Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Broadly addressing the relationship of the pastor with several groups within the congregation, Paul instructs Timothy in the conduct of his life.

“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

“Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.” [1]

The congregation of the Lord is a family. Throughout the churches, an exaggerated emphasis upon individualism that is foreign to the New Testament is promoted. The family relationship, or household concept, is used on multiple occasions when Paul is turning attention to the congregations. Consider the following instances.

“As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” [GALATIANS 6:10]. “The household of faith” is a favourite term for the Apostle whenever he is writing about the relationship of believers. We do have a relationship, gathered as we are to worship the One True God, whom we call “Father.”

“You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” [EPHESIANS 2:19]. Overarching the Apostle’s idea advance in this case is the thought that believers are under the oversight of God. We are members of His household. Thus, we share a vibrant and vital relationship with one another in Christ Jesus.

“I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” [EPHESIANS 3:14, 15]. The word translated “family” in this instance is the Greek word “patriĆ”.” The word could be translated “fatherhood”: the emphasis is upon the lineage of successively related persons to which the referenced Person—in this instance, God the Father—belongs. [2]

Too often, modern Christians fail to realise the truth of the family relationship between believers; we ignore it to our own impoverishment. Individually, we are members of the Family of God; and the local assembly should reveal that familial relationship. However, just because we are family does not mean that we know how to interact with one another. One of the responsibilities pressed upon the preacher is to instruct the congregation in family relationships within the congregation. We bring our own personalities into the assembly, and those personalities are not always winsome. Some among the people of God are not lovable; and if the elder is not careful, these individuals will be ignored. Other individuals invite us, even unconsciously, to form cliques. We each have favourites among the members of the assembly; and because we do have favourites, there is always the danger that we will ignore some or even treat them with disrespect. Such should not happen, and it need not happen.

To this point in this letter, Paul has focused on providing specific instructions to Timothy on the conduct of his ministry before the Lord. The tenor changes precipitously as the Apostle addresses broader relationships within the congregation. What is interesting is that Paul is not providing instructions for the groups involved—older men, younger men, older women, younger women, fellow elders, slaves and finally to those disseminating error; Paul is now instructing Timothy how he is to relate to these various groups within the congregation.

I believe it beneficial to interject at this point that we should not seek subgroups within a congregation; our purpose is to recognise the unity of the Faith rather than emphasising our differences and acting as though the Faith were incidental. The Faith we share is central and essential to all other relationships. Our gender, age, race, cultural backgrounds, educational levels, financial situations are all incidental to the Faith and thus, incidental to our relationships. I do not wish to deny the differences evident within a congregation, and hence the different interests we hold as individuals. Rather, I am convinced that we must emphasise the unity arising from the Father whom each of us claims and the Faith He has delivered to us as His people. The focus must be Christ and His Word. The relationships we share must flow out of this shared faith in Christ and the practise of the Faith that we share in common.

Before initiating the message proper, it is appropriate to ask why it is important for the church to know how elders are to relate to the various groups. The people of God need to understand the relationships so that they will respond in an appropriate manner to the man of God. It is too easy to become critical when we imagine we are ignored or imagine that we aren’t receiving the attention we believe we deserve. Understanding the demands placed upon the minister will assist in avoiding petulance when we feel slighted. The congregation needs to be able to assess the conduct of the minister’s life. Elders do need correction at times, and they need encouragement at other times. Realising the balance the man of God is striving to maintain will permit the congregation to share in the ministry. Also, it is important to note that though the instructions are addressed to the man of God, they are applicable to each believer if he or she anticipates maturing in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

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