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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + December 14, 2016

I Timothy 5:22-6:11
Mark 8:30-34

I Timothy 5:22-6:11 (NKJV)
Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins; keep yourself pure. No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities. Some men's sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden. Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed. And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.

Mark 8:30-34 (NKJV)
Then Jesus strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him. And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Commentary 

In today's epistle reading, St. Paul lays out some of the virtues of the Christian life, and they run exactly counter to the values of this world, whether we are speaking about the Roman world in the first century, or about the world we live in in Western cultures today. When we truly understand the teachings of Christ handed down to us through the testimony of His Apostles, we see that central to it is a call for holiness and purity that requires us to separate ourselves from this world, to hold ourselves apart from its values and systems of thought, so as not to be swept away by them. We are not only called to behave differently on various moral points, but to think and understand the world differently, and to seek after different things with our lives.

In the Roman world, piety was seen as a virtue that was part of a nexus of other virtues. Each of these virtues was an excellence of what makes a human being human. So, for the pagan Greeks and Romans of the first century, to manifest the moral virtues was to be a better and more valuable human being than the masses. Further, they did not believe that one could practice the individual virtues separately, one either possessed the virtues to whatever degree, or one was common, and to be common was one of the worst fates that aristocratic Romans could imagine.

Piety consisted not of some great spiritual pursuit, esoteric or otherwise. It did not consist in making dramatic pilgrimages, having visions, or encounters with gods. Like all of the virtues, it was considered to be a mean between two extremes, so that excessive piety was seen to be just as dangerous, if not more, than too little. To be a pious Roman meant nothing more or less than giving to the gods what was their due. This began with the gods which had been worshiped traditionally by one's family, the household gods whose idols were found at the family hearth. It then extended to other gods worshiped in one's community, and even to foreign gods, to whom respect could be paid. This respect was paid primarily by participation in sacrificial meals and festivals throughout the year that were part of family and community life. It could also be paid through financial gifts and endowments to various temples. In the first century, it was very common for pagan Romans to give donations to local synagogues, for example, as well, in order to show how broad-minded they were toward foreign traditions in respecting the God of Judeans as well as the others.

Relatedly, traditional religion gave the Romans the means to practice what Aristotle called the virtue of magnificence. Humility was not considered a virtue among the Romans in any sense. Rather, it was considered a defect. One ought to receive all of the respect, dignity, and credit due to one's station in life, no more, and no less. To decline honors was seen to be a sign that a person was 'smallsouled', a sure sign of being common. The Roman religion allowed for a socially acceptable way for the Romans to display their greatness, by sponsoring the building of temples, by sponsoring games and sacrifices, feasts and the like. In return, those citizens expected and received honors from the people for their beneficence to the lesser, common folk.

In his instructions to St. Timothy, St. Paul sees that just as dangerous as the tendency for his Gentile converts to Christianity to try to continue to 'pay due respect' to the pagan gods while attempting to follow Christ at the same time (which the Apostle fights against in his epistles to the Corinthians, for example), is the tendency for those Gentile converts from paganism to approach their Christian faith in the way in which they previously approached their traditional religions. Over against this sort of view of enlightened moderation, St. Paul sets up two Christian virtues. The first of these is godliness or holiness, which to the Roman mind seemed to be an excess. St. Paul is calling upon St. Timothy and his other hearers to practice a radical holiness and purity, separating one's self from the world. Rather than becoming a pillar of the Roman community, the Apostle calls upon his hearers to withdraw from that community, to leave it and its practices in favor of the newly forming Christian community.

At the same time, however, that St. Paul replaces a genteel piety with a zeal for holiness, he also calls, in today's reading, for that godliness to be based in contentment. This, to the Romans, would have seemed to be a deficit of ambition, magnificence, and greatness of soul. Rather than the Church being the arena for people to display their wealth, success, and greatness of spirit, we are called to be happy with having our basic needs met by the Lord in food, and clothing, and shelter. We are called to a humble simplicity of life based in our worship of the greatness and the virtue of our Lord Jesus Christ, not a display of our own virtue. We are called to be immoderate, to follow after Christ with our whole being, and to shed away all of the things in this world, all other pursuits, that might lead us away from Him, or hold us back from this calling, including first and foremost ourselves.

Questions to Ponder

  1. As St. Paul tell us in today's epistle, some people from the very beginning have used the Church as a means to attempt to gain power and control for themselves, or to enrich themselves. These sort of people are constantly arguing over words, envying others in the community, causing strife, gossiping, creating suspicion, and otherwise seeking to manipulate the community for their own benefit. Against this type of person, the Apostle opposes those who are both Godly and content. Those who are thankful to have food and clothing and shelter, to have their needs met by God, and therefore use their time, energies, and treasures to enrich the rest of the community. When you examine your life, which one of these types of parishioners to you more resemble? Are you content with what you have, and to do what you can for others, or do you want positions, titles, and recognition? How do you react when you disagree with the decisions of your bishop, priest, or parish council? Are you at church pursuing godliness, or something else?
  2. There is only one God, and one Lord Jesus Christ, and one way under Heaven for people to be saved. God has chosen weakness, and the weak things of this world, for salvation, and our salvation comes through accepting weakness, suffering, and humility. In today's Gospel reading, this idea doesn't sit well with St. Peter, who in his misguided love for Christ and desire for salvation wants to see it happen another way, one more glorious, that didn't involve the Cross. For this he was rebuked in the most stern terms. We cannot 'have salvation our way'. We can love the God Who exists, we can love the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is and what He's done. We cannot change the Christian faith, or the way of salvation, to be something more palatable for us. Do you seek to follow the teachings of the Church regarding prayer, fasting, repentance, and confession completely, or do you pick and choose? Are their parts of the Church's teaching that you ignore, disagree with, or otherwise attempt to excuse yourself from following for whatever reason?
  3. St. Paul writes to St. Timothy to encourage him to remain pure; to not engage in tit-for-tat with those who have fallen into sin. Being under sinful authority does not legitimize sinful disobedience or rebellion. Rather, humble obedience keeps a person innocent and pure for the Day of the Lord's Judgment, when sinful authority, and all disobedience and rebellion will receive their consequences and reward. When you are wronged, do you fight back, and thereby enter into the same sinfulness of the one who wronged you, or do you pray for the one who has wronged you, keeping yourself pure of their sin? Do you trust God to judge you, and those who may have hurt you, in mercy, or do you try to settle scores yourself?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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