Pressing On


A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: tension

Legitimate help for legitimate needs

Whenever we see someone with a financial need, there’s always an underlying tension to deal with. 

What’s the best way to help them, without making them dependent or having my “help” end up being detrimental?

We want to help where we can…but only for legitimate needs.  We silently wish for criteria or even a flow chart to make the “Do I help or not?” decision for us.  But then we’re afraid that evaluating a person’s situation via a formula is too cold, not very loving, and when we consider each person’s financial need has different factors and influences…we quickly feel overwhelmed, even paralyzed.

The church family in Ephesus must have had similar struggles, because Paul spends a large section of his letter to Timothy discussing how to handle the support of widows within the church.  As mentioned before, widowhood was a serious situation for women in the ancient world.  They were not typically the direct heir of their husband’s will, and income generating options were limited, at best.  Additionally, if the husband was poor, he may not have left much for his wife to live on.

Before we read Paul’s criteria to Timothy for helping widows within the church, we need to understand a little bit about life expectancy in the ancient world.  Although the age of 60 was when a person was considered an “old man” or “old woman”, in the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the average life expectancy for a woman was 36 years.  This was mainly due to the significant risk of dying during childbirth; however, the men were not fairing much better, as they were only living on average up to 45 years.

Ladies, imagine condensing your life down to just 36 years.  Guys, yours to only 45 years.  Needs, wants, plans, opportunities all look different on a shortened timeline.  Keep that in mind as you read through Paul’s criteria:

1 Timothy 5:9-10
No widow should be placed on the official support list unless she is at least 60 years old, has been the wife of one husband, and is well known for good works – that is, if she has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to every good work.

There’s a fair bit of structure to this widow-helping program.  With an official support list, we see that this program is to provide elderly widows with long-term support (nor does this prevent the church from assisting in one-time, immediate needs).  The requirement for her to be the wife of one husband doesn’t mean she’s disqualified if her husband previously died, she re-married, and then her second husband died.  Rather, this is a prohibition on support those who have been in polygamous relationships.  This matches up well with the rest of Paul’s conduct expectations – he is instructing Timothy about the importance of asking “Does her life represent Jesus to others?

However, he also gives Timothy this warning:

1 Timothy 5:11-13
But refuse to enroll younger widows; for when they are drawn away from Christ by desire, they want to marry, and will therefore receive condemnation because they have renounced their original pledge.  At the same time, they also learn to be idle, going from house to house; they are not only idle, but are also gossips and busybodies, saying things they shouldn’t say.

This widow-helping program wasn’t going to be a monthly stipend check and then she does whatever she wants.  The church family expected that those who received support would work on behalf of the church within the community.  The widows would pledge their lives to this work, forsaking any additional marriage relationship…in a sense, they were “married to Christ”.  However, the normal desires of family life would likely be too much for the younger widows to fully abstain from once they made their pledge.  Additionally, the younger widows would not have developed the discipline that the older women had learned.  As widow-representatives, the reputation of Jesus and the entire church would be severely damaged by them saying things they shouldn’t say.

1 Timothy 5:14-16
Therefore, I want younger women to marry, have children, manage their households, and give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us.  For some have already turned away to follow Satan.  If any believing woman has widows, she should help them, and the church should not be burdened, so that it can help those who are genuinely widows.

The purpose of this criteria is to ensure that the church can help those who are genuinely widows.  We want to meet legitimate needs; therefore, we must have a way of evaluating the requests that come to the church.

God likes order.  We see it in creation.  We see it the structure of relationships.  We shouldn’t be all that surprised when we find that He also expects our giving to be thoughtful and purposeful.

Keep Pressing,

Encourage bravery

A plot had been devised to kill every Jew in Persia.  A man named Haman had convinced King Ahasuerus that the Jews were enemies of the state.  As a result, the king declared a day when the entire Jewish population was to be exterminated and their property confiscated.  Understandably, the Jews were distraught and terrified.

