The qualifications for overseers and deacons comprise Paul’s primary topic in this chapter. Some versions translate the word for “overseer” as “bishop;” the original Greek word is pretty much a direct analogue for the English “overseer,” so as long as you’ve got an understanding that bishops are supposed to exercise oversight for the churches they serve, I’d consider “bishop” a perfectly acceptable translation. But enough translation notes: have at those qualifications.
Oh no. Today’s chapter is a Controversy Box, and I’m going to have to open it. Not all of what Paul says to Timothy here will prove unpalatable or hard to swallow, of course. Christians will readily accede to his theology on Christ as Mediator, and even the generally religious or spiritual may see some interest or value in it; only an adamant antitheist would take serious issue with it, and while I try to accommodate the skeptics even as I accommodate my own inner skeptic, I don’t expect there are many religion-haters reading Chocolate Book. Paul’s views on political authorities here might be a little more divisive, but even a politically anti-authoritarian liberal-leaning Christian could see the value in praying for their native nation’s leaders, and for peace for all men. Moreover, Paul’s teachings on modesty in this chapter may even appeal to the feminist who’s willing to look closely at what he actually says. But then he gets into female submissiveness, and man, I am not looking forward to cracking open that can of worms.
To this point we’ve seen only Paul’s letters to churches in particular ancient Mediterranean cities, but today we begin a letter to an individual. Timothy was one of Paul’s missionary companions, a younger man who was also biracial, the son of a Jewish Christian woman and a Greek man. He’s first introduced in Acts 16:1-5, and we hear more of his missionary journeys and work in Acts 16-20. Beyond that, Paul at times puts Timothy’s name alongside his own in his salutations and mentions him in his letters. I don’t know to what extent Timothy influenced on Paul’s writing, whether he co-authored any particular letters or passages. But today we have a letter not from Paul and Timothy, but rather from Paul to Timothy.
That said, let’s dig into Paul’s closing words to the Thessalonian church. I’ve found that how I react to different passages in the Bible tells me things about myself, both in general and where I am in my life at that particular reading. What resonates with me, what comforts me? What makes me uncomfortable, what makes me put up my fists inside? What do I have questions about? For me, reading the Bible is often an experience in being forced to get honest with myself before God.
I normally don’t like fruit flavors in my chocolate; in the words of The Offspring, you gotta keep ’em separated. But you know what I’ll make an exception for? Orange. Especially if it’s Theo’s Orange.
It seems we’ve been flung back into the briar patch of controversial verses, and without the advantage of being rabbits. The middle chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians is rife with thorns, and here we are in the thick of the thicket, so let’s get to working our way through it.
Wow, that’s a wake-up call. I opened up my Bible this morning expecting Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians to start off similar to the first one–a little “grace and peace to you,” gratitude to God for the letter’s recipients, a pat on the back and a little “Hey, goin’ good, you guys!” And instead, Paul goes off with all the intensity of Jonathan Edwards rapping over an NF beat. Dang, son.