15 July 2015

continue in him 3

In the correspondence given to the ancient believers in Ephesus, there are a number of words given as pastoral instruction to the church. There is a certain tone in one pastor speaking to another that shapes and colors these letters, for of central concern is the well-being of the community as it seeks to put its theology into practice. Those who have been called to leadership among such groups have an important role in setting the tone for the church. The pastor's voice speaking to Timothy comes in this context, which elevates the language from simple Christian idealism to a pragmatic expression of the gospel.

"I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

In all godliness and holiness

One of the key words in this passage is what many English Bibles translate as godliness. According to Trebilco's in-depth study, this concept was used widely in popular Hellenistic culture (361). I find this sort of claim interesting, although not in a way that makes me doubt its accuracy. There is a tendency among cultures to carry a concern for what is spiritual and mysterious, often described in terms of what is godly, or even holy. We can not say that the Hellenistic culture of ancient Ephesus was compatible with the ethics of the Christian message – the letters written to the believers in this community are clear that such is not the case. But there is ample evidence from all sides that the Hellenistic culture was quite enamored with deities and spiritualities, which led to the inevitable clash of cultures once the exclusivist claims of Christ came to town.

The spiritualized culture prized those who were able to demonstrate a certain piety which was deemed acceptable in their world. Congratulations were bestowed on those who were faithfully committed to the idealism of which society approved. The words of the pastor into this context was aware of this tension of definitions, which is why he emphasizes peace and encourages the believers here to demonstrate the gospel to everyone, regardless of disposition or devotion. And, in a world where ethics and laws were most-often (if not exclusively) dictated from the ruling class to the ordinary citizen, these petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings are to also begin there.

And so we have here a clash of meanings, both linguistically and morally, though this is not the primary concern of the pastor's heart. Though his command of language shows that he is quite able to debate the meaning of words, here he instead keeps his focus on the behavior of the believer. Words, like concepts and lives, can be redeemed if we have the humility, strength and courage to demonstrate the gospel. While the world applauds those who exemplify the approved morality of the day, the believer is called to demonstrate godliness as a means of life before the God who is revealed in the gospel. Such lives show the true meaning of holiness in a world filled with hallow parodies.

Furthermore, it is important that we recognize that there is a season for every activity under heaven in this context. The voice of the pastor is not ignorant to the reality of suffering and martyrdom that so often comes as a result of this clash of cultures – his world had its fair share of dangers the he could not ignore such a possibility. But here he speaks of living peaceful and quiet lives, which is a powerful message for the riots in Ephesus that had accompanied the gospel's work in the community. At this moment it was time for those who were expecting the church community to be a difficult group to get along with to be met with the love and grace and peace of a gospel of life.

Societies will have their own popular barometer of what is right and wrong, which comes along with a set of ethics that will hand out its own merit badges of self-righteousness. Along with this are the alternate definitions of words, phrases and concepts. This does not change the truth of the gospel, nor does it derail its mission. But it sets its work into a context that must be recognized, lest having found the words of eternal life lack the ability to point anyone to them. The strange and dark days that presently fill our culture are not too far from those things that made Hellenistic Ephesus what it was. If we can still hear the voice of the pastor, we might find that a more dedicated lifestyle to the true meaning of what truly represents godliness might be more powerful than all of the debates and riots we could ever initiate.

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