Esther 4:1-4
When Mordecai learned all that had occurred, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, went into the middle of the city, and cried loudly and bitterly.  He only went as far as the King’s Gate, since the law prohibited anyone wearing sackcloth from entering the King’s Gate.  There was great mourning among the Jewish people in every province where the king’s command and edict came.  They fasted, wept, and lamented, and many lay on sackcloth and ashes.

Esther’s female servants and her eunuchs came and reported the news to her, and the queen was overcome with fear.  She sent clothes for Mordecai to wear so he could take off his sackcloth, but he did not accept them.

Esther was scared out of her mind, and since she couldn’t go out to Mordecai, she wanted Mordecai to come to her.  Since he refused to change out of his mourning clothes, Esther had to settle for talking to him through her servant, Hathach.  After Mordecai described the situation to Hathach…

Esther 4:8
Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa ordering their destruction, so that Hathach might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and instruct her to approach the king, implore his favor, and plead with him personally for her people.

Esther’s response to Mordecai’s instructions shows that she had another fear to contend with – approaching the king was a “by-appointment-only” arrangement.  If the king was caught off-guard or felt threatened by the unannounced audience, it would cost the person their life.  Look carefully at how she conveys this situation, but also pay attention to Mordecai’s response to her fears:

Esther 4:10-14
Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to tell Mordecai, “All the royal officials and the people of the royal provinces know that one law applies to every man or woman who approaches the king in the inner courtyard and who has not been summoned – the death penalty.  Only if the king extends the golden scepter will that person live.  I have not been summoned to appear before the king for the last 30 days.”  Esther’s response was report to Mordecai.

Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace.  If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed.  Who knows, perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”

Mordecai has incredible confidence in God’s ability to rescue the nation, but he also has confidence in Esther – both who she is and her position at this time in history.  The mentor knew it was time for his protégé to act.  His message to Esther was clear:

It’s time to step up and be brave.

Sometimes they need a little push.  The protégé may lack confidence, or they grab ahold of something to use as an excuse.  But the mentor knows they are ready…it’s in the tension of this moment that the protégé needs to trust their mentor and be brave.

Mordecai wasn’t there to do it for Esther.  She had to choose to trust Mordecai’s words.  She had to choose to be brave.  Esther had to accept that she was the one who was in the best position to make a difference.

Esther 4:15
Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me.  Don’t eat or drink for three days, night and day.  I and my female servants will also fast in the same way.  After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law.  If I perish, I perish.”

Esther was brave because of Mordecai’s encouragement…and her bravery was the first step toward saving her people.

Keep Pressing,

The tension is real

I’m sure I’m not the only one, but there have been times that I have felt as if the message being delivered by the preacher to the congregation was aimed squarely at me.  It is as if God Himself has sat me down and said “Look, Ken this applies directly to you today – and you need to do it.

When Tychicus delivered the letter to the church in Colossae and Paul’s personal letter to Philemon, suddenly Philemon and Onesimus were having one of those rubber-meets-the-road moments.  Take a look at Paul’s specific request to Philemon:

Philemon 15-18
For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

This request put Philemon in a position where he would need to apply God’s direction on family matters that was just delivered to his local church:

Colossians 3:12-14
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another.  Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive.  Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.

For Philemon, the tension is real.  God’s Word is directly challenging him, and he has a choice to make with how he will respond to God’s directions.

However, a different section of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church would have been more applicable (and challenging) to Onesimus:

Colossians 3:22-24
Slaves obey your human masters in everything: don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ.

For Onesimus, the tension is also real.  After everything he and Philemon had been through, would Onesimus humbly take his place and do his work enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord?

God’s Word is just as practical today as it was for Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.  As we allow the Scriptures into our lives, we too will be challenged.  It will be as if God Himself has sat us down and said “Look, this applies directly to you today – and you need to do it.

The tension is real.  Will we trust God and respond accordingly?

Keep Pressing,