businesswomen, common laborers, and runaway slaves. Paul referred to all these people as “co-laborers” in the gospel. Paul declared and demonstrated that Christ takes foreigners and strangers and unites them as one people. The way of the world is hostility and enmity. The way of Christ is love and unity.

Paul is unavoidably clear that Christ destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between people of different ethnic backgrounds. There is no redlining in the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us not, therefore, allow some Christian voices to entice us to rebuild these walls.

A growing belief in evangelicalism, Kinism, holds that God sovereignly ordained “races” and that we are to maintain them, keeping them separate. This heretical view is simply the warmed-over and renamed theology of the Klu Klux Klan, repackaged in softer, more academic-sounding language. Underneath, it is the same deadly poison leading to the same deadly outcomes.

Those who promote Kinism wrap it in a cloak of nationalistic patriotism mixed with Christian duty. They defend it by twisting scriptures and embrace Christian authoritarianism to enforce their beliefs. They claim that “loving one’s neighbor” applies primarily to one’s own race,  discounting the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10.29-37) They call justice “reverse racism.” They call mercy effeminate (meaning it as an insult). They call humility weakness. (Micah 6.8)

More than a theological heresy, Kinism is a recipe for violence and never peace. In the United States, “White Replacement Theory,” is the direct outcome of Kinist logic. This theory, promoted by some pastors, media voices, and politicians has motivated violence targeting Blacks, Asians, and Jews in recent years. This violence is driven by enmity arising from Kinism.

Rather than enmity, Christ brings unity that transcends culture, race, gender, politics, or any other typical determinant of affinity. Christians don’t like only one another because we like the same things. We love all people because all people are loved by God.

Bad theology and thinking precede bad action. Therefore protecting against violence requires speaking out to counter Kinist lines of thought, whether spread by Christians, politicians, or the media. Before the next violent act, raise your voice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, watch over us and save us from this generation forever. — Psalm 12.7

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 24 (Listen 4:13) 
Ephesians 2 (Listen 3:10)

Read more about Putting To Death Racial Hostility
Throughout history, the church has struggled to keep various strains of racism from infecting and crippling the church and its work.

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Racism always wears a mask. Prejudice always pleads statistics. Segregation always pleads danger.

Anger Industrial Complex

Scripture Focus: Ephesians 4.25-32
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 

Reflection: Anger Industrial Complex
By John Tillman

The Christian relationship to anger is complex. God gets angry. Jesus gets angry. Christians can be angry too. Anger can be an appropriate reaction to injustice and suffering. Anger can be a fruit of love. Anger can be a requirement for social change. However, anger is also a “Deadly Sin.” Deadly sins are ones that produce and lead to other sins.

We need to escape sinful anger while acting on godly, righteous anger. How?

Our culture is addicted to anger. We play anger for laughs in our entertainment. We signal our virtue with anger. We get applause when we are angry at the “right” things. Yet, we judge others for their anger. We mock those triggered or angered by things we deem insignificant.

Anger affects us in many ways. It warps our humanity. Anger can form grooves, patterns, in our lives that affect our identity, transforming us into people of anger, rather than people of God.

Anger hinders our relationship with God. Paul considered anger a severe problem. Elders in the church could be disqualified if “given over to anger.”

Anger makes us vulnerable to human and spiritual manipulation. Paul says anger gives the devil a foothold in our lives but it also gives a foothold to manipulative politicians and media voices. This “anger industrial complex” sows tares of outrage in our hearts and harvests profits from the crop of our anger. 

Anger crouches at our doors, and on our devices, ready to take us down a path leading eventually to violence. Anger will rule us or we will rule it. 

We must ask, “Why am I angry?” and “How can I turn anger toward loving action?”

Anger is often sinful when rooted in self-love, fear, insecurity, and pride. We think, “I deserve better.” “I’ll never allow that to happen again.” We must turn these thoughts over to God and starve our lives of the voices that prompt these demands.

Even “selfless” anger can spur us to sinful actions. Actions springing from righteous anger will always be inherently righteous. If what anger motivates us to do is sinful, then either the anger itself or our reaction to it is sinful.

Rather than comforting ourselves with anger, let us comfort ourselves with God’s peace. His peace will lead to flourishing. Our anger will only lead to failure and violence.

*Based on my notes from a sermon by JR Vassar, at Church at the Cross. See the full sermon here.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing praise to the Lord who dwells in Zion; proclaim to the peoples the things he has done. — Psalm 9.11

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

Today’s Readings*
Ezekiel 4(Listen 2:56)
Romans 7 (Listen 4:09)

*We have diverted into 1 Kings and Ephesians for this week. Devotionals on our daily readings will continue next week.

Read more about Two Lamechs, One Jesus
Noah’s world was cursed by anger, hatred, division, and sin. Sound familiar?

Read more about Who Needs Anger?
Anger is out of control in our society. Two of the main reasons why are that anger feels good and anger is profitable.

Better Temples

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 8.27, 30, 41-43
27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!… 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name—42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. 

Ephesians 5.8-10, 13-14
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord… 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said: 

“Wake up, sleeper, 
rise from the dead, 
and Christ will shine on you.” 

Reflection: Better Temples
By John Tillman

The dedication of the Temple was a momentous occasion for Israel. It was in many ways a culmination of God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations. 

The dedication of the Temple and God’s indwelling of it was an event that later generations would look back to as part of God’s unique identity. He was the God who brought them out of Egypt and the God who sanctified his own Temple.

In many ways, Jesus is our Temple and Solomon’s prayers are better answered in Jesus than in the structure Solomon built.

Jesus’ life stands, like the Temple, as a miraculous work of God. He is the promised one who fulfills all of God’s promises.

Solomon asks the question, “Will God really dwell on Earth?” In answer, God’s Spirit fills the Temple as a cloud, but the more resounding answer was described by the apostle John, who, speaking of Jesus, said “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Solomon asked that the Temple be a channel of prayer, open to all people at all times. Regardless of location and even when being punished for their sin, he asked that God would hear from his Temple the prayers of his people. In Jesus, we become not just worshipers but family, able to cry to God as our father. God’s Holy Spirit hears us not from some distant structure, but from within our own hearts.

The most significant request Solomon repeats is that the Temple be a place of God’s forgiveness to which sinful people could cry out, cling to, and be saved. This is also answered in Jesus. The cross is an altar greater than Solomon’s. It’s sacrifice more precious. It’s forgiveness enduring forever. It is an event we look back to as a part of our God’s unique identity.

As believers, we are God’s Temple. (1 Peter 2.5; 1 Corinthians 3.16) We are God’s means of blessing for the world. We are his priests offering forgiveness to the world. 

May we be a better Temple, shining the light of truth that exposes sin but also celebrating and proclaiming forgiveness for all.

To a world asleep to sins of all kinds, both individual and collective sins, we must sound the call to wake up, return to God, and receive forgiveness and life forevermore.

“Wake up, sleeper, 
rise from the dead, 
and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5.14

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. — Psalm 9.11

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 8 (Listen – 10:23)
Ephesians 5 (Listen – 3:42)

Read more about Christ our Temple, River, and City
Christ himself is our temple. He is the gate, the doorway, through which we enter to worship.

Read more about Treasuring Our Temples
It is difficult to overstate how confident Judah was…It was unthinkable that the Temple would fall.