The Bible in a Year – 9 December

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

9 December. 1 Timothy chapters 1-6

The letters to Timothy are called “pastoral” because they are clearly addressed to one person, rather than a local church or Christians as a whole. Having served as Paul’s assistant, he seems to have been appointed as a church leader.  The letter refers to “overseers” and “deacons” in the church – titles that have varied down the centuries from one part of the Church to another, but the basic idea remains that each congregation, or group of congregations in an area, should have one identifiable leader, and others who serve as part of a leadership team.  So we might have a bishop and priests, or a pastor and elders, or a minister and deacons.  Then there are specialist ministries that were not known by name in Paul’s time – youth leaders, readers, pastoral assistants and so on.

The overall intention of Paul’s letters to Timothy sees to have been threefold – to remind him to stick to teaching the Christian doctrines that Paul has passed on, and not be swayed by other forms of religion that he may encounter; to keep order in the church, seeing that the other leaders are suitably experienced and not bringing the church into disrepute by their way of life; and to maintain his own spiritual integrity.

As a Reader in the church myself (probably close to Paul’s concept of a deacon) I need to pay particular attention to how he says they should live – “serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience, and … blameless” (3:8-9).  Later in the letter, he gives further instructions to Timothy that seem to apply to all deacons or other assistants in church leadership: “set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching” (4:12-13).  If any of my friends and church colleagues are reading this, do remember to hold me to account!

The Bible in a Year – 3 December

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

3 December. Acts chapters 11-13

This passage includes Peter’s arrest, imprisonment and miraculous escape brought about by angels.  But after this incident, we hear little more of Peter, who seems to have fled Jerusalem to save his life for the time being. From other sources we know he ended his life in Rome, where Christian tradition holds that he was martyred by being crucified upside-down.

From this point on (probably about ten years after the death of Jesus), Saul/Paul and his companions become the focus of Luke’s story.  Paul having been converted to Christianity finds his ministry being drawn to seeking converts from among the gentile (non-Jewish) population of various cities in the Roman empire, of which he was a citizen and in which he could therefore travel freely.

This ministry was, importantly, recognised by the wider church: “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (13:2,3). Christian ministry of any kind, from a time-limited youth mission or charitable venture to another country, to the consecration of a bishop, is traditionally marked by the leaders (and often representatives of the congregation) praying for those being “sent out” or “set aside”. Often they will have hands laid on them, or be anointed with oil, as further symbolism of the presence of the Holy Spirit with them.

Paul could not have achieved what he did without help from his companions.  These seem to have included Luke who wrote this book, and also John Mark and Barnabas.  Barnabas, which is a nickname meaning “son of encouragement”, was particularly close to him.  He acted, according to several other New Testament passages, as a courier of money, a carrier and reader of Paul’s letters (which he may well have also written down in the first place) and may also have acted as what we would now call a P.A.

To be the personal assistant, messenger or representative of a “great” person (or even of your manager at work) is in many ways as important as being that person, if your work enables them to achieve what they could not on their own, for lack of time or organisational skill.  Not everyone can be a leader but we can all make a positive contribution to a team in the way that uses the gifts we do have.  If you can be an encouragement to them as well, as Barnabas was to Paul, so much the better.

The Bible in a Year – 14 November

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

14 November. Luke chapters 2-3

Chapter 2 of Luke is probably one of the best known passages of the Bible – at least the first twenty verses about the birth of Jesus and the visitation of the shepherds, a story retold at every nativity play and carol service.  For Anglicans, verses 29-32 are also very familiar in a slightly different translation as the “Nunc dimittis” said or sung daily at Evensong in cathedrals.

So I am going to look at chapter 3 – continuing the story of John the Baptist that was started yesterday with his own miraculous conception.  Thirty years on, John and Jesus were both called by God to the tasks for which they had been destined.  We don’t know how long John had been proclaiming his message of repentance before Jesus came to be baptised, or how long he had lived a solitary life in the desert before that until he received the “Word of God” (3:2), i.e. the conviction that God was about to appear in a new and unique way that demanded special spiritual preparation.  But it might not have been very long, for his “unofficial” ministry made him unpopular with the religious elite, as well as the secular authorities.  It seems that soon after Jesus was baptised, John was arrested.

So the baptism at the Jordan of Jesus by his only-slightly-older relative was a moment of handover, when the Holy Spirit that had been in John descended on Jesus in more dramatic form – in appearance as a dove, but with the voice of God from heave (3:22).  This is reminiscent of the occasion when Elijah as he was taken up into heaven, passed his robe and with it a “double share of his spirit” to Elisha.    On this occasion, the message of self-denial and repentance was about to be replaced with one of rejoicing and healing – fulness of life.

For everyone who turns to God, there is a unique ministry – not preordained in every detail, but to worked out with God and other people according to our aptitudes and character.  No-one (other than Jesus) is perfect, we all have weaknesses as well as strengths.  Sometimes God arranges it that one person will follow another in a particular situation (such as a parish priest or teacher) with gifts that are different but complimentary.   A caring pastor might be succeeded by a brilliant preacher or gifted evangelist, drawing a different set of people into the church.  Or in the progress of one group of pupils through school, a teacher who is rigorous in teaching theory might be followed by one skilled at illustrations and practical exercises.

So there is no point worrying whether there are some aspects of your faith or career at which you are weak, as long as there are others at which you are strong.  Leave it to God to fill in the gaps.

 

The Bible in a Year – 16 May

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

16 May. Jeremiah chapters 7-9

In these chapters, Jeremiah the prophet experiences some of the tensions that any minister, or particularly parish priest must feel as they go about their patch – for the parish system in the Catholic and Anglican churches means that our priests are given a responsibility for the spiritual care of everyone living there, not just those who attend church.

 

One of these tensions is that between proclamation and response (or lack of it). “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you” (7:27). A prophet has visions, or hears voices, or otherwise understands the will of God, the love of God, the urgency of Gods call. He (or she, for there were and are many women with the gift of prophecy) cannot but tell people what they believe God is saying, and yet even the most eloquent prophet finds that there is little response.  Only a small percentage of people ever get the idea, understand the message and turn to God.

 

The other is whether it is right to pray for the sinners around us.  God tells Jeremiah, “As for you, do not pray for this people, do not raise a cry or prayer on their behalf, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you” (7:16). The message is, don’t bother asking me to forgive them for this time they have gone beyond forgiveness.  Yet Jeremiah persists in praying for the people, for that is the burden God has laid on him. “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land … For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me … O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (8:19,21; 9:1). But there is no response – this time not even a suggestion of a remnant. It must have weighed heavily on him.

 

The result is that Jeremiah wishes he could get away from it all: “O that I had in the desert a traveller’s lodging-place, that I might leave my people and go away from them! For they are all adulterers, a band of traitors” (9:2). Priests, prophets and other ministers are prone to burn-out and need time away from the demands of their ministry, whether it is a short retreat or an occasional longer ‘sabbatical’.  Some churches expect this of their clergy, others at least allow it.